451 pages. Afterword.
This book is the sequel to Ender's Shadow, which is a retelling of Ender's Game from the perspective of the arch-genius child, Bean.
For decades, war on Earth has been suspended due to the battle of survival against the alien Buggers. Earth's genius children were sent to the orbital Battle School to become military leaders. But now, the Buggers have been defeated. The Battle School children have returned home. And certain nations are ready to resume their struggle for world domination.
Ender Wiggin has left the solar system, along with his genius sister Valentine. His brother Peter, flawed genius passed over for Battle School, pursues his dream of ruling the world as Hegemon. Achilles, the Belgian serial-murdering child genius, pursues the same course.
Suddenly, Ender's top commanders are kidnapped from around the world – except for Bean, who narrowly escapes an assassination attempt. Who has moved to control the brightest military minds in the world, and what is their goal?
What the author is trying to do with this novel is show how history is shaped, not just by situations, but also by the influence of key people (i.e., the protagonists and villains in this novel). Politicians scheme, wars are fought, and agreements are broken in a 'great game' of global realignment.
This novel is often listed as 'military sci-fi', which might be misleading. This is not Hammer's Slammers. Yes, Bean finally gets to command his 'own' soldiers, but tactical combat is largely skimmed over, and weapon systems are left undetailed. Rather, this is a novel about war from a grand strategic viewpoint.
The focus of the novel is on Bean (which also means that Achilles is a focus, since he is determined to kill Bean). Also playing interesting roles are Graf of Battle School (now in charge of space colonization), Sister Carlotta (the Vatican operative), Mrs. Wiggin, Petra (one of the few girls in Battle School), and some newly introduced former Battle School prodigies. Peter Wiggin is an influence throughout the book, but the author builds suspense by not letting us know what Peter is up to. The author largely succeeds at getting us to believe that these genius children can influence the world, without getting all Disney on us.
On the negative side, one of the major characters dies in a way that seems poorly scripted (and disappointing), and one of the major scenes where someone has to 'out psych' the murderous Achilles I found hard to believe.
Can you wargame it? There is certainly a war here that could be fought out on the tabletop, and the lack of specifics leaves players free to invent their own forces. Bean's raiding would be boring (he always strikes at the enemy's weakest point!), and the big 'free the hostages' fight would be hard to replicate on the tabletop, but they can be used as inspiration for scenarios that would be more balanced for both players.
I enjoyed the novel. Recommended. Note that the novel is best enjoyed by first reading Ender's Game (to get the backstory on Peter Wiggin) and Ender's Shadow (to get the backstory on Bean and Achilles).
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .