Book Review : Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
In an alternate version of frontier America, young Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son, and such a birth is powerful magic. Yet even in the loving safety of his home, dark forces reach out to destroy him. (Courtesty of goodreads.com)
Alvin’s family is migrating west. When they try to cross the Hatrack River, an unknown force tries to stop the as-yet-unborn Alvin being born – since Alvin would be the seventh son of a seventh son, therefore possessing incredible powers as a Maker. The force sends a tree down the river to crush the wagon the pregnant Mrs. Miller is riding in. Her son Vigor diverts the tree, but is mortally wounded in the act. Because a seventh son must be born while the other six are alive, Vigor desperately clings to life until Alvin is born. Help is dispatched at the insistence of five-year-old “torch” (a person who, among other things, can see the life forces of people and under certain conditions, their myriad alternate futures) Peggy Guester, who sees Alvin and Alvin’s possible future as a Maker. (Courtesy of wikipedia.com)
Adult Point of View
I have often thought Orson Scott Card’s writing is thought provoking and has a unique perspective. I have always had the Alvin Maker series on my list of to read items and finally read Seventh Son.
This first novel in the series moves at a sauntering pace, meaning it was enjoyable but not fast or intense. I felt like Card pulled in the folklore of the time and created a new history for America that included more than just adding a layer of magic to the actual history. Though it is not plainly explained, it appears that the English Commonwealth survived the death of James Cromwell, and the American revolutionaries were defeated by this Puritan Empire. Key historical characters are mentioned, such as, George Washington – who turned himself in as a traitor to England because he could not fulfill his duties to his native country, Thomas Jefferson – who is still active in the South and Benjamin Franklin – a famous “maker” whose greatest achievement was creating the word American. It seems that a United States exists in the Middle Colonies and out “west”. I actually wish that Card had done more explaining about the alternate historical setting to increase my understanding. In this alternative America Card has renamed landmarks. Some of these are the Mississippi is the Mizzipy, Ohio is Hio, the Wabash is Wobbish and the Illinois is the Noisy.
Alvin, from the folklore, is expected to be extra special being the seventh son of a seventh son. The general people describe their magic as having a knack. Alvin happens to have a stronger knack than others and more knacks. Alvin can tie better knots, join anything together seamlessly, hew out granite completely smooth from the mountain, communicate with animals, and probably has undiscovered knacks. The religious people want to convince the populace that magic is just superstition and that they should adhere to God’s ways and science. Another piece of folklore (which could be developed by Card rather than being from history) was that some people were a “torch”. A torch had the ability to see the true intent of a person, and possibly the future or past. I would like to see what role a torch will take as the series develops.
My hesitation in fully embracing this novel, even though I did enjoy it, was the thinly-veiled references Card makes to his own religion. If he believes in his religion, and I believe he does, then it seems wrong to fictionalize real people almost as though they are being mocked. I also feel like reworking his religion into a novel isn’t as original as some of his other books. Card’s novel Ender’s Game has Ender in the role of a savior and Alvin is being made into another savior for this alternative America. Obviously, this is a reoccurring theme in Card’s novels, but this same theme of a savior has been explored for hundreds of years of literature, and so I don’t think it is just because of his religion. Having Alvin’s experiences parallel to Joseph Smith, the first modern Prophet of the Mormon church, seemed odd. Even with these hesitations I plan on picking the next in the series to see if I feel like it improves.