Book Review: Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card has explained that Ender in Exile, the direct sequel to Ender’s Game, occurs primarily between chapters 14 and 15 of the first book. Here in the sequel we get greater detail and insight into what was just covered cursorily about Ender’s life after the war in Ender’s Game.

It becomes clear that Ender cannot return to live on Earth, or else he will become the subject of a dangerous and violent political tug-of-war to see who can use the returned hero with greatest results. It is decided that he will be shipped, with his sister and others, to live on one of the former alien (formic) planets now being colonized by people from Earth. Much of the book is spent onboard the traveling starship, where we meet some of the new colonists, and watch as Ender tries to come to terms with his conduct during his training and the war. We also meet other people of import already living in the new colonies, and get updates on old familiars like Bean and Graff.

I have to say, starting this book immediately after finishing Ender’s Game left me feeling very disoriented. I felt like I had just left a world of tight, shadowy, psychological intrigue and was then blasted into a bright, chatty, open-book one. It left me trying to refocus, like when the lights get flipped on in the middle of a dark night. It took me a few chapters, but after a while I was definitely able to get into a groove.

I don’t think it’s unusual to have felt disoriented as a reader, and not just because of the 23yr time difference between the writing of the two books. Ender himself – and the world at large – are thrust into a new normal as the war is over and people struggle to redefine themselves and their priorities. Ender is no longer a soldier, but a statesman, and that fact alone requires more conversation and interaction in this story. Until now, the government’s main focus was to keep Ender isolated and sharp for his fighting duties, but now he’s placed in the midst of a new intergallactic colony and asked to lead. On a more intimate level, he is also reunited with his sister, and we watch as Ender tries to regroup and relearn the concept of family.

Though Ender’s story has changed, Card manages to stay true to what is so appealing about Ender as a character. He is still thoughtful and precise, very calculating in his observations and careful in his execution. He makes an effective leader, for the same reasons he made an effective fighter: he takes the time to invest himself and his concern in whomever he is meant to face.

I felt there were a few complications in the story, and at least one of them was addressed in Card’s afterword. With some of the new characters introduced in Ender in Exile, I had the feeling that I was already supposed to know who they were. Although Card includes them in the story, most of them aren’t allowed to reach any kind of bloom – they’re left a little flat. I’m speaking specifically of Virlomi and Arkanian. It made me wonder if Card was using this chance to introduce characters already written into the later Ender’s sequels. As he acknowledges in the afterword, this is true. But not having read any of the other sequels, it made me feel like I was out of the loop.

I was also very confused at how Card wrote Ender’s parents in this book. For the entire duration of Ender’s Game, we are led to believe that Ender’s parents are uninvolved and unaware. In fact, while I was reading the book, I questioned aloud, “How can three such incredibly intelligent children come from two totally oblivious parents?” I wonder if others have voiced the same complaint, and that is why Card felt compelled to give us a “just kidding!” in regards to the parents. We’re supposed to believe that John Paul and Theresa Wiggin were cognizant of their children’s doings (especially Valentine and Peter) but were just playing dumb? I just couldn’t buy the total shift in their behavior and representation.

Those concerns aside, I really enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a stand-alone – too much of it depends on understanding what Ender lived through in Ender’s Game. But this story as a continuation of his coming-of-age and an exploration of the expanding reach of humankind is engaging and very rewarding.

Thanks go to Julie Harabedian at FSB Associates for the free review copy of this book.