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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
One of the more pleasant literary surprises of 1999 was Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow, a self-styled "parallel novel" that recapitulates the central events of Ender's Game from the perspective of Bean, the child genius -- and genetic wild card -- who served as Ender's second-in-command during the genocidal war with the Formics. Bean's story now continues in Shadow of the Hegemon, a moving, richly imagined sequel that is clearly one of the major science fiction novels of the season.
Shadow of the Hegemon begins in the turbulent aftermath of the Formic War. The nations of Earth, no longer united by a common enemy, have grown both fearful and aggressive. Deeply entrenched rivalries -- cultural, religious, ethnic -- proliferate, and the world stands on the brink of geopolitical chaos. Against this backdrop of mounting political tension, a singular event occurs: Most of the surviving members of Ender Wiggin's victorious platoon are kidnapped. The motive behind that kidnapping is immediately clear. Some unidentified power hopes either to utilize this concentration of strategic genius or keep that genius out of the hands of political rivals.
In Shadow of the Hegemon, Card once again addresses large, fundamental questions: Who will govern in the problematic future that is coming? Will that future be dominated by humane moral imperatives or by heedless, expedient ambition? As the novel winds its way toward a provisional answer, three brilliant -- and very different -- figures rapidly dominate the narrative. The first is Achilles, a teenaged psychopath with a gift for manipulation and an indomitable will to power. The second is Peter Wiggin, older brother of the absent, legendary Ender. Peter has spent many years influencing events behind the scenes and faces the prospect of stepping onto the political stage without the aid of an elaborately constructed mask. The third figure, of course, is Julian Delphicki, a.k.a. Bean.
Bean, like most of the characters, is little more than a child. But he is a fiercely brilliant child, the unexpected product of an illegal genetic experiment that will end, inevitably, in tragedy. Three elements dominate Bean's life: his relentless opposition to Achilles and his designs, his love for his mentor and de facto mother, Sister Carlotta, and his determination to save the life of his friend and former platoon mate, Petra Arkanian.
Shadow of the Hegemon explores complex questions of faith, loyalty, and ethical responsibility without becoming dry, boring, pompous, or didactic. On the contrary, it is a thoughtful, thoroughly entertaining novel that asks hard questions and never settles for easy answers. It is one of Orson Scott Card's most impressive achievements and deserves the attention of a large, appreciative audience.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).