Better than the last novel in the shadow series, simply because of the dialogue. The witty repartee between the characters and the conspiracy surrounding Achilles entrance in the Hegemon's compound made for an interesting read, as was the developing relationship among the main characters. This however, leads me into the first criticism of the book: How the heck old are Bean and Petra?!? It was a little disturbing to hear her say, "I just want to have your babies!" over and over again throughout the novel. How petty her character has become. And at most they have to be 16. If this book is meant for a Young Adult audience, I find the development a little shaky and risky, especially from a conservative, christian pro-Bush author. My second criticism is has to do with Mr. Card's treatment of geopolitics. Once again, I find his assumptions about the likely developments in relationships between countries completely naive. The formation of a new caliphate that unites the Muslim world is preposterous especially in light of the religious and political climate of the Mid-East today. Caliphs in the past were divisive figures at best, not unifiers even if that was the intent of the position. In the afterword, Card always references a single historical tome (or at most two) that he relied on to extrapolate future geopolitical relationships, which more often than not turn out to be caricatures and overgeneralizations of previous behaviors of disparate groups that have almost no concurrent basis in reality (the Chinese because they developed one of the world's first bureaucracies is so paralyzed in the future by that same problem that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing is another example; completely ignoring that he himself made them a successful world empire that was fast and efficient). It succeeds maybe at the YA level of literature, in the same way I think that Tom Clancy succeeds at the lower levels of sophistication. So much of it seems to be nothing more than a military forum enthusiast's wet dreams of global warfare.
Nevertheless.... as with my previous reviews, I find the characters, particularly Bean to be engaging and fun to read about. The rivalry between him and Achilles is interesting to watch as it unravels in this third novel, and I will finish the last book in the series, which points to some level of skill on the part of Card in terms of characterization. I also liked Virlomi and her campaign of civil disobedience in India - genius (even if the name was hokey "The Great Wall of India"??; I often wish Card had help naming things throughout this series with a little more imagination).
The one problem I had with a character in this one however, was Peter Wiggin, who we are led to believe is a genius, yet nevertheless does some incredibly stupid and naive things in this novel. His character is also inconsistent from his portrayal in Ender's Game. One would think that maybe Card had mingled the archetype of the character into two: Peter and Achilles and then transformed Peter's character overnight in a new novel without explaining how in the first novel he quite frequently told his younger brother that he would kill him because he hated him so much and whisper into his ears at night when he was in bed about how he would do it. With that backstory it's a little hard to imagine Peter as the benign Hegemon. I could have done with a little more shrewdness and moral ambiguity on Peter's part to make him more believable. How could he be so easily duped by someone who's character is nearly identical to him?
Read it. It's still entertaining. If only for Bean (and maybe Suri)...