The first part of Earthfall details the century-long space voyage from Harmony to Earth. Somewhat predictably, things go immediately wrong-Ellemak and his followers once again attempt sabotage, this time by taking hostages. Except now the deadly family fight is contained within the claustrophobic confines of a spacecraft, where there's not a lot of room to run and hide. Card lets us familiarize ourselves with a whole second generation of characters (third, actually, if you count the parents of Nafai) who are caught up within the family struggle. This first half is dark and thrillingly executed, and Card's trademark fiery character interactions are really hot here. Although the seemingly endless feudal battle has the potential for becoming tiresome, it never does-and it never has a chance to.
It's the second half that begins falling short of enjoyment. When they land on Earth, they befriend two sentient species, one evolved from rats and one from bats. These are the creatures that dominated the Basilicans' dreams back on their planet Harmony, but none of the characters give any indication of this, as if Card had forgotten to mention the significance of this connection. The Nafari end up siding with the 'angels', and the Ellemaki with the 'diggers.' More conflict ensues, etc, etc. The book is still pretty good up to the last few pages. The last pages of Earthfall are one of the most disappointing of sci-fi ever written.
There is no final confrontation between the hero and the villain. While this may seem like a spoiler, it really is a warning, to those who are expecting some spectacular face-off between Nafai and Ellemak. Orson Scott Card is not one to adhere to tradition or cliché-in fact, the conclusion to Earthfall obviously suggests that the entire series is simply an allegory for the ever-lasting destructive nature of human beings, no matter what their technological state. What the novel doesn't satisfy is the fate of the characters we have grown to love, nor the need to read a fifth novel as the story obviously ends in this one. And the ending left me with a feeling of, "That's it? What happened to so and so and so…?" I respect Card's appreciation for historical fact, where the good guys don't necessarily kill the bad and the bad don't necessarily die, but by abandoning everything that made the first books flourish I think Card was unfaithful to the series itself. I guess the bottom line is that we may be too rooted to tradition to enjoy such a limp conclusion. Take that as you will.
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