115

The series that starts with Ender's Game has a parallel series that starts with Ender's Shadow. The graph of the timeline is... well... complicated.

Ender Series Timeline

Does it make more sense if you read them in the order they were first published, or if you try to read them in the chronological order of the story?

Image Reference: Ender's Game (series)

  • 28
    I'd start with Ender's Game, then branch out and down from there. You'll prolly lose interest soon after. None really live up to Ender's Game. – DampeS8N Jan 11 '11 at 22:53
  • 13
    Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide and Children of Mind are very different from the other books in the series. They only really depend on Ender's Game and they could even be very enjoyable if you didn't like Ender's Game. (And people who like Ender's Game sometimes don't like the Speaker trilogy). – thelsdj Jan 11 '11 at 23:16
  • 4
    @DampeS8N: Ender's Game was one of my favorite books growing up and I recently read it again after more than 20 years. It still holds up. It's such a high point to start from that I believe you when you say none of the others live up to it. – Bill the Lizard Jan 12 '11 at 23:19
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    Of course, there are also people who like BOTH the Ender's Game, AND Shadow books, AND Speaker/Xenocide/Children trilogy. I would not recommend prejudicing your mind against any of them just because someone else's subjective opinion is so. +1 for the graph! – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 29 '11 at 4:35
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    I would strongly recommend reading Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, then pretending that all of the other books don't exist. – Valorum Dec 14 '15 at 7:25
87

As someone who has read every book I think the publishing order is the best order to read them in because it is the order the author added to the universe. They each build on everything published before them and if you read them in a different order you don't get the same build-up and sense of discovery you would get by having things you may have wondered about in earlier books be revealed in later ones.

  • 1
    @BilltheLizard and thelsdj -to build on this recommendation (which I heartily agree with), if you can get your hands on thr original "Ender's Game" novelette from 1977, READ THAT FIRST. – Spencer Sep 3 '17 at 18:42
42

The "official" answer from Orson Scott Card is:

in truth it doesn't matter, except that you should read Xenocide right before Children of the Mind, since they are really two halves of a single continuous story. In most of my books, I include all the information you need.

  • 4
    Well, I would strongly suggest against reading the shadow books out of their natural order. Or Xenocide before EG+Speaker – Balog Pal Jun 22 '13 at 11:33
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    Of course I wouldn't expect the official answer to be "Well, while it technically makes sense to read my novels in chronological order and I made sure you'd understand them, my prequels really suck and it would be a shame if you gave up before reading Ender's Game." So while I found that official answer before I came here, it really wasn't what I was looking for ;) – Christian Nov 10 '13 at 19:14
  • That is the abbreviated version on Card's view. His longer answer can be found here. – ibid Sep 14 '17 at 5:07
33

The Ender series contains three major arcs. These are, in publishing order: Ender series, the Shadow series, and The War of Gifts.

Normally, one would read in the publishing order, but you could read these arcs in any order. Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and The War of Gifts are parallel novels that take place at the same point in time, from different perspectives. Their arcs then diverge from that point, from those unique perspectives. In fact, you could certainly read in a more-or-less chronological fashion:

Ender's Game, The War of Gifts, Shadow series, Ender series.

The advantage of reading in a chronological order is that the direct sequels of Ender's game take place thousands of years in the future and are quite distant from Ender's game in terms of plot. When reading chronologically, the story evolves in a more fluid an direct way.

The books under each arc are as follows...

Shadow Series:

  • Ender's Shadow
  • Shadow of the Hegemon
  • Shadow Puppets
  • Shadow of the Giant
  • Shadows in Flight

Ender Series:

  • Ender's Game
  • Ender in Exile (only chronologically, this is the most recently published book)
  • Speaker for the Dead
  • Xenocide
  • Children of the Mind

War of Gifts:

  • A War of Gifts: An Ender Story
  • 16
    I concur, with this exception: no matter what you're interested in, read Ender's Game first. It give so much of the information for the rest of the universe that it really should be considered the "root node" of the story tree. "Speaker", "Xenocide", "Children" really are a completely separate trilogy, and should be read together - but it really doesn't have to be right after you read "Ender's Game"; you can go on from there to any other stories - I'd read "Shadow" next. – Tynam Feb 20 '11 at 19:43
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    I'm not sure I'd characterize "War of Gifts" as a "major arc". It is a short story that features Ender only as a rather incidental character (up until the ending). – Beofett Jun 27 '11 at 19:16
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    There are several other stories not listed in this answer. Some are prequels to E.G. – user17807 Dec 25 '13 at 4:15
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    War of the Gifts is a one-off short story. (Like the other ten short stories you left out of this list.) It is by no means a "major arc". – ibid Apr 2 '18 at 7:15
20

First, read "Ender's Game" - it's the core book and establishes the setting.

Then I'd read "Ender's Shadow", which covers the same period of time from alternate points of view.

