This short book (well short by MY standards) starts off the Alvin Maker series with the birth of the seventh son in the family of a seventh’s son. This mythical happening is filled with magic and even as the boy was being born, the water wanted to kill him. As the story goes on, we see his life from the perspective of his peers, the Torch that shone on him as he was being born (a girl with the ability to see all the possible futures of a newborn), the Tale Swapper (a visitor who liked to collect stories from people), the local priest and also from his father, mother and siblings.
If he did not speak his tale, it grew dank and musty, it shrank inside him, while with the telling the tale stayed fresh and virtuous.
What I loved about this book was the setting in the 18th century, when Americans were still being formed as a nation and the fights with the “Reds” and scalping was still an issue. I also loved the way that Christianity and Pagan believes co-existed for a while and how the Church treated the belief in supernatural.
From the end of the 18th century into the early years of the 19th, Americans crossed the Appalachian Mountains and moved across the Northwest Territory, spreading west to the banks of the great river. They traveled to find new homes, new lands, and they brought with them the plain magics of plain people. It is from these roots of the American dream that award-winning writer Orson Scott Card has crafted a uniquely American fantasy.
Using the lore and the folk magic of the men and women who settled a continent, and the beliefs of the tribes who were here before them, Card has created an alternate frontier America; a world where a particular kind of magic really works and where that magic has colored the entire history of the colonies. Charms and beseechings, hexes and potions, all have a place in the lives of the people of this world. “Knacks” abound: dowsers find water, sparks set fires, blacksmiths speak to their iron, the second sight warns of dangers to come, and a torch can read the heart-fire of anyone within reach. It is into this world, in a roadhouse on the track westward, amid the deep wood where the Red man still holds sway, that a very special child is born.
Young Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son, born while his six brothers all still lived. Such a birth is a powerful magic; such a boy is destined to become something great perhaps even a Maker. But no Maker has been born for many a century, and there is no lore to tell how the Maker’s knack works. At the age of six Alvin doesn’t seem to have any special talent at all, unless it’s the knack he has of working with stone and wood, crafting tools and ornaments; unless it’s his ability to paint a hex just right; unless it’s the way he has with animals. . . .
Yes, Alvin is something special; and even in the loving safety of his home, dark forces reach out to destroy him. Something will do anything to keep Alvin from growing up.
My favourite parts
In the book that the Tale Swapper carried with him, he wrote down the most important thing anyone has ever made in his life. The book begins with a quote from Ben Franklin saying that he created “Americans”, as the term was not inked before. The best way to bring a nation together is for their people to recognize themselves as part of the bigger picture and carry the same name.
You talk so sweet I bet you have to suck on salt for half and hour to get the taste of sugar out of your mouth.
The second favourite part was when the local priest visited Alvin Jr to exorcise the devil out of him. Now Alvin did not have a devil within him and he did what every 7-year old boy would do when confronted with a bible-thumping priest. He laughed it off.
The questions he asked the priest, though, were valid. Why should he believe in a man in the sky sitting in a throne, governing the entire world but who was small enough to be carried in his heart? The preacher could not keep his calm in the face of the questions asked by the innocent 7 year old and started scolding the boy for not believing. The preacher retreated to authority as soon as he feared his ideas could not stand on their own merit. Reasonable argument was impossible when authority became the arbiter.
I understand that you believe that it works,’ said Thrower patiently. ‘But everything in the world is either science or miracles. Miracles came from God in the ancient times, but those times are over. Today if we wish to change the world, it isn’t magic but science that will give us our tools.