Orson Scott Card‘s ENDERVERSE has grown to sixteen novels and counting, along with several novellas and short stories, since he published Ender’s Game in 1985 (or if you want to go back even further, since the original “Ender’s Game” short story was published in Analog magazine in 1977). Andrew Wiggin, or Ender, is the main character in only a few of these works; others focus on his brother Peter Wiggin, Ender’s protégé Bean, and other new or secondary characters from Ender’s Game. Which brings us to Mazer Rackham, the half-Māori war hero who plays a brief but pivotal role in Ender’s Game.
In 2012, Card, along with co-author Aaron Johnston, began writing prequels to the original ENDER series, beginning with Earth Unaware, set almost a century before Ender’s Game. Mazer Rackham is a key character in this series, but shares the stage with many others, particularly Victor Delgado, a space-born mechanic; Bingwen, a brilliant young Chinese boy training as a soldier to fight the alien Formics; and Lem Jukes, immensely wealthy son and heir of the first Hegemon.
I mention this background because, although The Swarm (2016) is designated as the first volume in the SECOND FORMIC WAR trilogy, readers should really consider it the fourth book in the prequel novels about the original Formic attacks on Earth. It’s possible to start your prequel reading with The Swarm, but the events and characters are so closely connected to the FIRST FORMIC WAR trilogy (Earth Unaware, Earth Afire and Earth Awakens) that I really can’t recommend beginning with The Swarm.
After barely beating off the Formics who invaded Earth in the First Formic War, the people of Earth have reorganized themselves politically and militarily, knowing that a larger invasion of Formics is inevitable. Lem Jukes’ father Ukko has become the Hegemon, a type of prime minister over the entire planet, and he’s been joined by a Polemarch, chief over the new International Fleet, and a Strategos, in charge of the defense of our solar system. As Victor and his shipmates discover a second invasion of Formics gearing up, hidden among the asteroids in our solar system, Mazer battles his superior officer’s greed and corruption that have resulted in punitive court-martial proceedings against Mazer. Meanwhile, Bingwen and other Chinese orphan boys are being whipped into soldiers by the merciless and driven Captain Li, who knows that their small size may make them invaluable warriors if humans need to battle Formics in their underground tunnels.
The plot of The Swarm is complex, jumping between these and other characters’ points of view. One of the more fascinating, and appalling, characters is Khalid, a murderous Somalian space pirate, whose brief subplot makes for compelling reading. (There will certainly be more to come from Khalid.) There’s also Wila, a young Thai biochemist who takes a lot of heat for her Buddhist-inspired empathy toward the Hive Queen of the Formics, but whose scientific and philosophical insights may lead to key breakthroughs in defending against them. Overall it’s a typical Card cast of characters: incredibly bright, precocious children; idealistic fighters for freedom; and the corrupt, self-centered people who stand in their way.
The theme of deadly alien threat, counter-balanced with the grave problems caused by human selfishness and greed, plays out throughout The Swarm. For my money, Card and Johnston are taking much too long to spin out this tale, when you consider not just the 500+ pages in this novel but all of the other books you need to read to get the entire story. But all in all, it’s a well-told tale if you like SF space operas and you’re a fan of Orson Scott Card’s ENDERVERSE books. If you haven’t already read Ender’s Game, I strongly recommend that you start there, then read my favorite book in the entire series, Speaker for the Dead, and then decide from there if you want to get deeper into the ENDERVERSE. The SECOND FORMIC WAR series continues with The Hive, just published in June 2019.