Chronologically, Shadow of the Hegemon is a direct sequel to both Ender’s Game (reviewed here) and Ender’s Shadow (reviewed here). Technically, however, it is more of a sequel to the latter. The author not only assumes you’ve read Ender’s Shadow, but also that you remember all the nitty-gritty details of that book. So if it is some time since you’ve read Ender’s Shadow, you might as well wish to re-read it before reading this book.|
(If you never read Ender’s Shadow, this review might contain a few spoilers for you.)
The Bugger (er, sorry, Formics) Wars are over, and as Peter Wiggin has clearly predicted, the world is falling into a war as nations try to restore their old power (and then some). And the most brilliant military commanders on Earth are the Battle School graduates in general, and Ender’s team in particular. Thus the first moves of war are attempts to kidnap and control those kids.
This is the basic premise behind the book; it is also the first, main, and most unacceptable mistake in the entire plot, which renders the whole book almost comic. No matter how much you try to suspend your disbelief, those kids are just that — kids. Intelligent as she might be, how effective will an 11-years-old girl be when trying to command an army — not because she wants to, but because she is forced to, at gunpoint? Brilliant as he might be, how realistic is the image of an 11-years-old boy commanding a platoon of adults?
In Ender’s Game and Shadow, we were supposed to assume that special training, from a very early age, made the Battle School kids unique. Since the war they were about to engage in was nothing like any war humankind had fought before, and since they were never really required to be present in the field of war, this might have been partly acceptable. But here we are talking about bad old land war (and in Asia, to boot). Even if they were given ample education about classic warfare, how effective could those children be as strategists? And why would veteran high-ranking officers gladly accept those kids — let alone the ones from hostile nations — as their superiors?
Then there is the question of the villain. Unsurprisingly, Achilles breaks out of the mental institution were he was hospitalized. In practically no time at all, he manages to manipulate world super-powers into doing his will, using empires and their leaders as chess pawns. He is not only as intelligent as the next Battle School graduate, but also fluent, well-educated (in classics as well as modern issues), and so on.
And we are supposed to believe this? Recall that Achilles grew on the streets of Rotterdam, and he is not the super-human Bean is. He grew up in a daily war for food, where “school” or “education” were alien notions. Where exactly did he pick up all his knowledge? In his two weeks or so at Battle School?
In short, the book requires a wee bit too much suspension of disbelief to be acceptable or enjoyable. The children are presented as no less than minor Gods, in their own view and in the view of their surroundings. War and strategies seem too much like a game of Risk. Ancient enemies, which hate each other on a religious basis (the most difficult kind of enmity to overcome), sign peace treaties after 10 minutes of negotiations led by a brilliant child. And so on.
In this book, probably more than in any other book, Card proves to be a master of the technicalities of writings. The text is flowing, the descriptions enjoyable, the characters well-presented, and so on — but the plot itself is lacking so badly that this time, the technicalities are simply unable to compensate. The book lacks this little extra that turns books into page-turners. With Ender’s Shadow, even though I knew in advance how the plot would end (since it is, after all, the same plot as in Ender’s Game), I still found myself unable to put the book aside. With Shadow of the Hegemon, this was hardly the case.
Even more so than Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon is presented as a clearly unfinished story, and the next sequel (or sequels) is simply a matter of time.
The sequel to Shadow of the Hegemon
, called Shadow Puppets
, was published in 2002. It was followed by Shadow of the Giant
in 2005. I have no plans to purchase a copy of either.
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