Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (Book Review)

Speaker for the Dead is the book Orson Scott Card says he originally had the idea for within the world of Ender Wiggin, but he ended up writing the short story (and novel of same name) Ender’s Game first.

I read Ender’s Game for the first time many years ago, but after rereading it a few years later, I remembered how much I loved the novel. Since then, I’ve reread it twice, each time only increasing my love of the book.

I never ventured further into the series, though. Part of me was afraid that the other books in the series wouldn’t be able to live up to the first book. But this summer, I decided I would finally read the next book—a decision I do not regret.

[This review has no major spoilers for Speaker of the Dead but does contain spoilers for Ender’s Game]

Speaker for the Dead picks up with Ender when he is thirty-five, time jumping many years from the end of Ender’s Game (and even more years from the bulk of Ender’s Game). Ender is still looking for a home for the hive queen and is still working through the trauma of the xenocide.

Critiques: Ender’s Inner World

A surprising amount of this book focuses on characters other than Ender, leaving less of the story focusing on Ender as intimately as Ender’s Game does. This is my main critique of the book: I would have been interested in a deeper focus on Ender’s inner world. While this book does lend some focus to his inner world, it splits it attention between Ender and some new characters. One of the reasons I love Ender’s Game is because of its intense examination of Ender. Frankly, this is more of a subjective critique (rather than an objective problem with the book), but if you were interested in the thorough view Ender’s Game gave of the title character, you may not like the sequel as much as the original. However, this is my main critique of the book.

Praises: Theme of Truth

On the positive side, Speaker for the Dead lends stunning depth to an emotional exploration of many of the side characters, demonstrating the power of empathy. It strikes me that the real theme of this book is the power of truth. As a Speaker for the Dead (and the original Speaker for the Dead), Ender is searching for the true story of people’s lives so that he may speak of their lives (now that these people are dead). In doing so, he reveals both beautiful and ugly truths that make his listeners love then hate then understand and ultimately love those he speaks for. He points out why humans behave as they have. He sheds light on the dark corners of individuals’ lives. He tells his listeners the truth.

Ender’s Game focuses on the main character while Speaker for the Dead focuses more on this theme of truth, understanding, and love. Not to say Speaker for the Dead is propaganda, focusing only on theme—far from it. It’s only through the examination of the characters and plot that this theme becomes apparent. The theme is woven in throughout the story in a way that is friendly to both the casual reader and the most stuffy critic.  

Ultimately, the story wonderfully embodies the quote from Ender’s Game, “I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.”

Overall, Speaker for the Dead—while it does not quite rise to the same level as Ender’s Game (in my opinion)—remains a well-crafted book and one that I do highly recommend.

Part 3 of my series on publishing your writing is coming next week. Stay tuned.

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