“Ender’s Shadow”: The Appeal of Parallels

If You Like…

  • Science fiction
  • Child heroes
  • School drama in space
  • Kid Battle Armies
  • Ender’s Game

Then You’ll Like…

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

face4Personally, I enjoyed the “Ender’s Game” film that recently came out. It stayed true to the book much better than most book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen, and still kept it’s message. From what I’ve heard the main complaints stemmed from the acting, the confusing drama, and maybe not enough scenes of the kid army battles.

But when I was first introduced to Orson Scott Card’s “Ender” saga, it wasn’t through Ender’s Game, surprisingly. Back in 6th grade we had formed “reading clubs.” My reading club mates and I were hankering for something more advanced, so my teacher let us explore the sections of the library that were geared for a higher middle school level (remember, this was a time when your ‘reading level’ practically defined your curriculum. I’m not sure if that’s still practiced today.)

Our library didn’t have Ender’s Game, but instead had Ender’s Shadow, and we practically devoured it. We loved it, raving to our teacher about how amazing and adventurous it was. It wasn’t until much, much later that we realized this wasn’t actually the first book in the series.

What confuses some readers is they think Ender’s Shadow is a sequel to Ender’s Game. Not so; this book is actually a parallel novel. It takes place at the exact same time as Ender’s Game, following the same events, but instead told from the point of view of Ender’s right hand man, Bean. Put it to you this way; imagine if every Batman and Robin story was told from Robin’s (or even Alfred’s!) point of view; or for you Red Rising fans, imagine if the novels had been told from Sevro’s perspective of Darrow, and you have something resembling Ender’s Shadow. It’s all about the guy in the “shadow” of the hero, what he brought to the table, and how the story would’ve been very different if they weren’t around.

I have read Ender’s Game too, but I have to say in all honesty that I love Ender’s Shadow and Bean’s voice so much more. Let’s take a look at why.

An Unassuming Hero from the Streets

Bean is like a hobbit. Not kidding. He’s like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins: an unassuming species that becomes the unlikeliest of heroes. But unlike Ender, who was raised in a family for the sole purpose of becoming Earth’s savior, Bean grew up in the streets.

The book begins with Bean joining a crew of street kids, an almost comical parallel to the cliques and armies of kids he’ll encounter in Battle School later on. We spend an entire 75 pages watching him interact with this group, their trials and tribulations, and how he deals with people much bigger but not smarter than him. In Ender’s Game, Ender was heading off to Battle School within the first few chapters, leaving us little time to see him out in public aside from the school fight.

Thanks to Bean’s time with this street crew, we already know how much of a badass he is before he even gets to Battle School. He’s not so much a badass because he’s strong or manipulative, but due to his sheer survival skills. Card clearly shows us that if Bean can survive conditions like this, then we can trust him in Battle School and trust him to be the support that Ender needs.

Always On the Edge

IMG_1520After reading Ender’s Game, I did draw the comparisons of events to Ender’s Shadow and came to appreciate what Bean was doing for Ender just off-screen the entire time. If turns out that when it came time for Ender to inherit Dragon Army, it was Bean who chose their entire crew and Ender never knew about it. There’s a fascinating chapter where Bean is going down the list of kids to choose and how he breaks down what they could bring to Dragon Army. Later on, he’s a priceless help to Ender when discussing strategy and winning battles. We get to see a few more moments of Ender enjoying his time with Dragon Army, and I felt that Orson Scott Card enjoyed getting the chance to expose these sides of Ender and his teammates.

And when Ender was in danger because of Bonzo, it was Bean who had organized “security teams” from their army to watch Ender as he went about his routine. When Ender emerges from the showers in that climactic scene with Bonzo, Bean is devastated that he couldn’t do more, but understands that it’s time to get to work.

In summary, I loved seeing Ender from Bean’s point of view. There’s never a time that Bean hates him, but he purposely plants himself in Ender’s path so that Ender can utilize him to his full potential. Whenever Bean does something Ender doesn’t like, he doesn’t dwell on it and fixes it. He is, at best, a perfect right hand man.

More Parallel Novels, Please!

I couldn’t get enough of Ender’s Shadow then and I still reread it today. I love Bean’s perspective, to see the brains behind the king of the Battle School. The partnership between him and Ender was fantastic, and I understand why Card felt Bean’s story was worth sharing.

My dilemma is that I don’t know of any other books that do this. If you have a suggestion for a novel or short story that parallels a well-known work, I’d love to hear about. Playing with perspective is my game, and I live to see it.

Will Make You Feel Like: Teaming up with your friends for world domination

Music to Listen to While Reading: “Pacific Rim” soundtrack

Publisher: Starscape Books


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jon Finegold says:

    Dude, a parallel novel for Red Rising from Mustang’s perspective would be pretty awesome.


    1. majestatic says:

      I agree! In all honesty, just to see Darrow from someone else’s perspective would make his “mission” seem all that more important


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