Thursday, 5 June 2014

Book Review: Ender's Game (Ender Quintet #1, Orson Scott Card)

This post is part of a joint effort by me and Commander LilaJune of LilaJune's Book Saloon to kickstart our blogging. Every week we'll post a review of the same book or a discussion on the same topic. This week, we are visiting the fascinating world of Ender's Game, where a brilliant boy learns about himself, others, and humanity in a heartbreaking tale of friendship and a sacrificed childhood.

(Cover image taken from Goodreads)


Disclaimer: I owe Sofia of Loving the Language of Literacy for her help in review-structuring. She is one awesome young lady.

Read the Goodreads synopsis here

I've known about this book (a classic, in my opinion) for a long, long time, and even have an old edition sitting in my bookshelf without knowing it (because my husband and I don't tell each other about the books we own, yeah). It's not until I got bored during a flight and put the movie adaptation on that I became super duper interested in reading it, though. I picked up the movie tie-in addition in an airport shop on my flight home, unaware of the one my husband has at home -- and with the encouragement from my blog buddy and Commander LilaJune, I started it. At that time, I had a high expectation of it. And once I finished reading, I must say it didn't disappoint.

Plot/Premise/Theme

Ender's Game is a story of how the threat of war, the government and its programs, the adults and the other children at Battle School, and Ender's own thoughts, love, confidence, and insecurities makes and breaks Ender Wiggin.  The premise itself is interesting: young, brilliant children in training to save the world from an imminent 'bug' invasion. This book spans a few long years, and it looked slow at first -- but later I realised that it worked well with the plot and theme. In the first few chapters, the story looked like a loose recap collection from various periods of Ender Wiggin's young life, but the more I read, the more I saw how the previous chapters built the foundation of the current chapter, little by little until it culminated in a heartbreaking final chapter. Every event in the book is important, and related to the climax and resolution. It is a plot unlike another I'd seen before, yet it felt unique and clean. And (despite the obvious spoiler given away by the movie), at the end, it still awed me.

Characters & Romance (or lack thereof)

One thing Card did really well with this book was characterisation. Ender's Game has an array of ethnically and psychologically diverse characters (even though it only has a grand total of two important female characters -- but I guess one can't pick on a classic for doing this :)), who are well-defined throughout the pages. Through Ender's interaction with any given secondary character, Card defined both Ender and the other character. When Ender's not there in the scene, the role of defining secondaries fall into the hand of his sister Valentine, and his maker/destroyer Graff, the head of Battle School.  What I love the most about Ender and all the supporting characters is how grey they are. They switch sides. Each of their strength is also their weakness, and while some of them are capable of doing evil things, they are capable of doing good as well. And they always have reasons. At the end, Ender Wiggin endeared and frightened me just the same, with his sharp mind, his regrets, his robbed childhood, and his resolution to fix the damages he had done the universe and his 'enemy'. He is one of my favourites in this book, along with his sharp-yet-gentle sister Valentine, who is his light at the end of the tunnel, the hope in the midst of regrets and adversities.

Despite the lack of romance (bar that sneaky handhold between two minor characters at the very end) which is probably tied to the characters' young ages, Ender's Game still explores the theme of love really well. The brotherly love Ender has for his older sister Valentine, and her equally fierce sisterly love for him, shines beautifully through their thoughts of each other and the few moments they share together. The friendship Ender has with Alai, Shen, Dink, and others; the mentor-mentee relationship he has with first Petra (the other girl in the story apart from Valentine) and later Bean -- I didn't feel deprived of the 'warm' feeling of romance as I read. Ender's Game proves that there are more facades of love apart from romance, and that protagonists can work and grow up well without romantic interests. This is a point I think every Science Fiction and Fantasy author should really consider, before they add a one-dimensional/damsel-or-hansel-in-distress love interest or a weird love triangle for protagonists who do not need them.

Style and Feel

Card's style is clean and open, and I enjoyed it. There are paragraphs with long, elaborate setting descriptions (especially in the Battle Room) which slowed me down and forced me to exercise my brain, but I really enjoyed Ender's internal monologues and the character interactions. Whilst Card uses a lot of 'telling' (and less 'showing' than many other authors I've read) in this book, it didn't feel impersonal to me, and I was kept interested throughout. I felt the joy. I felt the heartbreak. The book tugged me in all the right directions. Oh, and that ending. That. Ending. It got through to me. What does one do once the truth's revealed? How does one fix the humanity, the universe, and one's mistakes?

Final Verdict

One of the classic/older books I actually finished and liked. I liked how relevant and universal the themes in it are, even years later. Whilst I would love to see more female characters (of the strong variant) in the book (especially in Battle School), I loved Ender and everyone else who is there (perhaps not so much Graff, Ender's sadistic brother Peter, and the adults who either don't care or are too cowardly to fight their own battle, but the Battle School kids are awesome).

Whilst there is a lot of devastation at the end, there is also hope. I've been warned about the gloomy nature of the sequels (by the internet and my friends), and I'm on the fence about continuing. Maybe I'll pick the second book up one day, but for now, I'm content with Ender's current resolution and the story which captivated me.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5.

So - have you ever watched a movie adaptation before reading the book? How did it affect your enjoyment of the book? How did you feel about Ender, his decision, and his painful self realisation/awareness? What would you do if you were in Ender's shoes?

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