As you are probably well aware by now, I am a huge fan of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, along with its sequels and its spin-off series, Ender’s Shadow. I enjoy Card’s logical and intelligent way of telling a story. I love the intricate sci-fi world, the wonderfully developed characters, the smart twists and turns of the plot. So when I found out about the newest installment of the Shadow series, Shadows in Flight, I eagerly grabbed it from the library.
[Warning: There is no way to summarize any of the plot of this book without spoilers from the Shadow series. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll want to skip this review until you’re caught up.]
Shadows in Flight picks up five years after the ending of Shadow of the Giant. Or rather, five years for Bean and the three children he and Petra unwillingly doomed to his fate: extraordinarily enhanced intelligence, but at the cost of an early death by giantism. Knowing the only hope for finding a cure for his children within their lifetimes was a lower gravity environment and the relativistic effects of near-light-speed travel, Bean and the children have been traveling on the spaceship Herodotus, searching for a cure, while back on Earth, hundreds of years have passed.
Life on the Herodotus is getting a bit strained for the 6-year-old super-geniuses: Ender, Carlotta and Cincinnatus. Even after hundreds of years of Earth’s scientists researching their condition, they are no closer to a cure. Plus, they live constantly waiting for Bean, who they refer to as “The Giant,” to die. They’re actually surprised he hasn’t already. The only reason he is alive is that he is completely inert — prone and trapped in the cargo bay, still with access to the ship’s computer system, but unable to get up or exert himself in any way.
But their situation abruptly changes when their course takes them near an interesting new planet. Especially when they see what else is there.
Oh, how I wanted to love this book. I love Bean. I love the Shadow series. But much as it pains me to say it, this latest installment felt a bit…lacking.
First off, it’s very short, almost closer to a novella than a full-length novel. Although the Enderverse is expanded and explained a bit more, as is the case with every book in the series, not much really happens. There’s barely a hint of the action, suspense and strategic thinking under fire that are peppered nicely throughout the rest of the series.
Then we get to the characters. I still love Bean. His scenes were my favorite of the book, mostly because he is still true to the Bean we have come to know throughout the rest of the series, but as with every book in the Shadow series, he has grown (no pun intended). I am a big fan of every time we learn something new about Bean, and in this book, we get to see him as a disabled father. How he handles it is touching and very true to his character.
However, Bean is not the focus of the book. The majority of the book focuses on the children, Ender, Carlotta and Cincinnatus. And here’s my problem with them: they’re essentially Ender, Valentine and Peter.
I love the dynamic between the siblings of the Wiggin family. Always have, and came to love it even more as we got to know them all throughout both the Ender and Shadow series. But I’ve already read about that family dynamic. And this is basically the same one. Yes, they’re smarter than even the Wiggin siblings because of their genetic altering, but their personalities are basically the same. Cincinnatus is basically Peter (the more mellow, adult version of Peter). Carlotta = Valentine. And Ender = Ender.
And when you take that group of personalities and genders and explore the sibling relationship between them for 8 books, and then introduce basically the same thing but with different, new characters and explore it for only one book…it’s bound to come up short. And it did.
It’s not that it wasn’t well-written. It’s not that the characters weren’t interesting, and it’s not that the story wasn’t good. It’s that it felt like a lesser version of its prequels. Maybe if we had learned something monumentally new (there is new information given in this book, but it wasn’t earth-shattering like some of the revelations in previous books), or if there had been some heart-stopping action, or if the stakes had been higher, I could have overlooked the obvious similarities to the Wiggins. But alas, it was not meant to be.
I’d still recommend this book for die-hard Enderverse fans. It’s not a bad book, and if you are itching to find out what happens next in Bean’s story, this answers your questions. But for me, I think I’ll be content with Shadow of the Giant as the last Ender book on my shelf.
Content guide: Contains brief mild violence, brief murderous plotting