This week I decided to review Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card. The story opens with a young Nigerian boy named Chinma. Chinma isn’t well-liked by his family, but he is very skilled at capturing a rare breed of monkey whose cries are believed to possibly be a form of language. But one day, a one of the monkeys bites Chinma’s older brother Ire and later sneezes in Chinma’s face. Ire very quickly becomes ill and the family races to the nearby city to seek help but Ire passes soon after they reach the city. Chinma comes down with a different illness, however, which spreads swiftly through the region, killing almost half of its victims, though Chinma himself survives. Then there is a short scene introducing Colonel Barthlomew Coleman, or "Cole," who is in the Ukraine trying to convince his Ukrainian counterpart to pass a plan to deal with a likely Russian invasion to his superiors. Then we switch to the United States where Cecily Malich, widowed during the minor civil war depicted in Empire, is called to advise President Torrent on his plan to deal with the epidemic in Africa. The president believes that the virus can’t be contained by national borders and orders a blockade of the continent. After we see Cole, who is now the commander of Ruben Malich’s old unit, being shown a new form of combat exo-skeleton. Back in Nigeria, the Muslim-controlled government decides to contain the virus, which emerged in the largely non-Muslim southern regions of the country by eradicating infected villages, including the no-longer-infected survivors of Chinma’s village. Chinma is the only survivor, and he flees with pictures of the massacre to one of the medical groups studying the virus on-site. Chinma and his evidence are sent to the United States where he is sent to live with Cecily’s family. The president declares the Nigerian government a renegade state and deploys forces to defend the areas threatened by the Nigerian military under the command of Cole who is made a temporary general. In time, many groups in the US wish to travel to Africa to aid those who are suffering from the virus, including Cecily’s son Mark. Eventually Cecily becomes convinced that doing so is the right thing to do as well, and convinces the president to allow aid workers into the region, including herself and Mark with Chinma joining them later. They arrive in the city Cole’s unit is stationed in while the virus is sweeping through both the city and the base. But when those opposed to the presence of the American forces sense the weakness of the critically ill soldiers, they attack and victory comes at a terrible price. But even when the surviving main characters return to America, they soon discover that captured rebel leader Aldo Verus has managed to rally a new force to strike at President Torrent directly and one final devastating battle awaits.
I give this book an 7.5 out of 10. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t anything special. The final battle was an interesting twist but signs of it could be seen coming from long before that point. Otherwise it was a fairly typical and predictable plot. Also, chapter two seems to have little or nothing to do with the primary plot, and in my opinion it could have been cut with no loss to the story.