In the foreword to Ender's Shadow, Orson Scott Card tells how this novel that parallels the SF/F classic Ender's Game came into being. He describes how he "flirted seriously with the idea of opening up the Ender's Game universe to other writers." After inviting Neil Shusterman to think about working with him on the creation of novels about Ender's Battle School companions, and deciding that Bean ("the child-soldier whom Ender treated as he had been treated by his adult teachers") would be the most obvious character to start such a project with, Card became jealous
that he himself wouldn't be the one writing such a book. He "deftly swiped the project back" and began the experimental task that became Ender's Shadow:
For the reader, the parallax is created by Ender and Bean, standing a little ways apart as they move through the same events. For the writer, the parallax was created by a dozen years in which my older children grew up, and younger ones were born, and the world changed around me, and I learned a few things about human nature and about art that I had not known before.
Interesting note: In the acknowledgements, Card says that his original (and still favorite) title for Ender's Shadow was Urchin, although he agrees that the final title is the more marketable one. That's probably true; Ender's Game is one of his most powerful and popular novels, and if it takes an obvious tie-in book title to attract readers to one of the most talented and prolific authors in the spec-fic field, who's to take offense?
A nameless, undersized four-year-old child roams the unfriendly streets of Rotterdam, a city blasted by the ferocity of the Bugger War in which humanity managed to repel a force of insectoid aliens from destroying and claiming the earth. Physically diminutive but possessed of a preternatural intelligence and accelerated mental development, the boy is on the brink of starvation. He knows that, in order to survive, he needs to insinuate himself into one of the nearly feral child-gangs who pit themselves against other gangs and individual bullies to scrape out a mere subsistence. He advises the leader of one of the youngest gangs to lure one of the loner bullies to act as protector to the smaller children in return for obeisant portions of the food they manage to find and keep. The girl reluctantly takes his advice, but the bully she selects seems untrustable to the wee boy. He advises her to kill the bully Achilles; she refuses, and Achilles becomes the gang's papa. With Achilles leading the way, the children gain access to one of the city's food kitchens.
But Bean (as he is named by members of the gang, for his size) knows that Achilles hasn't forgotten that the littlest among the group said to kill him, and that the ultimate repayment for the disrespect will be banishment, or even Bean's death. When Bean is the only witness to Achilles' slaying of the girl who'd led the gang, he knows his life is likely forfeit. By chance, he is discovered and quickly becomes the obsession of a nun who is a recruiter for the Battle School, part of the military extension of the world government. The School seeks out the most mentally, emotionally and physically superior children for training to fight against any possible return force of the Buggers. Sister Carlotta recommends Bean rather forcefully to the Battle School. Against objections to his size (and in acknowledgement of his amazing test scores), Bean is flown out to the Battle School space station.
Bean is singled out immediately by the military instructors; he finds himself being compared by both the adults and the students to a legendary boy named Ender Wiggins. Bean sets himself the task of finding out all he can about the best student in Battle School, and finding out who among the other children are aligned with or against him. Bean sets himself against the School from the beginning, unwilling to follow their implied order. As he learns more about the Battle School, he discovers a few remarkable things. One is that he actually may possess the capacity to deeply care for another person. Another is the truth about humanity's greatest enemy: the War isn't over.
Ender's Shadow tells Bean's story satisfyingly, and provides a thoughtful new perspective on Ender Wiggins. It works best if viewed as a companion novel to the Hugo- and Nebula award-winning Ender's Game, rather than as a true stand-alone novel. Card has done a bang-up job of, in his words, "[telling] the same story twice, but differently." Ender's Shadow should especially please readers who loved Ender's Game but were lukewarm about its sequels.