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The Crystal City
Orson Scott Card
Tor, 384 pages

The Crystal City
Orson Scott Card
Born in Richland, Washington, Orson Scott Card grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He lived in Brazil for two years as an unpaid Mormon Church missionary, and received degrees from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine, and five children.

In an unprecedented fashion, Card won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel two years in a row for Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, in 1986 and 1987.

Orson Scott Card Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Wyrms
SF Site Review: Songmaster
SF Site Review: Ender's Shadow
SF Site Review: Ender's Shadow
SF Site Review: Enchantment
SF Site Review: Heartfire
SF Site Review: Homebody
Orson Scott Card Tribute Site
Orson Scott Card Tribute Site
Orson Scott Card Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The Crystal City is the sixth novel in Orson Scott Card's long-running Alvin Maker series, begun in 1987 with The Seventh Son. This episode opens with Alvin sent by his wife to Neuva Barcelona, at the mouth of the Mizzippy River, for undisclosed reasons. By the end of the novel, Alvin is much closer to his dream of realizing the Crystal City, even if he isn't entirely sure what the exact purpose of the Crystal City is.

Beginning among the outcasts of Neuva Barcelona, Alvin's world's version of New Orleans, Alvin continues to build his powers as a maker and tries to guide his brother-in-law, Arthur Stuart, in both becoming a man and becoming a maker. At the same time, he becomes involved in the intricate racial, national, and social relations in Neuva Barcelona, which results in him leading an exodus from the city.

The parallels between The Crystal City and various books of the bible are obvious, made even moreso by Card constantly referring to them. This actually weakens the book. Card should either have let the parallels stand on their own or not be quite as obvious. Part of the problem is that the constant biblical references make the reader wonder why religion hasn't been more strongly affected by the widespread use of knacks which can imitate so many of the biblical miracles.

Card includes a side plot of an expedition by Steve Austin, Sam Bowie and Alvin's younger brother, Calvin, to Mexica. Although it is quite possible (and even probable) that this story line will become important in later books, it does not seem to be particularly germane to the events which revolve around Alvin in The Crystal City. Nevertheless, one of the characters from that subplot, Sam Bowie, who also appears in the novella "The Yazoo Queen" in Legends II, does play an important role in the novel's denouement and, most likely, in the next book.

While none of the characters offer much in the way of surprises, Alvin does spend an inordinate amount of time on or near water in The Crystal City, strange considering that water has always been seen as the element of the unmaker throughout the series. Despite this, Card never really builds a sense of tension between Alvin and the element, as he did in the previous novels.

With five novels and a couple of short stories, it should come as no surprise that Card's setting is multi-layered. Even when Card's point of view is tightly focused on areas which haven't been used in earlier novels, it is clear that he is aware of the wider world and the society which inhabits it.

For all that, The Crystal City feels incomplete. The beginning of the novel doesn't fit in neatly with the end of Heartfire, and the end of the novel seems mostly to be setting up a subsequent work. While the journey may be enjoyable, after fifteen years, it would be nice if the destination were more in evidence. While Card brings the first intimations of a closing to The Crystal City, it still has very much a bridging feel.

On the whole, The Crystal City is an enjoyable, entertaining, and thoughtful book. What disappointment comes from reading it is simply a factor of the high expectations Card has set for himself with the previous novels in the series (and in other series) and the length of time between volumes.

Copyright © 2004 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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