“With delicacy and insight, incorporating folk tales and folk magic with mountain lore and other authentic details, Orson Scott Card has evoked a vision of America as it might have been.” –Greensboro Tribune-Review
I love the Alvin Maker books. Even though how I imagine Alvin and how he currently looks on all covers are two distinct concepts. This is not one of those books were the guys are hulky and offer a once-in-a-lifetime romance to a swoony lady. This is a book about the hard truths of slavery in America – before the civil war that wrecked the country and took countless lives. This is the story of Peggy Smith as she tries to convince the king in exile, living in the appropriately named city of Camelot, to free the slaves.
This is the story about witch trials and the post-Salem mentality of priests and people. This is about law making and law breaking.
While it serves as an interlude to the Crystal City, this book can stand on its own and offer quite an accurate description of witchers, trials, torture methods and on the other end – life of a slave- without rage, without a name, without a heartfire.
Virtue is what you treasure until you feel desire, and then it becomes an intolerable burden to be cast away, and only to be picked up again when the desire fades.
Calvin Maker – along with his friend in crime – Honore de Balzac- make a showing again. Their paths cross in Camelot where Calvin meets Peggy for the first time since she’s married his brother Alvin, and let’s just say their discussions are quite interesting. Peggy can see the futures in Calvin’s path but all of them are shifting and not stable enough to pinpoint a solid path. Most of Calvin’s futures end up with him killing Alvin, her husband, or destroying his life’s work. So Peggy is faced with a moral dilemma when Calvin gets into deadly trouble. Should she save him and free her husband from a terrible future caused by his own brother, or let him die and face the destruction of her marriage to Alvin.
She decides to save Calvin – or at least keep him alive until Alvin can heal him. Calvin is grateful to Alvin for saving him and the futures seem to have changed but as Alvin puts it:
Well, don’t count on gratitude. It’s the most fleeting of all human virtues.
The story arc also focuses on the heartfire of slaves – their soul, which Peggy can see as a small flame. They find why the slaves in Camelot are so docile and obedient. When arriving with the ship from the country they were stolen from, the slave give the water boy, Denmark, a tiny puppet glued together with strings and spit and whatever they could find. These are their names, and their rage and their anger. Once they leave these behind – they can go into servitude and be complacent in their status.
Calvin, in his attempt to outdo his brother, destroys all the puppets that Denmark has saved up and in the process ends up nearly causing a slave revolt. Peggy instructs him to cause a flood as a natural disaster is big enough to scare the enraged slaves and keep them from killing their masters. What she can’t do – she can’t convince the current king, Arthur Stewart – to spare the lives of the slaves. They start hanging them to teach them a lesson – never show anger. The stories about the black people hangings reach the north and it changes shape enough to plant the seeds of war.
There’s no one who doesn’t have memories he wishes he didn’t have. And there are crimes that arise from decent desires gone wrong, from justified passions carried too far. Crimes that began only as mistakes. I’ve learned never to judge people. Of course I judge whether they’re dangerous or not, or whether they did right or wrong, how can anyone live without judging? What I mean is, I can’t condemn them. A few, yes, a few who love the suffering of others, or who never think of others at all, worthless souls that exist only to satisfy themselves. But those are rare.
The second story ark was as good as the first one. Alvin and his friends are in Mormon country (New England) where the Puritans have settled and are living in relative peace. They encounter a young girl called “Purity” who has a knack of being able to tell people’s intent and emotions and ask her to join them, in the process telling her about Alvin’s making skills, his golden plow and the Crystal City they are planning to build.
What they didn’t count on, was Purity rushing back to the village and accusing Alvin Maker of being a devil worshiper and a witch. In doing so, she was hoping to gain approval from the community and redeem herself as a good Christian, especially after both her parents were accused of witchcraft and hanged.
Alvin goes into custody freely and uses his knack to make his shackles come loose whenever he wants to.Verity acts as his lawyer and they are both looking forward into proving there is no such thing as witchcraft and a knack is a God-given gift.
“He was aquitted of all charges,” said Verily, “Proving that I’m a clever lawyer.” / “Proving I was innocent,” said Alvin. “An advantage I don’t have this time.”
I loved the law interpretation which was used both by the witcher and by Verily Cooper. The witcher was twisting every truth coming out of Purity’s mouth to make it sound like a witch sabbath while Verily was showing that all witchers want to do in order to keep their job is find witches, even when there are no such things as witches.
I enjoyed the scene where Alvin leaves the court room after he sees that the law is being subverted to find him innocent. I then appreciate that John Adams is able to use the law to find Alvin legitimately innocent by destroying those who abused the law to attempt to find Alvin guilty. Clever twist and excellent lawyering.
“Mark my words, when a government pretends that it is the highest judge of its own actions, the result is not freedom as Jefferson says, but chaos and oppression. When he shuts religion out of government, when men of faith are not listened to, then all that remains is venality, posturing, and ambition.”
In the end, the witcher’s practice licence is revoked and because he can’t appear in court without a licence, the trial is cancelled. Purity, having seen the true nature of a witch trial and how she, as an accuser, also fell in the same pot as Alvin, the accused, decides to follow the gang to Crystal City (and maybe marry Verity Cooper as they seemed to like each other)
One book left and I can’t wait to reach the finale! If you want to see all the books organized neatly into a lovely page, click here.