As a “midquel” that fills in gaps between other books in Orson Scott Card’s “enderverse” (the universe inhabited by Ender Wiggin, started in Ender’s Game) and ties up some loose ends, Ender in Exile would probably be hard to understand by anyone who hasn’t read the other books. Even for readers of the other books, it may seem dull to those who prefer action to psychological drama.
But this was probably my favorite of the enderverse books, except perhaps for the one that started it all. Ender’s Game is brilliant, but troubling in the moral issues it raises, and the unhappiness it depicts in so many children deprived of home, family, and any sort of normal childhood. Ender in Exile provides, if not resolution, at least some measure of healing.
Card tells, in an afterword, that a large part of what he was doing in this book is exploring that psychological scars military veterans carry with them even if their bodies bear no outward sign of injury. Ender Wiggin, at twelve years old, is such a veteran, hailed for the victory that saved mankind from their long-feared enemy from the stars. But the knowledge of the deaths he is responsible for – both humans who died in battles under his command, and the entire race of aliens wiped out in the catastrophic final battle – preys on him incessantly.
There is also a good deal of what I found to be fairly light-hearted storytelling. There is good character development (particularly of Dorabella and Allesandra Toscano, two other colonists on the starship taking Ender to the first human colony on a world once inhabited by the now-dead formics), and serious themes dealt with in the process, but the mood is much less dark than in Ender’s Game, or some of the other enderverse books.
I also enjoyed seeing Ender again. He was what made Ender’s Game what it was (not just him, but what he was subjected to by the adults who trained him, and the way he met each challenge). By the next book (Speaker for the Dead was written next, although later books came earlier chronologically), Ender had transformed into Andrew (his given name), a mature adult, with little indication how he made the difficult transition to maturity. This book tells that story, and tells it well.