I liked the first volume of this series, Pathfinder, and hoped it was a return to form after a long series of duds from Card, a very talented but somewhat erratic author. I was less enthused by the sequel, Ruins, but gave Card credit for his thoughtful approach. In this culmination, unfortunately, the whole thing comes completely unraveled.
For a start, while Card makes an effort to explain and constrain his time-travel plot, I just find that time travel books can almost never resolve their paradoxes. Here, three books in, Card throws his weight fully into the time-travel aspect, not as a useful plot mechanism, but as a central feature to be explored. The result is a disaster with little real logic, and, while it’s possible to follow what’s happening, it never really makes any sense.
The problem is exacerbated by Card’s long excursions into morality and philosophy – normally fine with me, but here, with time travel in the mix, the result is highly inconsistent. Not only do the moral lessons not work in themselves, they’re constantly in conflict with earlier moral lessons, and almost never applied consistently. I lost track of the number of times I stopped in frustration at the way the characters contradicted themselves or simply didn’t follow their own trains of logic. As a moral discussion, then, the book is a failure.
Finally, having set up a high stakes, save two worlds and the human race situation, Card then … sends his characters off to decide a purely local, globally insignificant political battle that is relevant only in that it lets his born-queen and her husband-because-the-author-decided-they-should-marry-but-he-doesn’t-seem-very-happy be Queen and King, despite being very badly suited to the job. Perhaps it’s because it gave Card a chance to set up a very complex time travel mechanism for war that he then fails to follow, and which ends in a spectacularly unreasonable way. Much of the book has that same problem – gone back to Earth (on a backward time-traveling ship that never makes much sense), the characters have absolutely no trouble finding friends to help them, but then spend a lot of time going back further in time to see how erectid humans live. This has absolutely no bearing on the major plot points, but apparently scratched some itch of Card’s. It’s not interesting or in any way credible. Nor is the endlessly repeated discussion about whether the mice can be trusted. No, they can’t. Why keep trusting them?
The first book in this series was pretty good. The second was only fair, and apparently at that point, Card ran out of material and interest, because this conclusion, stitched together from random odds and ends found in a drawer, is an unmitigated flop. A nicely written flop, looking purely at the prose, which is the only reason it gets 2 stars, but as a story, it’s pretty poor. Oh, and there’s some casual sexism thrown in just to put a bow on it.