This is both a pro and anti war book, as well as a gripping story about a young boy who becomes a great leader at the expense of nearly all else in his life.
It’s a world supposedly at war with aliens from other planets – the buggers – and as a child Ender is picked as as a possible leader who can win the war once and for all. He is subsequently taken to training academies and space stations where generals and teachers make things harder and harder for him. He keeps on excelling at battles – which are brilliant to read – through unconventional yet highly effective strategies. But the cost is friends, family, happiness.
He keeps on training and training until late in the book there’s an excellent and unexpected twist. After that he has to find a new role for himself as a much-loved leader and hero.
There’s also a slightly odd sub-plot around his brother and sister, Peter and Valentine, who somehow establish themselves as influential voices in political debate despite being children.
There’s a strong anti-institutionalisation theme to the book: Ender’s life is lived within unexplained rules and laws of the kind that young people experience all the time.
And I’ve heard it said that this is an anti war book – about people following orders and killing millions of unknown people in distant lands – and it certainly has elements of that. But it’s just as pro-war, with the games and training made to sound incredible and Ender becoming a venerated leader and hero. There’s a nice ambiguity to the book.