Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card

I had put off reading Orson Scott Card's series of novels known as The Tales of Alvin Maker for years even though the general theme fascinated me - a loose retelling of the Joseph Smith story in an alternate world of folk magic. Last year I realized that rather than listening to news and weather for 45 minutes during my daily commute, I could check out audio books from the public library. The Alvin Maker books were prominently displayed on the shelf, so they became my initial choice.

I'm glad I listened to them rather than read them. The superb voice acting coupled with Card's wonderful writing made it a real treat. I actually looked forward to getting in the car each day to and from work because I was captivated by both the storyline and the dramatization. The fact that Card writes in the vernacular of the time also adds immensely to the pleasure of the journey. I can't recommend these audio books highly enough.

The Tales of Alvin Maker currently consist of six novels, with a final seventh still unpublished. The novels, in order of publishing, are Seventh Son, Red Prophet,
Prentice Alvin, Alvin Journeyman, Heartfire, and The Crystal City. The concluding novel in the series will be Master Alvin. In recorded author's notes on one of the audio books (I believe it was Red Prophet), Card affirms that there will be only one more book in the series though "it may be 3000 pages long".

The books are set in an alternate world of folk magic.
The tales revolve around Alvin Maker, a seventh son of a seventh son, who has extraordinary gifts. In fact, he is a Maker, destined to build the Crystal City as he fights The Unmaker, who seeks only to destroy. Race plays a large role in the books with Whites, Reds (native Americans), and Blacks each having their own powers and playing their own roles in the unfolding events.

Alvin's powers are not seen as religious in nature, but rather accepted as an extraordinary manifestation of the routine spells, hexes, and magic that pervade the land and its people. Although religion plays a role in the story line, its presence is not overbearing. However, it is clear that Card deeply understands the religious experience and uses that understanding to good effect in these books. Although readers interested in a good fantasy story will like the Alvin Maker books, the perceptive Church reader will recognize much in the book that alludes to LDS practices and doctrine.

Card has a wonderful writing style and a deep understanding of relationships and the human condition. All of his writer's gifts are brought to bear in this series. The sensitive writing brought tears to my eyes multiple times. One of the most touching is a scene where Alvin and his brother-in-law, the adopted former slave known as Arthur Stuart, are running from slave finders. The slave finders have a "cachet" that allows them to track the escaped slave wherever he goes because it contains things (such as hair) that are unique to Arthur Stuart. Alvin realizes that he can change Arthur Stuart from the inside out so that the cachet will not match him anymore. Essentially, Alvin realizes that by changing the "tiny parts" of him, he will become a new person. To do that Alvin changes Arthur Stuart as they are in a river and then immerses Arthur Stuart fully to wash the residue of the "old man" away so that only the "new man" remains. The allusion to baptism is clear and makes the scene powerful in ways that only a faithful Church member can fully appreciate.

Whether you read or listen, you will come away from Alvin Maker better for the experience. Now if Card would only finish Master Alvin!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I'm making the first comment ever on your blog! I love the title, and it really fits too - what a great word! I, of course, agree with everything you said about Alvin Maker. (especially the last sentence...) :D