After that, it really depends on which plot you want to follow. There are two trilogies, and they go in very different directions.

The Speaker trilogy (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind):

follows Ender after he leaves Earth, and takes place in the far future. It tends to focus on "meaning of life and universe" topics.

The Shadow books:

stay in the "present" on Earth, following Bean, Peter, Valentine, and the other supporting characters, and explores the aftermath of "what happens when a bunch of teenagers save the world". These books are a bit more political and realistic.

The short stories tend to be snapshots in time, and aren't really necessary until you've become well and truly hooked.

For instance, "Investment Counselor" introduces you to Ender's AI, but it works perfectly well as a flashback instead of reading that in it's chronological order. War of Gifts is similar, in that it fills in history without advancing the plot.

  • 1
    (And indirectly explains ... what? – Matthew Read Mar 3 '15 at 15:56
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    Wow. Almost four years and no-one's noticed that before. And sadly I don't remember exactly what I had in mind, so I took out the sentence fragment. Thanks for the catch! – Allen Gould Mar 4 '15 at 17:45
18
+700

In general, the books assume that you've read everything previously released. The nomenclature also evolved throughout the series, and going out of publication order will lessen one's reading experience. This doesn't matter as much regarding the short stories, but should be followed regarding the main books.

Here's an up-to-date infographic I put together showing the relationship of the different books in the series. In general, books should be read in publication order, though it matters less if they're not directly connected story-wise. The unconnected short stories can be read whenever:

enter image description here


It should be stressed that pretty much every book in the series has a wildly different tone and style. Liking (or disliking) one book doesn't mean you'll like or dislike a different one. If you find you don't like what you're reading just put it down and jump to the next number on this list (only the ones grouped under a single number are strictly linearly dependent and similar in tone):

Books

  1. Ender's Game
  2. Speaker for the Dead trilogy1
    • Speaker for the Dead
    • Xenocide
    • Children of the Mind
  3. Investment Counselor (short story)
  4. Ender's Shadow1
  5. Shadow trilogy
    • Shadow of the Hegemon
    • Shadow Puppets
    • Shadow of the Giant
  6. Ender in Exile
  7. Shadows in Flight (novella)
  8. First Formic War trilogy1
    • Earth Unaware
    • Earth Afire
    • Earth Awakens
  9. Second Formic War trilogy
    • The Swarm
    • The Hive
    • The Queens (2020)
  10. Fleet School
    • Children of the Fleet
    • Renegat (novella)
  11. Messenger / Shadows Alive (announced)

1can be really be read right after Ender's Game.

Other short stories and novella

(Other then the two listed in the previous section) these are mainly optional side-stories and can be read anywhere after Ender's Game.:

  • The Polish Boy
  • Teacher's Pest (after The Polish Boy)
  • Mazer in Prison
  • Pretty Boy
  • Cheater
  • The Gold Bug
  • Governor Wiggin (after The Gold Bug)
  • War of the Gifts
  • Ender's Stocking
  • the upcoming novella from Cetipede Press

Orson Scott Card's official answer (as of 2009, so not covering Formic Wars and Fleet School) is to pretty similar to this. He recommends publication order for the novels, but advises younger readers to push off reading the Speaker trilogy. He says to hold off on the short stories until after Ender's Game.

Full quote follows (in spoiler text cause this answer is already long and some devices truncate unopened spoiler text blocks.)

The "preferred order" depends on what you mean by "preferred," and who's doing the preferring.

There are two main story threads. One begins with Ender's Game, and proceeds to Ender in Exile (which overlaps with EG) and then on to Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind.

The other story thread begins with Ender's Shadow (which is parallel to Ender's Game), and proceeds to Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and Shadow of the Giant. Eventually the two threads come together with the book Shadows in Flight.

The short stories make things even more complicated. They should NOT be read in chronological order because even though many are prequels, they only take on their full significance if you have already read either EG or ES.

The Polish Boy and Theresa (in First Meetings) are the stories of Ender's parents - who they are and how they meet. Mazer in Prison (IGMS) is the story of Mazer Rackham's recruitment by Graff to be part of the training of the future commander of the fleeet.

The stories Cheater and Pretty Boy are the stories of Han Tzu (Hot Soup) and Bonzo Madrid when they were children on Earth, before going to Battle School.

Goldbug (standalone comic and IGMS story) takes place on the first world Ender goes to, where he discovers the hive queen. It slides into the middle of Ender in Exile ... somewhere ...

Investment Counselor (First Meetings) takes place after EG and Ender in Exile, and before Speaker for the Dead.

The story War of Gifts (a novella) takes place in the midst of Ender's Game - sort of a side story. It can stand alone. There is also an IGMS story called Ender's Stocking that overlaps with War of Gifts but focuses on a crucial time in Peter's life.

