When Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Game, he focused on the character of Ender Wiggin. By doing so, he created a character strong enough to survive through three sequels. At the same time, the support characters in Ender's Game were relegated to the periphery. Card has now gone back to his original material to bring one of these characters, Bean, to the forefront in his new novel, Ender's Shadow.
Just as Ender's Game focused so tightly on Ender, Ender's Shadow focuses on Bean. Card begins with Bean's childhood as a street urchin in Rotterdam, giving a clear understanding of the survival odds which Bean overcame before he was discovered by Sister Carlotta and sent to the Battle School. At the same time, Card manages to define Bean as an underdog. Brilliant, but undersized, Bean never understands how other people view him and always assumes he'll be overlooked due to his size. At the same time he craves recognition, Bean realizes that going unnoticed is a survival trait for him.
Perhaps the biggest problem in the novel is Bean's intelligence and abilities. When the reader is first introduced to Bean, the character is a 4-year-old boy living on the streets of Rotterdam. Although Card eventually gives an explanation for Bean's heightened intelligence, it doesn't really explain how he has managed to acquire so much knowledge in such a short time living in the conditions he does.
Card gives Bean a chance to establish himself as a major character before he reintroduces Ender to the action halfway through the novel. Even then, while Ender's effect on Bean and the surrounding events is strongly felt, Ender remains more an influence than a character. The decision to keep Ender in the background is wise. Card has already demonstrated that Ender is strong enough to carry four novels and a novella. Allowing him to intrude too much on Bean's story would have decreased Bean's own stature in the book.
Another wise decision Card made in writing Ender's Shadow is the fact that the novel stands entirely on its own. Although the reader will gain additional depth from having read Ender's Game, knowledge of the earlier book is in no way necessary (and in some ways detrimental) to the enjoyment of Ender's Shadow. That said, many of the themes which were first addressed in Ender's Game are carried over into Ender's Shadow, most notably xenophobia and child abuse.
The issue of child abuse is stronger in Ender's Shadow than in Ender's Game partly due to Bean's circumstances. Rather than coming from a middle class family, as most of the children at the Battle School do, Bean comes from the streets of Rotterdam. His earliest memories are of fear rather than love and even when he manages to hook up with a group of children on the streets, he still does so on their sufferance and continues to fear for his life.
The differences between Bean and Ender are important because they are the things which make Ender's Shadow a novel in its own right, rather than simply a re-telling of Ender's Game. Card has been able to write a novel which adds to his universe rather than simply publish a book which trades on his earlier successes. Ender's Shadow serves as a welcome return to this world to those already familiar with it and also can serve as an introduction for people who have yet to make the acquaintance of Ender Wiggin.
Review written by Steven H. Silver, 1999.