Book Review: Empire & Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card

Imagine that the seemingly intractable political divide between left and right in the US were to break out into civil war.  That is the premise behind the first of these two books while the second examines what happens after.  The ironic thing is that Empire was written in 2006 while Hidden Empire came out in 2007 and the country has had 10 more years for the political atmosphere to get even more poisonous as evidenced by the lack of anything but personal attacks in this year’s presidential campaign.

I have been a fan of Card’s work since I read Ender’s Game as a Freshman in High School 30 years ago.  He never disappoints and these two books do not either.  He takes a plausible scenario, the left seeking to right the perceived stolen election of 2000, and spins an eminently plausible scenario.  The action is fast paced, the characters are believable, and the plot never quite goes where you think it is going.

The civil war described does not result in titanic clashes of armies across America as you may expect but that only makes it more believable to me.  Card’s work is often somewhat cerebral and these are no exception.  The plot and dialogue force the reader to think and actually contemplate the consequences of a new civil war and if the divide is so great in America that such a war is likely or even possible.

The central character in both novels is a historian who become president and the central dilemma is whether is America is destined to leave our Republican phase and ascend to empire as did Rome.  The interesting part is the central character is not the one who is followed in the books, instead the characters we follow are the actors doing the bidding, witting or unwitting of the central character.  The story is both books is one of discovery.  The plot can be Machiavellian at times but as you read it becomes more clear what the destination is going to be although the final act was a surprise.

As always, Card delivers a superb story that moves right along and delivers a twist at the end that is ex post facto evident but surprising when it is revealed.  Excellent books that I highly recommend.