SHADOW PUPPETSA novel by Orson Scott Card
(2002, TOR Books)
Ender's Shadow, book 3
When Achilles is brought into the Hegemon, Bean goes into hiding, and Petra convinces him to love her.
-- First reading (hardcover)
Definitely weak, especially compared to the books that came before it. As with the previous book, most of the story is spent hiding from the main threat, and only at the end do they randomly decide to bring the fight back and win in record time. On the other hand, it does give Bean and Petra some time alone, in which they can explore their feelings for one another.
I understand that this book and the previous one were originally planned to be a single book, and that the plot was expanded to include more of Petra, but that doesn't excuse the filler that takes up most of the story.
At the end of Shadow of the Hegemon, it looked like Bean and Petra were going to help Peter Wiggin restore the Hegemon. But this book does nothing of the sort. It starts off telling us about Bean and his strike team, but the only time we get to see them in action is when Suriyawong replaces him to rescue Achilles from the Chinese. At least in the last book, we got to see Bean in action. In this case, because Peter intends to use Achilles to his own purposes, Bean and Petra go their own way, not helping the Hegemon in the slightest.
Not like it makes a difference, because Peter is inept at handling Achilles, because Achilles has charisma, while he does not. Bean and everybody else tried to tell him that, but he of course thinks he is smarter than them all. Absolutely nothing happens in this storyline, except maybe that Peter loses all of his remaining credibility. Achilles is being monitored by two different security subroutines that interfere with each other, so they can't catch him in the act of doing anything nefarious. While probably realistic, it shows an ineptness in the otherwise-brilliant characters that I'm not really interested in seeing. When Peter's parents to figure out what's wrong, they are able to piece things together so they know Achilles has been cementing his power base, waiting for the attempt to kill Peter and take his place. Unfortunately, we see everything from Peter and his parents' point of view, and none of the charismatic stuff that draws people to Achilles' side. When Peter does leave, Achilles weaves a tale about him meant to discredit him.
I don't see the point of sending Peter to space, except to show how far Achilles can still reach. Of course, somebody tries to kill him, and then the shuttle he is supposed to be on gets blown up trying to land, but of course he is not on it. Now, with Achilles blaming the Chinese and the Chinese blaming Achilles, the International Fleet can step in to arrest or kill Achilles without threat of retaliation.
The more interesting story is the one of Bean and Petra. As with the previous book, we get to see more of the world powers as they travel around, trying to stay one step ahead of Achilles. It takes a long time before Bean suddenly realizes -again- that he is running instead of confronting he nemesis. Didn't we go through this in the last book?
However, it does give them time to develop an actual relationship; now that Bean is exponentially growing, his life draining away into increasing his body size rather than getting old. Bean flatly refuses to return Petra's affections, not wanting to pass his genes on to another generation. It is only when they go back to see Anton, the man who created him by discovering the genetic key to give incredible intelligence (at the expense of years of life), that Bean realizes how selfish and wrong he is. The turnaround is too quick for my tastes, as the argument wasn't all that convincing. But it did give new life to the stalled book. Suddenly Bean and Petra give in to their teenage hormones and lust (off-screen), as Anton suggests that the man who actually created the embryo that became Bean (and tried to kill all the babies afterwards) has a way of differentiating between normal and altered embryos.
So back to Rotterdam they go, and although Petra can see in Volescu's eyes that he has no such device, he is able to convince Bean that he could implant only embryos that do not have Anton's key so that he could have normal children. I don't know how Bean could delude himself, except maybe that love blinded him. And it blinded him to everything else that happened afterwards in this book until the author decided to have a conclusion. Yes, he gave sperm to fertilize Petra's eggs, creating embryos that were implanted within her. But he actually trusted Volescu, while Petra didn't -but neither of them realized that he was under Achilles' influence. Being so paranoid, I don't know why all their security was abandoned for this part of the book.
Of course their security guard stole the remaining embryos (why didn't they take them when they left, instead?). Then a corrupt taxi driver tries to kill Bean (he sent Petra to the airport in a different cab). But we heard a lot about the Muslim nation in the last two books, and here we get to see (or hear) about more of it. I really liked the way it was described, and the logical conclusion that the unified nation was drawn from (of course it took a war of submission to bring that about). There they are given refuge by another battle school graduate, who has become the spiritual head of that nation, until it comes time to confront Achilles. The main reason given is that Achilles has the remaining embryos that might contain Anton's key.
Before that, however, we get an update on the war to end China's conquest of the world. I really liked Virlomi's strategy to get the Chinese out of India, by putting rocks in the middle of the street and calling it the Great Wall of India, after which the Indians were forbidden to carry rocks (!) by their Chinese oppressors. It led to an insurgency that was perfectly ripe when the Muslims decided to strike against China not only in Thailand and India, but also into the heart of China itself. The state of the world is more or less the same as it was before Achilles started his machinations, except that the leaders now realize how dangerous things can get, and how easily they can get out of control. In the last book, the war was interesting because we knew so many people involved. However, this time we are told about it and there is little if no involvement from the characters that we know, and that makes it a lot less interesting.
By the end of the confrontation at the old Hegemony compound in Brazil, Achilles is dead (shot in cold blood by Bean), Suriyawong shows his true colors by leaving Achilles' side, and Bean is quite certain that his enemy never had the embryos. Will the next book be a search for the remaining ones? Since it does end the trilogy, I hope we get some closure on the Hegemony, especially since we are told at the end of Ender's Game that Peter unified the world. I hope it becomes more interesting.
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