Orson Scott Card,
Seventh Son
(Tor, 1987)

With heroic efforts from his doomed eldest brother and determined urgings from a 5-year-old torch who peers into his heartfire, Alvin Miller Jr. is born the seventh son of a seventh son. His birth and his foreseen future as a "maker" launch a desperate battle between good and evil, folklore spirituality and protestant control, and fire and water in one of Orson Scott Card's most successful series, set in a rewritten frontier America peopled with famous names, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Boone.

After the eventful journey and Alvin's birth in Hio Territory, the Miller family settles in Wobbish and builds a community named for their dead son Vigor. While a few incidents are told in current time, including 6-year-old Alvin's chat with the roaches he sends on a revenge attack against his sisters, most of the challenges of his young life are revealed through Taleswapper, a roving storyteller who trades tales in exchange for lodging.

Taleswapper once shared a home with Ben Franklin and shares a given name with William Blake, whose metaphorical poetry perfectly mirrors the spiritual dilemmas of young Alvin's life. Through the stories gathered by Taleswapper, we learn of the forces, human and otherwise, opposing young Alvin. We see Alvin's knacks for merging parts together perfectly, seeing beneath the surface and amazingly surviving everything trying to kill him.

The storyteller who becomes a mentor also supplies most of the historical anchors in this book that describes itself as "a magical America that might have been...." It feels disconcertingly right that these founding fathers envision an America that includes the Irrakwa people in a self-governing state. Of course, with those Roundheads and Cavaliers still fighting it out in the loyal colonies, and George Washington calling himself Lord Potomac, intriguing differences go beyond multi-cultural awareness.

Card conjures a believable world of hexes, calming spells and magical abilities and pits it against a supposedly Christian community led by Reverend Thrower and politically ambitious Armor-of-God Weaver. Card manipulates the characters, their visions and signs of good and evil in a carefully executed conundrum. Alvin's father is developed with increasing complexities as a loving man who keeps secrets and hears voices urging him to unloving behaviors.

With allegorical names, realistical family squabbles and universal themes, Seventh Son, Card's first book in his Tales of Alvin Maker, introduces a boy worth knowing and hints at the extraordinary life to follow. It also leaves tantalizingly unresolved situations as the second book of the series, Red Prophet, beckons.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]

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