“ Author: Orson S. Card / Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy „
This is a review I've wanted to write for a while ... Orson Scott Card has been one of my favourite authors for many many years, and this book has stood the test of time. It still reads as a fresh and original story.
Written in 1987, this is Volume 1 of The Tales of Alvin Maker - to date there are six books in the series, and the last of these was published in 2003, so this is a series which has grown and matured as the author has taken time away to write other books, then returned to this epic.
A brief backgound of the author, if you haven't come across him before - Orson Scott Card writes in the fantasy genre, but it is always fantasy with a difference. No dragons or 'sword and sorcery' - rather he takes a specific fantasy slant on human history and builds the story around people and their interactions.
His command of language is extensive, his plots gripping, but what really sets him apart for me is his ability to write in an authentic voice.
In the Ender series (probably the best-known of his books) the first book deals with a group of precocious children being trained in Battle School, with their own distinctive slang. The second book is set on a planet settled by portuguese Catholics and the third takes us to China - each of these diverse groups speak with utterly believable dialogue. Again in a one-off book 'Enchantment' we have ukrainian Jews - and once more all the conversations ring true. This is a rare talent.
Here in Seventh Son we are taken to the days of the American pioneers, when the white man was moving into the land of the reds, a time of settlers and frontiers. Much of this is true to life, and as always the authentic voice shines through... but, this is an alternate history. So we have the basic premise that a certain amount of 'magic' is actually real and effective and good. Upright and worthy people have 'knacks' - dowsing for water, protective hexes and the like. Upon this premise and against this background the story of Alvin unfolds.
The story begins with a young girl, Peggy, who is a 'torch'. She can see people's heartfires. see into their past and their potential futures, and this is a gift almost too heavy to bear. On this occasion she 'sees' a family in trouble, trying to cross the river (which is unaccountably raging) in a wagon with all their worldly goods. The eldest son has been swept to a sure death while acting to save his mother and the baby she is carrying who is just about to be born.
Peggy's 'seeing' means that help is sent and the Miller family brought to safety - Alvin senior, his six daughters, five remaining sons and his wife. They are brought to the roadhouse where Peggy's father, Horace Guester is the innkeeper, and her mother the midwife. As the baby is born Peggy pulls the birth-caul away from his face, and in so doing sees all his futures opening up. She also sees the heartfire of the eldest brother Vigor and that against all odds he had held on to life until the baby was born - so making the youngest Miller a seventh son of a seventh son, a child destined to become great.
It is accepted that water is an element which will try to destroy such a one - which is why the river wanted him before he ws born. Throughout his early years, water poses a real danger to this special child.
As the tale progresses it becomes clear that Alvin junior is indeed something special. Things happen because he wills them to - a ridgepole about to fall on his head is split cleanly in two, cockroaches obey his mental push - this is a strong power, possibly even the power of a Maker, but Alvin must learn to use his power well, to build up and not to destroy, and above all to ward off the Unmaker.
This is a haunting tale, one where you care about the characters and what happens to them. All of them are real people with real faults, real hopes, real dreams - and the picture evoked is of a world worth living in, goodness worth fighting for. It is a rich tapestry of a tale, weaving together history and fantasy so that the joins don't even show. It also leaves you wanting more - and that's where the next five books come in!
I cannot recommend this more highly.
If you like books in the fantasy genre, the quote on the back cover from Locus : "Achieves the near-miracle of bringing something new to fantasy" should inspire you to take a look. If you don't - well, all I can say is my husband doesn't, but he loved this!
In the dust cloud shrouded eighteenth century America, an alternate world not too unlike the one that we know, in the deep woods of the Northwest along the banks of the great river, is born a seventh son to the seventh son. He is special. He is born with the caul on his face. He is destined for greatness- perhaps even to be a Maker. But Alvin doesn't know he is the Maker. And for evey Maker born there is always an Unmaker elsewhere. Their paths drawn already, relentlessly aimed at each others. Orson Scott Card established himself as a premier SF writer with his 'Enders Game' saga. But it is 'The Tales of the Alvin Maker' ( of which 'Seventh son' is the first book) that shows him at his most lyrical. He weaves subtle magic in this aternate reality story and creates a world where magic and hexes work. A place where dowsers find water and blacksmiths speak to the metal. Generously borrowing the myths and legends of the various settlers of America and its own indigenous folklore, Card creates something very special. A fantasy story that is free of cliche. Something very original and breathtaking that ranks among the truly great fantasy series of our time. The Story of Alvin Maker straddles American history proudly but offers alternate realities that are magical and mysterious. Card cares for his creations and it shows. Alvin is a real hero you'll care for. He has all the uncertainties and weaknesses of someone unaware of their own strength, so when realisation comes its all the more sweet for the reader. Although alternate history stories are usually irritating and inpiration free, Tales of Alvin Maker proves an exception. The prose is lyrical. The story progresses at a good pace, but never sacrifices a chance to draw you into the old frontiers. You will wish you lived in those unspoilt times. Card builds the tale slowly and paints a world that is intimately palpable. When you finish
this one I guarantee you'll hanker for the next. There are advantages in reading a series that is over 10 years old. You can have a read of all the three original novels in one sitting. ( Seventh Son, Red Prophet, Prentice Alvin) A fourth part was published later, in '95 ( Alvin Journeyman) and marked a welcome return to the series. A part of this novel was originally published in Isaac Asimov's SF magazine as a short novella ( Hat Track river) and promptly won the World Fantasy award. Highly recommended for those who are tired of endless clones of sword and sorcery epics.
First in the Alvin Maker Series.