Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In Seventh Son, Orson Scott Card re-introduces his character Alvin Maker, who had previously appeared in a poem, "Prentice Alvin & the No-Good Plow." Alvin is the seventh son born to a seventh son as the family is making their way to settled in the newly opened Indiana territory. As such, legend says he'll have enormous power. He is born into a world where nearly everyone seems to have some small magical talent, or knack, as these folksy backwoods people tend to think of things.
The family settles and soon they are the focus of the town of Vigor Church, named for the brother who died only minutes after Alvin's own birth. As Alvin grows, so do his powers until everyone can see that Alvin is destined for greatness. However, along with that greatness comes enemies, notably the Unmaker, who can not touch Alvin directly but can influence other men to look upon Alvin as their enemy. One such man is the priest in Vigor Church who sees Alvin as a tool of the devil and works to exorcise the boy.
Card attacks the story of Alvin Maker with all the skill that he brought to the story of Ender Wiggins in Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. The protagonists are likeable and believable, while the antagonists tend to come off a little close-minded and have a will of evil which seems, at times, to border on the credible, although this is less of a problem in Seventh Son than it becomes in the "Homecoming" series and even later books in the "Alvin Maker" series.
One of the strengths of Seventh Son, which Card does seem to lose in the later books (notably Alvin Journeyman and Heartfire), is a sense of focus. Card only gives the barest hints of Alvin's destiny in Seventh Son, but the reader has the firm feeling that Card knows exactly what that destiny is and how Alvin is going to achieve it. By the later books, that sureness is lost as Card seems to be writing more episodic pieces in the story of Alvin Maker.
Seventh Son does not, unfortunately, stand well on its own. However, with five of the novels out, Card has published enough of the series to give the interested reader much of Alvin's life to look at. His early nineteenth-century world is complex and very different from our own, having failed to have an American revolution. There is a certain folkloric element to the books and a down-home feel to the characters which makes Seventh Son (and its sequels) feel like they are taking place in a simpler time, even as the reader knows that Alvin's world is every bit as complex as our own.
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