467 pages. Introduction and acknowledgments.
Neither a prequel nor a sequel, this novel retells the story of the author's previous Ender's Game novel from the perspective of a different character. Call it a parallel novel. Or a companion novel. Either way, it takes skill to pull it off without rewriting the original novel!
The protagonist this time around is Bean, the youngest child ever admitted to Battle School, who became one of Ender Wiggin's toon leaders and his confidant.
The novel moves through four phases.
In the first phase, which is all-new material, we meet Bean as a starving infant on the streets of Rotterdam, where he uses his incredible intelligence to reshape the child gangs to his benefit. He meets Poke, the girl gang leader who takes his advice; and Achilles, the handicapped older bully child chosen to be their protector. Sadly, his intelligence is not enough to prevent a murder, and he blames himself. He is eventually noticed by a nun who recruits exceptional children for the Fleet. He is the best candidate ever tested, with perfect memory – but where did he come from?
The novel then proceeds to the orbiting Battle School, where Bean proves to be even more precocious than Ender Wiggin – more insightful, less trusting, and even better at penetrating school security systems. Bean studies Ender from afar, realizing that Ender has qualities he does not have. Bean also wonders why he lacks the emotions of the other childen… is he truly human?
Eventually, this novel intersects with Ender's Game, as Bean becomes part of Ender's team. We learn that Bean was behind many of the events in the other novel, and certain events are further explained (did Petra deliberately betray Ender at Battle School?).
Once Ender graduates from Battle School, Bean is again in 'new story' territory – he leads his own team in the Game, influences Earth politics, moves up to advanced training, and at last is reunited with Ender for the final events of their story.
Unlike Ender's Game, there is no 'cosmic ending' this time – Bean gets a happy ending (well, until the next novel in this series!).
Here's the bad news: If you wanted to see more of the Game, sorry, there's actually less than in the original novel. Though we do find out how Bean got the zipline…
Here's the good news: There's slight more about starship combat this time around, and Bean's interest in tactics and strategy means we get more information than the original novel. Also, because of Bean's greater intelligence, we learn more about what the instructors intended (and Bean interacts more with the instructors).
I was prepared not to like this novel, but I got sucked in again and highly enjoyed the read. Bean is an interesting character, capable of incredible feats, and the author accomplishes the difficult job of making him seem even more advanced (though flawed) than the hero from the original novel. Recommended.
I definitely recommend reading Ender's Game first. Even if you don't want to read the 'same story' over again, this novel sets up further novels in the Enderverse, so you may still want to read this one.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .