Book Reviews

Alvin Journeyman: The Tales of Alvin Maker IV * Orson Scott Card

With the fourth installment in the Alvin Maker Series, Orson Scott Card approaches the rise and fall of leaders. It follows Calvin (Alvin’s younger brother) as he tries to ascend to power by means of coercion and intimidation (and manages to become a politician), and the (almost) fall from grace of Alvin due to rumors and basic smearing campaigns. It’s a battle to be famous and stay famous and when there is a golden plow in the mix, the greedy eyes and hands of the people are getting mixed in for the wins.

What I liked about this book is that it spends a lot of time showing what could go wrong when you are teaching teenagers – with hormones raging – and the dangers of being a teacher accused of mis-handling a pupil. In addition to this, it shows the difficulty of ascertaining property rights when the smith does not give his apprentice piece to his master and the master demanding it as fair pay. It’s good to have a competent lawyer!

I gasped at the turn of events through the book and I was really happy to see it all work out in the end. One more book to go to see Alvin start working on his life-dream: The Crystal City.

Alvin wandering with his golden plow (which is alive)

Story Points

The difficulty of teaching

One of the central points of the story is how hard it is to teach someone your knack. You are natively good at it so it’s a bit hard to tell others how to do it. No point explaining about re-arranging atoms or whispering to living things if the other person is unable to hear the same song you do.

What Alvin figured out was that when you’re Making, you don’t use people like tools. You don’t wear them out to achieve your purpose. You wear yourself out helping them achieve theirs. You wear yourself out teaching and guiding, persuading and listening to advice and letting folks persuade you, when it happens they’re right.

Then when you have a young female spinning tales of how you took her to a hidden place where you made her yours.. rumors start and the reputation starts to get tarnished. Alvin did a smart thing and left the city so that the rumors could die off on their own – but it seems what is of the past can never be forgotten as the same girl comes back during Alvin’s trial to say that she is pregnant with his child – with such a conviction that a big shadow falls over his credibility.

What is mine is mine, What is yours is also mine

The other point in the story was the golden plow. In the last book, Alvin took some of Makepiece’s iron to make his apprenticeship piece (think of it like a final exam in marksmanship). He does a plow – and only uses his special talents to check whether it’s perfect or not. But when he’s done, he’s not happy with it. He wants to make it gold – his final exam in Making – nothing to do with the Smith side, just with how skilled he had become in the years of training. He tries to tell the molecules of iron how to turn into Gold and it’s hard as they don’t want to move – but in the end he makes this maleable gold piece. He’s still not happy as he wants it ALIVE. Not just a plow, but a plow that’s aware, a plow that wants to go in the field and will work with his master. So he climbs into the forge fire with the golden plow and teaches it how to be alive. How to be a being!
Makepiece had seen the plow and had wanted it – because it was golden – but refused to have it when he saw it was alive.
Filled with scorn, he started spinning stories, much like the young girl, that the apprentice used gold from his property to make the plow and then ran off with it.
When Alvin is back in the city, he gets arrested on charges of thievery.

He manages to prove his innocence (barely) because of his excellent attorney who makes a case that the plow was iron, now it’s gold and because it’s alive, it’s no-ones anymore. It’s his own being.

What you are is a man who means to be good, and undo the bad he’s done, and that’s as good as any man ever gets.

Alvin gets released and his name gets cleared. He only has to pay Makepiece his iron’s worth back as his iron was gone.

Don’t be afraid to show who you are

There are some pretty colourful characters in the book and Violet is one of them.

“You’re such a liar.”
“But I’m a beautiful liar, don’t you think?” She flashed her best smile at her friend.
“I don’t understand what men see in women anyway,” her friend answered. “Hexes or no hexes, as long as a woman has her clothes on a man can’t see what he’s interested in anyhow.”

Covered in hexes, she appears younger, slimmer, taller than she really is. And what she wants is Alvin to give her the plow as a gift, because he is in love with her. What she doesn’t know is that he can see through her hexes and watch the middle-aged denture-wearing woman in all her glory. When she testifies against him at the trial, Alvin manages to find the source of her anger into a salamander that she had in her purse. The salamander was possessed by the great evil and was using a charm to appear as Violet’s best friend – but giving only ill-advice. Alvin manages to make the salamander reveal its true hideous face and then exorcises the evil – making the amphibian go free of its grasp.

Alvin had met true evil in his life, but he still persisted in thinking it was awful rare, and the word was bandied about too much by those who didn’t understand what real badness was.

This was probably the best battle against the Unmaker in this book. It was nothing like the floods that killed his older brother in book 1, or the men that came to see Arthur Stewart in book 3. Or the terrible massacre in book 2. It’s just plain and terrible evil.

There were always people searching for the Unmaker, for some awful destructive power outside themselves. Poor fools, they always thought that Destruction was merely destruction, they were using it and when they were done with it, they’d set to building. But you don’t build on a foundation of destruction. That’s the dark secret of the Unmaker, Alvin thought. Once he sets you to tearing down, it’s hard to get back to building, hard to get your own self back. The digger wears out the ground and the spade. And once you let yourself be a tool in the Unmaker’s hand, he’ll wear you out, he’ll tear you down, he’ll dull you and hole you and all the time you’ll be thining you’re so sharp and fine and bright and whole, and you never go till he lets go of you, lets you drop and fall. What’s that clatter? Why, that was me. That was me, sounding like a wore-out tool. What you leaving me for? I still got use left in me?
But you don’t, not when the Unmaker’s got you.

How to climb to power in three easy steps : by Calvin Miller

Calvin suffers of a rare case of brother-jealousitis. He is envious of his making powers and you can see a nasty side of him when he beats up the story teller for revealing his true self.

Do you speak Scorn and Mockery to everyone? Or just to your betters? – Taleswapper

He leaves the town of Vigor Church and blackmails a ship captain into taking him across the ocean and teaching him manners and how to behave in the high society. He is a terrible character – he never wants to work, or do, or make, just to take and be given.

“Calvin, sounding like an educated man don’t make you educated,” and he says back to me, “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.”

He manages to get all the way to Napoleon’s court where he uses his knack to numb all the servant’s feet and provide temporary relief from Gout for Napoleon. That is – not curing it but modifying the nerve endings so that pain is no longer felt.
Napoleon isn’t stupid either. He knows that the boy will stop curing his pain the moment he learns enough so he teaches as little as he can.
When Calvin sees that he can’t get any further, he takes all pain away from Napoleon and goes back to America with Honore de Balzac.

How to destroy your enemy: by Calvin Miller

Calvin gets a taste of destruction when he uses the bacteria in general Harrison’s body to cause a pulmonary infection that would lead to the man’s death in a few days. He can commit murder from afar and he will never be caught to face the consequences. This is a terrible path to follow and the one who put him on this is his friend Honore. He told him that while he can kill Alvin, he can never undo whatever he will make – and his making will be there for the ages. The only way to beat Alvin is to infiltrate his brother’s defenses and destroy his biggest creation so that it never sees the light again. I think that the Crystal City will become undone…

To you, the end of existence is to control things, and so you will never build anything, but rather will try to take control of what is already in existence. Your brother, though, is by nature a Maker, as you explain it; therefore he cares nothing about who rules, but only about what exists.

I can’t wait for the next book! 🙂

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