BRIEF SYNOPSIS: At the end of Shadow of the Giant, Bean and his three children go into deep space to give them time to find a way to reverse the genes that have given them a shortened life. The trio of children and their father come across a derelict Formic ark over a habitable world, which holds answers for many lingering questions.
PROS: An engaging and readable entry that sheds some light on the Ender’s series.
CONS: Truncated, annoying, short and mostly an info dump in place of storytelling and with half-formed archetypes instead of characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Ender’s Game is one of the stories that got me through high school, and Ender’s Shadow was close behind it. Shadow, which followed Ender’s Game at the same time, has blossomed into a series in its own right, and is now headed towards a meeting point with the sequels to Ender’s Game, following the stories of what happened following the human victory over the Formics. Where Ender’s Game holds its own decades after it was written, the latest book in the Enderverse is a poor entry in the series, one that doesn’t hold a candle to the original book, nor its predecessors.
Shadows in Flight is one of the books that is beginning to bridge the gap between the two major Enderverse series, with Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide in one series, and Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets and Shadows of the Giant in the other. Unfortunately, it’s a major letdown after the books that come before it, and doesn’t do well for the upcoming meetup. Doing a bit of research on the book ahead of time, this appears to be the penultimate novel in the Shadow series: Shadows Alive, the next novel, is coming up at some unknown date, and is supposed to link the two series together. According to a couple of places, Shadows Alive was to be part of Shadows in Flight, before it was split off into a novel on its own, and I suspect that many of the shortcomings of this novel can be attributed to that – in part.
The primary issue that I had with Shadows in Flight is that it feels as though it’s merely holding the place of the story while the next novel is written; while major events happen throughout, everything feels inconsequential, ticking off important boxes to set up Shadows Alive. Ender (Bean’s son, not the titular character from Ender’s Game), works to figure out how to reverse their early deaths due to Anton’s Key, while his more militant brother (Sargeant / Cincinnatus ) equally causes problems and explores a Formic ark that they come across. Their sister (Carlotta), works to keep their ship functioning, while also helping to uncover the secrets of the alien vessel. Along the way, they learn key points about Formic biology, the fall of the entire race, and how to save themselves.
However, while these things are all accomplished, it’s lost in a muddle of childish squabbles between the three siblings. For all of the brilliance that Bean’s genes have bestowed upon his family, they’re really not smart: the petty arguments fall along strict boundaries that sees the group split between scientific, engineering and military archetypes, with each child unable to comprehend or understand the other’s point of view. Together, they’re a whole, and eventually work fairly well together, but ultimately, this point never really contributes to the story. I can only imagine that it’s their own character journey, but it comes off poorly; distracting, rather than building. Even more frustrating, the long-standing character in the series, Bean, is handled poorly; he feels broken, and lacking most of the qualities that he’s exhibited in prior books.
While the characters take up much of the story, everything is relegated to the site. This, I think, is the problem with writing about three supposed geniuses, in that they seem to be able to deduct everything (despite their own limitations with one another). Much of what we learn as a reader is brought in large blocks of exposition, places where the book feels like it just jumps ahead of the character’s discoveries and hits all the highlights. Out of it all, it feels like there’s a lot missing, and that the book as a whole is rushed to get to the key points that need to be explained to get out of the way.
This is one of the drawbacks for a book that falls between two series with a long gap of time. It’s a shame, because Shadows in Flight looked to be very promising, and to be fair, between the information dumps and the exposition, there’s some interesting revelations as to the nature of the Formics and some hints about the eventual link-up of series. Like a lot of bad middle books, Shadows in Flight is merely a placeholder, an afterthought rather than a book that advances the reader’s understanding of the Shadow universe in its own right, but something that is biding the time until the next novel in the series.