by Orson Scott Card
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
After stalling with the fourth novel, Alvin Journeyman, Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series returns to the proper track with Heartfire. In the previous novel, Alvin's quest to establish a Crystal City was sidelined by lawsuits which practically turned the novel into a John Grisham courtroom thriller. Neither Alvin nor Card seemed to make any real strides towards accomplishing Alvin's goal. In Heartfire, Alvin and his crew journey to New England, where people perceived as witches (such as Alvin) are burned in order to learn about town-building and tolerance. Meanwhile, Alvin's wife, Peggy, has arrived in Camelot to attempt to influence the monarchy's stand on the issue of slavery.
Heartfire is very definitely a middle book in a series. Card expects his readers to know who the characters are and what their situations are. This permits him to gloss over the events which occured in the previous four novels. Unfortunately, it has been three years since Alvin Journeyman was released and many of Card's readers might find that they need reminders of what has been happening in the world of Hatrack River.
Despite the setbacks which occured in Alvin Journeyman, Alvin and his comrades are still attempting to discover the meaning of Alvin's vision of a Crystal City on the southern shore of Lake Mizogan. Card has divided the book into two plotlines which alternate chapters. One follows Alvin, Arthur Stuart, Mike Fink and Verily Cooper into New England to study civics. While there, they meet men such as Jean-Jacques Audobon and John Adams and once again find themselves in a courtroom, although the jurisprudence action in Heartfire is nowhere near as drawn out as in the last book. This band also discovers that tolerance is not as common as they had hoped, nor is law as straight forward as Alvin would like to believe.
The other storyline, which gives the novel its title, tells of Alvin's wife, Peggy, and her journey to Camelot in the Crown Colonies to try to convince the king in exile, Arthur, that slavery must be abolished. In Camelot, Peggy runs into Calvin Miller and his compatriot Honore de Balzac and also learns that the Crown Colonies are not everything they seem.
If there is an overriding theme to Heartfire, it would have to be Card's examination of the degradation of people. The Black slaves Peggy sees in Camelot seem to be more content with their servitude than the slaves of Appalachee, and it is only by looking for their heartfires, Peggy's knack, that she discovers how much different and worse their degradation is than slaves in other parts of the continent.
Heartfire seems more in line with the earlier Alvin Maker novels than Alvin Journeyman did. This gives reason to hope that the future novels, however many they might be, continue in this vein and that Alvin Journeyman was more an aberration from the tone of the series as an whole. However, it only took Card nineteen months to publish the first three novels in the series but nearly nine years more before the fourth and fifth books were published. With luck, Card will be able to bring out subsequent novels in a more timely fashion and bring the tale of Alvin Maker to the conclusion his fans would like to see.
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