It’s been awhile since I read Empire by Orson Scott Card, but I remember not liking it much. So I was a bit reluctant to read the sequel Hidden Empire. However, I am a fan of Card so I read it a few days ago.

My conclusion? Still not a favorite, but definitely better than Empire.

I think my major problem with the book is that I’m not that much into books that revolve around political intrigue. There are so many shades of gray in this book that it robbed it of its color.

America is becoming an empire under President Torrent in the wake of the Progressive War, which was the center of Empire. In the midst of this a deadly virus breaks out in Africa that is a cross between ebola and the Spanish Flu. It is spreading quickly and killing half the population. To try and contain it, the President orders that all of Africa be quarantined.

Meanwhile, Colonel Coleman is beginning to wonder about the loyalty of team of soldiers he inherited when Reuben Malich was killed in Empire. The team is made up of talented patriots who love their country, but they don’t seem to love the new President.

When evidence gets out of Africa that the Muslim Nigerians are using the virus as an excuse to kill commit genocide against the non-Muslim Nigerians, President Torrent sends in Cole and his team to protect the non-Muslims.

Protests against the quarantine also lead to the President allowing anyone who wants to provide aid to Africans into the country, but they won’t be allowed to leave unless they can prove they don’t have the virus.

Mark Malich, Reuben’s young teenage son, volunteers to go because he feels the need to help. His mother also goes with him because she can’t stop him and she can’t let him go alone. In Africa, the volunteers find that if the victims are cared for well during the sickness, the mortality rate drops to around 20 percent. Even as they discover this, the soldiers and volunteers are beginning to fall prey to the virus themselves until they become weak enough for to be the target of a Nigerian warlord.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book for you, so I’ll stop there. Hidden Empire is well written and at times interesting. I found myself interested in the virus storyline and the Malich family’s struggle with whether to be volunteers or not.

I found the Bones and Noodles storyline a little silly. Bones and Noodles are a exoskeleton that Coleman’s team wears in Africa that gives them enhanced strength and speed and ties them into the defense computer. In essence, they become a group of Iron Men. I found it silly because Card, who has written for the Ultimate Iron Man comic series, was trying to create a serious look at political intrigue and he throws in superheroes.

The ending to Hidden Empire feels muddled. You don’t know whether the bad guys are truly bad guys or not, but you do feel like the good guys have been tainted with their association to bad guys so that you don’t even really like them either.

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