So far, this gets my 'best book of the year' award. I was thinking that I would have to say I liked it even better than 'Ender's Game,' but I didn't think the ending was handled with quite as much power and finesse. And - like most of Card's books, although I LOVE the writing, I disagree with his conclusions.
Young Patience has grown up on the planet of Imakulata as a slave in the Heptarch's household, the daughter of the ruler's prime assassin, and trained herself in the deadly arts. However, with the help of the biologically preserved head of a deceased court official, she discovers that she is actually the heir apparent - and not only that, but the fulfillment of an age-old religious prophecy - believers think that she is destined to be the mother of the Kristos (the second coming of Christ).
Upon the death of her father, Patience is no longer trusted by the usurper, and she flees assassins herself, accompanied only by her childhood teacher, Angel. At first aimless, she soon begins to fall prey to a nigh-irresistible mental call... the call of the Unwyrm, a terrible legend feared by all four sentient races of Imakulata. Answering Unwyrm's erotic summons, Patience realized, would lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy. Perversely, she decides that she will exercise free will, seek out Unwyrm, and destroy him.
Along the road of her quest, she falls in with companions, including a brother/sister pair of geblings (goblin-like, intelligent and telepathic beings considered to be sub-human), their strong and silent servant, Will, and a stout riverboat captain, who is bigoted yet loyal - and meets others - the 'librarian' dwelf, who like others of her race, has perfect memory of actions, but no ability to remember concepts - and gaunts, the beautiful creatures for whom another's desire always takes precedence over their own (meaning that they're often caught in the role of sex workers).
WARNING - AHEAD MAY BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS!!!
(but I want to say what I disagreed with, and why I was disappointed by the ending)
DON'T READ IF YOU'RE PLANNING ON READING THIS BOOK!
Along the way, the group uncovers much of the history of Imakulata - how the founder of the planet was a starship captain summoned by the same will-subsuming mental call that Patience now feels, and how scientific experiments have revealed the bizarre phenomenon of Imakulata - the native life is capable of mixing genetically with alien life, sexually reproducing and mimicking the new forms perfectly.
However, the first generation always contains genetic screw-ups and 'sports.' The second generation is always superior to the original earth life forms, and then takes over with hybrid vigor.
All sentient life on Imakulata now is first generation after hybridization: the starship captain mated with the alien Wyrm he found on Imakulata, the results were: 'normal' humans, and the 'sports' - dwelfs, gaunts, and geblings. After this incident, the humans kill all the sentient alien life forms, since they're ugly and threatening (a very human-like behavior), preventing a second generation from occurring. Now, IF Patience mates with the alien Wyrm, her offspring will be new, improved, "super-humans." However, Card comes down against this, metaphorically equating the call of Unwyrm with the temptations of Satan. The reason given for this are that these new improved humans would wipe out the existing life on Imakulata (as the prophecy says will happen). OKAY, but the problem is that life on Imakulata is pretty bad. Racism and bigotry are rampant, people are oppressed, etc.. It's not such a good system to be preserving. Even Patience says something to the effect of, "the only reason I can think of to preserve humans is that I'm a human."
And Card specifically points out that all the Unwyrm wanted was what humans wanted - to live and reproduce.
So - why is he equated with Satan?
Why should the planet remain in the 'in-between,' awkward evolutionary state?
It seems to me that the second generation hybridization would have been good for everyone - and the universe in general. Patience deciding to destroy Unwyrm rather than bear his children goes against her main credo - to think of the whole rather than the part, to put the good of the many before the good of the few (or the one). (yeah, yeah, very Vulcan). I mean, she even accepts her mother's murder as OK due to this philosophy! So is not the good of the future better than the good of the present? Are not improvements to be sought? Card DOES portray this as a difficult choice, but his message does seem to be that Patience made the right choice - and I disagree. I'm just not a humans-firster, I guess!
OK, that's the major thing.
The second thing is Will. His subsuming of his "passions" to his will is portrayed as a great spiritual accomplishment. I got the impression that Card really looks up to that sort of thing. The book explicitly speaks poorly of hedonists and others that follow their passions. In the book, Will is rewarded for this great self-control with Patience's love. However Will is really just dull and boring. Who wants a lover with no passion, just this great inner peace? Dull, dull, dull. I'm all about passion. I want good food, good sex, all kinds of sensual experiences. I think they matter, and are the reason for life. I don't think there's any great reward to be reaped through self-denial. Again, this is just me!
However, the third thing is actually a literary criticism and not a philosophical criticism. After doing an Excellent job of portraying the vicious, violent, intrigue-threaded court of the Heptarch, and after going on and on about how violence is sometimes necessary - at the end of the book he has Patience, the true heir, show up and display a show of force. Then, the usurper agrees (instantly) to step down, accepts a minor lord's post, and gives Patience a bloodless coup.
All in about 3 pages.
And we're to believe that he holds no resentment against her after this.
Yeah, right. When in history did that ever happen?
Okay, now I got that out of my system.
So, complaints aside - I did really love, and would recommend this book HIGHLY.
(After all, I thought it was worth wasting this much space on talking about it, right?!?!?)