The stories A Young Man With Prospects and Ender in Flight are both part of Ender in Exile, so if you've read that novel, you've read those stories.

You can read the novels in the order of composition: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant, and Ender in Exile. (This poses the challenge for younger readers of the very talky, philosophical and adult Speaker, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind.)

You can read the novels as two separate threads in sequence. For younger readers, the best plan is to read Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow in any order, and then proceed through the Shadow books and then all the shorter works, saving Speaker, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind until you're older.

Or you can struggle to read them in chronological order of the story, as described above.

Then again, the Empire books, the Homecoming series, and the Alvin Maker books are absolutely in chronological order and are very clear. They have nothing to do with Ender Wiggin or Julian "Bean" Delphiki, but at least you know what order they're in!


Comics

I know, the question seemed to be focused on the written works, but I thought I may as well cover the comics too. The comics were made after the books were already written, and so the publication order doesn't really matter. For the Comics, I would go with a modified chronological order starting with Ender's Game. Note that Ender's Shadow arc isn't necessary for understanding any of the other comics.

  1. Ender's Game: Battle School
  2. Recruiting Valentine2
  3. Ender's Game: Command School
  4. Ender's Shadow: Battle School
  5. Ender's Shadow: Command School
  6. War of Gifts2
  7. The League War2
  8. Mazer in Prison2
  9. Ender in Exile
  10. Gold Bug2
  11. Speaker for the Dead
  12. Formic Wars: Burning Earth
  13. Formic Wars: Silent Strike

2These are one-shots and can easily be skipped.

6

I would recommend either reading them in the publish order, or reading the Ender's series books first followed by the Shadow series. It doesn't hurt to occasionally switch books to be chronological either, but in general, the published order is probably best. There are very few interactions between the two sets (Shadow and Ender), so the chronological order between sets doesn't really matter, beyond the first book of each (Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow)

4

Read them in published order, as stated earlier you will most likely miss out on the wonder of the series by reading them for the first time chronologically. If your hooked enough to finish them once then go back and read them chronologically! I'm on my THIRD read through and am reading them in publishing order again because I found that the story just feels better that way. Card's writing evolves in a subtle but still noticeable way as time goes on and if you truly enjoy the series it is definitely better to "feel" the evolution as the story progresses.

2

I love the Enders Game series and in reference to the novels, every time I suggest reading them, I tell people to stick to the timeline. Card admitted that when he wrote the original sequels, he was still young and inexperienced. If you read "Enders Game", then the "shadow" books through "Shadow of the Giant", then "Ender in Exile", then "Speaker for the Dead" and so forth, it makes for the best read in my opinion. Specifically because there are familiar characters in Ender in Exile that you would recognize only after reading the shadow books and technically "Ender in Exile" happens before the end of the original "Enders Game" book.

1

This perhaps could be a comment but it's also perhaps a little bigger than that so I will venture an answer -- an answer that is very deeply personal.

When I was a small kid I read a lot. Refugee like, really, I had basically no friends (and many enemies -- I still carry the physical and emotional scars thirty plus years later) among my peers. In mathematics, I was far ahead of them, in many other topics, I was just ahead enough to be bored witless in school but I digress. My computer and my books were much better. I literally read every book in the children section of the local library. Needless to say, most of them didn't make a deep impression. Some years after this binge reading, however, it surfaced that I read a good book among them. I was not even sure what it was about but it was very good.

So I went back and found the book just by recognizing the cover. That was Ender's Game. On this second, much deeper reading as a pre-teen it anchored me and gave me hope that I am not a freak and there might be others like me. There's no book like it. Now I have a teacher's degree and while I do not teach, I am one of the founders and constant funders of a very small school. The book is never far from my thoughts.

I did read the Speaker trilogy. Speaker for the Dead was OK-ish, Xenocide was weird and Children of the Mind I barely could finish. Card went off on a philosophy angle about, what, I do not even know what. It certainly doesn't resonate with me.

Almost ten years later Ender's Shadow came out. I actually liked it so much I tried to translate it to Hungarian so others can read it. I only got to the Anton chapter and couldn't continue, reading and re-reading that one was too much for me emotionally. But the book is very, very good and for me while Ender's Game told me there are others like me, Ender's Shadow showed that there are many others just as cruel as my peers were. It certainly helps atuning the young "all people are nice" attitude to the real world. It's brutal. But a dose of reality, even if very bitter, is helpful.

Another few years later I was the only European at EnderCon in Utah in 2002. I was not yet the world traveler I would later become, it was quite a big adventure for me.

I read the other Shadow books. They should've been called Shallow not Shadow. Frankly, I barely remember anything of them. I will admit not even bothering with the prequels.

My advice based on nearly thirty years of reading them and partially defining myself by them is this: read Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. Most especially read them if you are a pre-teen (12-13) or a teenager. Forget the rest.

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