Title: Alvin Journeyman
Author: Orson Scott Card
Year of Publication: 1995
Series: Tales of Alvin Maker
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.72
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 1
Plot Description: After a brief period of time spent in Vigor Church, Alvin once again ends up back in Hatrack River. Unfortunately, Makepiece Smith, the man he was once apprenticed to, has brought charges of larceny against him, claiming he stole the golden plow. The rest of the book focuses on the trial and the ways in which the Unmaker continues to move against Alvin. Meanwhile, Alvin’s younger brother Calvin Smith meets Napoleon in France and tries to learn the secrets of leadership from him.
At this point I’m seriously groaning, wondering how I’m ever going to finish reviewing this series. Tales of Alvin Maker and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series are what prompted me to stop reviewing for almost a year and a half – simply because these two series are too big and too badly written for me to enjoy the process of reviewing them properly.
Between the white saviour nonsense, the white guilt, the fetishization of POC, the self importance of the plot, the super cheesy writing and unnecessary details (which make no sense anyway, I can no longer pick one aspect of this book to nominate as its worst.
It’s hard for me to explain why this series is no longer working. I think perhaps it’s because it’s fragmented and suffers from a lot of dissonance. Alvin is the star of the show, the most awesome person ever, blah blah blah. So one would be justified in expecting maturity from him, a balanced viewpoint that never comes. Alvin is a living conflict – on the one hand, he’s all calm and collected and compassionate all the time (like Jesus). On the other hand he whines about Peggy and how she won’t love him, and how can she be a good wife for him when she always knows better than him and keeps the important details of what she foresees from him. It’s utter nonsense.
“What kind of marriage is it, when my wife knows everything but she never tells me enough to make up my own mind! Instead she always makes up my mind for me. Or tells me exactly what she needs to tell me in order to get me to do what she thinks I ought to do.” – Alvin Maker
The folksy style of writing also gets on one’s nerves once it becomes clear that nothing of import is being said. Alvin Journeyman contains tons of long winded passages that mean nothing and go nowhere. Calvin’s adventures are slightly more interesting if only because of what a terrible character Calvin is, and how filled with his own self importance and self righteousness he is. At one point, having met White Murderer Harrison, Calvin tells him to take control of his own narrative, to claim that the bloody hands were an undeserved result of native american magic. Harrison does as Calvin suggests, his popularity surges and he’s elected President of the United States. Calvin returns from France just in time for Harrison’s inauguration, and promptly kills Harrison. For… fun? I don’t pretend to understand his motives.
“I’d rather be ignorant and sound educated than be educated and sound ignorant,” and I said, “Why?” and he says to me, “Because if you sound educated then nobody ever tests you to find out, but if you sound ignorant they never stop.” – Calvin and Taleswapper.
Verily Cooper’s jealousy and possessiveness over Calvin is an example of an unnecessarily cheesy detail that doesn’t belong anywhere. Except perhaps to show that no one has any semblance of life except that which is spent in blind adoration to Alvin. Once again, a dangerous narrative to write, especially considering this series is supposed to be an allegorical reference to an actual historical character.
Because once there was a woman by that name who freed her slaves and protected them all the way north, and then hired and looked after them until they learned the ways of free men and women and could stand on their own. It is a name of great honor. No one would know of the schoolteacher who came one day and gave open words to the secret longings of Jane’s heart. – More white saviour BS. Emphasis mine.
At some point Card seems to make the point that men are, in general, terrible to women. But considering how inconsequential all the female characters are in his book, I think he needs a good look in the mirror.
If good people weren’t so trusting of bad ones, the human race would have died out long ago—most women never would have let most men near them.
This example actually goes to the root of Card’s brand of sexism – he implies that most men are bad, while most women are good. And that’s some cultural feminist rubbish right there. Humans are humans. There is no inherent goodness that comes along with being female. There are no male roles and female roles – and yet, his female characters are all fulfilling supporting roles. Are they strong? Sure, strong in character. But that doesn’t make them strong characters. It’s really not the same thing, Mr. Card.
Another aspect of this book that I found hilarious was Alvin’s supporters – Peggy chief among them – attacking Marty Laws for doing his job as the counsel for the county in the process of Alvin’s trial.
“So you are Alvin’s enemy, and the enemy of truth.” Peggy hurled the words, meaning them to bite.
“Accuse me all you like,” said Marty, “but my job is to make the case that Alvin stole that gold. I don’t think your testimony, based entirely on your unverifiable claim as a torch that Makepeace is a liar, should be allowed to stand unchallenged. If it did stand that way, then every half-baked dreamspeaker and soothsayer in the country would be able to say whatever he pleased and juries would believe them, and then what would happen to justice in America?”
“Let me understand you,” said Peggy. “You plan to discredit me, destroy my reputation, and convict Alvin, all for the sake of justice in America?”
“As I said,” Marty repeated, “I hope your lawyer can do as good a job defending Alvin as I’m going to do prosecuting him. I hope he can find as much damning evidence against my witnesses as Mr. Webster and I have found concerning Alvin. Because, frankly, I don’t like my witnesses much, and I think Makepeace is a greedy lying bastard who should go to jail himself for perjury but I can’t prove it.”
“How can you live with yourself, then, working in the service of evil when you know so clearly what is good?”
“It’s also good for the public prosecutor to prosecute, instead of setting himself up as judge.”
Marty is a conscientious man, one that gives due respect to precedent and due process. I’m glad this passage found its way into the book. The case itself, however, isn’t resolved on the basis of legal arguments as much as through Alvin going magic in the courtroom to expose the Unmaker’s machinations.
What really annoys me is the “Crystal City,” because that’s where the series completely falls apart. Peggy sees that if Alvin were to be acquitted, then the witnesses and the jury will all be part of the Crystal City. Card sets up a lot of things like this, all leading to the Crystal City, in both this book and the next one. Unfortunately, he seems to have written the last book devoid of any connections to the rest of the series, and plenty of set up along the way is discarded or forgotten about.
Next in this Series: Tales of Alvin Maker #5 – Heartfire