Book Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #1 – Seventh Son

Title: Seventh Son
Author: Orson Scott Card
Year of Publication: 1988
Series: Tales of Alvin Maker
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.86
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Mild Spoilers, If You Can Call ‘Em That

seventh son

Plot Description: In an alternate universe version of America – back in the Frontier days – Orson Scott Card presents a world filled with magic, and a reimagining of various historical persons and places.

I recently finished both this series as well as Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and my reaction to both of them were pretty similar, so I’m going to try and review them together.

The reaction I refer to is one of extreme annoyance coupled with my ever present compulsion to have to finish the story, to know what happens at the end – no matter how badly off the rails the whole thing is going. This is, however, a reaction one forms over the course of reading the Alvin Maker series, and Seventh Son is mostly exempt from such feelings.

The title refers to the myth of a seventh son of a seventh son being a wizard – Terry Pratchett incorporates this into his Discworld novels, and Jo Rowling gives it a nod via the Weasley family (it is implied that Arthur is a seventh son, and that Ginny is the seventh child of a seventh child).

In Card’s Frontier America, almost everybody is magical in some way or the other – magic which represents itself in the form of oddball talents called ‘knacks’. But Alvin Maker, as the seventh son of a seventh son, is extremely powerful – his knack is Making (i.e. Creation of stuff).

Because of his potential for greatness, an evil known as the Unmaker keeps trying to kill Alvin from since before he was born. It is up to Peggy, a little girl whose knack is being a Torch (or seer) to foresee the dangers the Unmaker puts in little Alvin’s way and protect him from them.

Seventh Son touches on the way of life for families on the Frontier, weaving his ideas of a magical world into an already familiar tapestry. So far, so good. He also takes on religion – the Unmaker is a parallel to the Devil, or Satan, or Lucifer or whatever we want to call him, and he’s fighting to destroy Creation. As a Maker, it’s Alvin’s job to to keep creating as a way of fighting the Unmaker, but it’s made clear that it’s not a battle he’d ever win in a definitive way. Just something he’s got to keep doing. All this is told to Alvin by Taleswapper (an alternate history version of William Blake), a wandering storyteller who collects stories – personal tales – and tells them to other people.

It is also strongly implied that organized religion is really the work of the Unmaker, promoting evil through its good intentions.

There are references to the Native American tribes and the battles of the settlers with them, but this is only properly dealt with in detail from Red Prophet (second book in the series) onwards.

There are also supposed to be a number of parallels to Mormonism, but I don’t know anything about that, so I didn’t catch any of those parallels. :/

A lot of GR reviewers have complained that this book is merely – and clearly – a set up for the rest of the series, and they would be right. Seventh Son is not a stand alone book – there is just a pause at the end, and a promise to continue the tale soon. The first book however, was interesting enough to suck me in – enough that I’d probably have hunted down the second book in the series if I didn’t already have it with me. But – and here’s the catch – the rest of the series doesn’t live up to the promise of Seventh Son (let alone surpass it), so taking up this book (and by extension the rest of the series) would, in my opinion, be a waste of time.

Next In This Series: Tales of Alvin Maker #2 – Red Prophet

Next Review: Dark Tower #1 – The Gunslinger

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