Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A War of Gifts

Anyone who knows anything about me (or at least about my taste in books) will tell you that Ender's Game is, without a doubt, my favorite book (with Speaker for the Dead not far behind).  Given this, you might have expected me to rave about a "new" Ender story.  Not only that, but a Christmas-themed Ender story!  Sadly, this is not the case.  A War of Gifts (2007) is just not a compelling story.  Nor is it written particularly well.

A War of Gifts is a short novel set during the time when Ender is at the Battle School.  The story follows Zeck, a boy with an evangelical Christian upbringing in rural North Carolina.  Upon reaching Battle School, he chafes under the military rule prohibiting the practice of religion and refuses to participate in mock battles.  Along about the middle of the story (I say this because the different threads of the story are only loosely connected most of the time), a fellow student decides to buck the system by participating in a Dutch Christmas tradition.  Soon, the entire Battle School is in a gift-giving frenzy much to the chagrin of the administration.  Zeck confronts the Battle School commander about the unfairness of the situation and is told that belief in Santa Clause does not constitute a religion.  Seeing his teammate struggle with the meaning of his religion, Ender, the consummate empath, steps in to help Zeck reconcile his beliefs.  In the process, Zeck learns some hard truths about his own upbringing.

One of the hangups I had with the novel is that Card has evolved his characters far past the confines of the original Ender novels (i.e. the Shadow novels).  [Don't get me wrong--this is not a bad thing.  Card has the right to do whatever he wants with his creation].  As a consequence of this, the style in which he presently writes the Battle School children seems quite different than that in Ender's Game (and Ender's Shadow for that matter).  These differences were distracting enough for me to detract from A War of Gifts.

I can't help but think that A War of Gifts has great potential to be a better novel.  Card strains to impart some sort of message about religion in general, but I'm at a loss to say what it is.  This, combined with the lackluster writing, makes A War of Gifts a book only for those die-hard fans who thirst to read anything Ender-related.

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