Of all of Orson Scott Card's books, "Earthborn" is probably my least favorite. It is not that the novel is not well written – it is – or that it lacks a good story – it does not. But its role as the fifth and final book in a series makes it feel like an incomplete ending.
Unlike the rest of the novels in the Homecoming series, "Earthborn" lacks most of the characters we have come to identify with. Of the original cast, we have only Shedemai, the Oversoul, and the Keeper of the Earth. I never really understood why Shedemai had to sit around in a starship for generations, watching over the repopulated Earth, and this book does seem to explain it. Although her final dream from the Keeper fits well into this novel, it doesn't work for the series; why did Nafai or Luet (or Shedemai) just have the dream to send a probe back to Basilica and be done with it?
Similarly, the true understanding of the Keeper is very weak. Of course, Card set us up for this when he made God a computer program in the first four novels. The god the humans on Basilica have prayed to for however many million years ago wound up being a computer program. But wait! We learned in those books that there were some other message-sending, human-prodding entity that was calling humans back to earth. Now, I agree with the "yes, there really is a God" argument – that's one of the perks of being Christian – but after weakening his case, I just did not feel like Card made a strong case in the other direction for such a being. And again, I don't understand why this profound statement did not come in Book Four – nothing earth shattering happened in "Earthborn" to provoke it.
Okay, okay, on to the story. We have a lovely rendition of Alma the Younger, science fiction style. With the first four novels, I appreciated the way Card brought people that I was familiar with to life and made me say, "Oh, so THAT'S how they could reason away all of the miracles!" The same is true here. "Oh," I nodded, "THAT'S how four sons of a king and the son of a priest could run amuck." Card provides realistic characters with excellent motivations for their actions.
One review I read noted that it was ironic that the five "bad" guys brought about a separation of church and state, and asked if perhaps Card was arguing for a government sponsored religion. Given that fact that Card is LDS and probably reasons as I do in that aspect – that the church we have strong faith in could not have existed in a land that enforced religion, and that the founding Fathers were inspired to set up America with freedoms that allowed our church to be instated – I doubt that is the case. I urge readers, then, to look at the circumstances that brought about this separation. It came when the king had to decide whether or not to enforce the death penalty on someone who did not accept the monarch's doctrine. It came after the official priests were turned out so they could not perpetuate evil on others who did not believe the same way. Remember, thirteen years before Akma and his friends attacked the church, the king proclaimed, "From now on, priests will no longer be servants of the king, appointed by the king, and staying with the king to perform the great public rituals." The final separation, then, was a natural result of this self-induced split. And so I think Card is not saying that the wicked were wrong to want a separation, but that, though they sought it to tear down the Keeper's works, it wound up being part of the Keeper's plan.
I think this novel would have worked best as a stand-alone book, separate from the Homecoming series. It doesn't fit into the series as a whole, other than to satisfy the curiosity of people who wonder, "What ever happened to their kids?" It's a great story, but as a conclusion, it just sort of drags off.