A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card
A War of Gifts: An Ender Story
The Christmas season is upon us, so what better book to include than one set at Christmas time? Orson Scott Card’s long-running Ender series has tackled the topic of national identity and loyalty before, but never quite like this. A War of Gifts hearkens back to the Battle School, where religion is forbidden to the students.
The children at the Battle School are supposed to forget their nationalities, their religions and anything that identifies them as anything but soldiers. But nothing can make these children completely forget their homes and customs, and on the Dutch Sinterklaas Eve, Ender’s commander Dink Meeker gives another student a gift.
This simple act of generosity sparks some wide-ranging consequences.
Everything soon centers around Zeck, a new student who comes from an extremely strict and fundamental sect of Christianity. When he’s recruited to the Battle School, his refusal to give up his beliefs becomes the fuel that ignites the school into all-out chaos.
This novella is a nice addition to the Ender saga, and not just because it centers on Christmas. It delves more into the overall social atmosphere, beyond merely the armies of children and the Battle Room where wars are fought. The original novels focused so relentlessly on these aspects that some of the smaller human dramas weren’t explored.
Since many of Card’s Ender books take place when the characters are grown up, some readers may be shocked to hear adult sentiments coming from children. Readers need to remember that all these characters are the best and brightest, and often are mature for their age.
The author doesn’t try to dumb down their interactions; he expects readers to keep up with both him and his precocious creations.
Ender’s Game remains the best entry point for Card’s series, but A War of Gifts might give new readers a taste of this world’s complex social and political stories. This is a quick read, and one that makes us think.
Also by this author: Earth Unaware (with Aaron Johnston), Empire, Ender in Exile, Ender’s Game, Invasive Procedures (with Aaron Johnston), The Lost Gate, Magic Street, Shadow of the Giant, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadows in Flight
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on December 17, 2009.