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on September 19, 2001
Many other reviews here seem to be highly praising, but I found this fourth installment of Card's clever, original series a big disappointment. Nothing really happens except a lot of chatting and repitition. How many times do we have to hear the plot of "Red Prophet" and "Prentice Alvin" restated? The former was a bit preachy, the latter more exciting; I enjoyed both but didn't need to hear their stories repeated in almost every chapter, it seemed.
Moreover, I kept waiting for the stupid trial to end so everyone could get on with the story and actually DO something but when the trial ended so did the book!
The book wasn't terrible, however--Card always writes with skill and a unique voice (though he rambles in ways a beginning author could never get away with.) For some good points, Calvin in Europe was fun, and I liked the British attorney, and I loved learning what Taleswapper's true knack is.
Yet Alvin and Peggy both seemed too old for their roles. The innocent spunk that made them such fun when they were younger is boring and stale a little strange in people in their late twenties. They finally get together, but it seemed anti-climactic. And Peggy's pregnant already? How divine.
Most of all, though, is that I feel Card is badly misusing his alternate history. It's fun to see the twisted-around versions of real historical figures, but Card disappointed me with almost all of them. For example, William Henry Harrison was delightful as a cruel military man in "Red Prophet," but in this book he does just what he did in real history: become president and die after getting sick at his inaugural address. I guess Card was having fun with making events seem inevitable, but that seems a waste of a good alternate history.
Similarly, it was hinted that the land is headed for war, with the slaveholders and royal colonies against the "United States,"
Appalachee, etc. That's just the American Revolution and the Civil War at the same time--as if those things were bound to happen in any version of history. And while Napoleon's empire is fun to hear about, I thought he was more interesting as a general exiled to Canada. Again, seems like Card isn't being as creative as he could be.
And after four books, I wish I knew more about the places on that wonderful alternate map besides Hatrack River and Dekane. I wanted to see the Crown Colonies and New England. And I'd like some hints about what's happening in the rest of the alternate world, apart from Europe.
The Unmaker was hardly in it at all! The magic that was so fresh and clever in "Seventh Son" has gotten pretty boring. Also I though it was pretty goofy that Mike Fink showed up eager for redemption as a devoted follower of Alvin. And there are very few interesting female characters. . .Why none of the historical women at that time? There were some! I'd like to see an alternate America where women could vote in the 1800's!
All in all, very discouraging. I felt the same way about the Ender Series: Ender's Game blew away, it's one of the best books ever, but the rest of the series is boring and preachy. Card makes great, super-smart children but they grow up dull.
Maybe Heartfire will be better.
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on February 2, 2004
I originally read this several years ago, and re-read it recently after getting the new book in the series. As I read this series as a whole, I am staring to notice that the individual stories form each book (The war in Red Prophet, the story of Arthur Stuart in Prentice Alvin, and the trial in this book) and the new characters that keep coming along, are starting to overshadow the overall story of Alvin's quest to build the Crystal City.
This book started a little slowly, so I thought it might not have been as interesting as the previous books in the series, as often happens once you get this deep into a series. But with the introduction of Verily Cooper and Alvin's trial, the book really picks up the pace. I look forward to re-reading the next book (Heartfire) followed by the The Crystal City, which will hopefully conclude the series.
If you've enjoyed the other books in this series, you probably won't be disappointed by this one.
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The Alvin Maker series starts off with a unique and fascinating alternate history of a world where people have "knacks" which allow them to do what would be considered "magic" to most of us. Alvin's knack is "making" and the first two books explained his world and shaped his character through some interesting and unique experiences.

The third book signalled the beginning of a decline in the series as Card moves toward his favored story of a main male character (Alvin) who is supposedly noble and good above all else. The third book is saved by an interesting and appropriate storyline about slavery but the same cannot be said of the fourth.

Unfortunately, in the fourth book, he makes the Alvin behave so stupidly as a means of attempting to martyr him that the reader soon loses respect for the main character. There is honor in self-sacrifice but not in someone who thinks that covering up the lies and misdeeds of others is a form of "good". Doesn't Card ever think it might be interesting to explore the theme of fostering positive character growth in others by having their lies and misdeeds dealt with directly by the person who they have harmed? I'm not talking about Rambo-type behavior but the fact that the Ender's series, the Homecoming series, and now the Alvin Maker series have pathetic men who believe bad decisions make them strong and noble is getting tiresome.

The worst part isn't the retread of the same old story but the fact that this story simply goes on and on and seems to have very little point other than to drag poor undeserving Alvin through the muck and have him sit by and do diddly about it. This is not only uninteresting for the reader but actively annoying.

Other reviewers have pointed out that this book brings together a cast of characters that will eventually serve a purpose in future novels in the series. I believe that those characters could have been brought in through a much less drawn-out and tedious storyline. Essentially, a few chapters of a novel which continues the move toward building the Crystal City (Alvin's ultimate goal as outlined in The Red Prophet) should have done it rather than subjecting us to no less than 3 separate liars accusing Alvin of various misdeeds and us having to suffer through excruciating details.

I decided after reading this book that this would be absolutely the last series of Card's novels I'd ever read. He's an excellent writer but he needs to tighten up his writing and get a new character or two. Ender, Nafai and Alvin are all just too similarly spineless.
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on July 2, 1998
I have long considered the first three books of the Alvin Maker series to be true masterpieces. Alvin Journeyman did not live up to the promise set by its predecessors, in my opinion. From the first chapters of Journeyman, I noticed that the voice had changed. I don't know if Card lost the flavor because he waited too long, but I am awfully sorry that he did. I also wonder if sticking to the Joseph Smith story so closely is becoming hampering to the plot of the series. In the first three books, it was noticeable only in the general flavor of things and reminded me of the relationship between the Narnian Chronicles and the New Testament. Different stories that pointed to the same truths. In Journeyman, I almost feel like Alvin and his friends no longer have their own stories, but are merely puppets acting the script of the Joseph Smith story. In spite of my disappointment in the book as an installment in the Alvin Maker story, it did have some very intriguing ideas. I was particularly interested in Calvin's adventures with Napoleon, Card's portrayal of raw ambition was masterful. I do not plan to read any future additions to the Alvin Maker series, I will enjoy the first three for the masterpieces that they are. It would be a pity dilute their excellence.
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on May 30, 1999
I was first introduced to Orson Scott Card as I randomly searched through Amazon.com's sci-fi section for a book to buy with a ten dollar gift certificate. I ended up buying Ender's Game. I read it in two days(while attending high school and keeping up with all it's related hoopla). I went on to read the entire Ender Series and love it. I have read all the books in the Alvin Maker Series in about two weeks. They are entrancing. I stayed up until after four o' clock in the morning reading Alvin Journeyman, as I couldn't put it down. This book is just as good as any in the rest of the series, in my opinion. It is a superb work by an extraordinarily talented author.(I guess you could say his knack was writing ;-)
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on December 12, 2000
This is a satisfying continuation of the tale of Alvin Journeyman on his way to becoming Alvin Maker and the creation of his Crystal City dream. Alvin is now an adult, free of his onerous apprenticeship, and returns home for the first time in years. There he becomes re-acquainted with his family, and attempts to teach Making, with mixed results. One result is a false accusation of sexual misconduct by a young lady infatuated with him. He flees to Hatrack, where he was born and apprenticed. There his bitter ending with the smith who trained him develops into a trial, not only for a specific charge of theft, but also of his character. Alvin's estranged brother and fellow maker, Calvin, has gone to Europe and studies how to control people from Napoleon, and inadvertently is the catalyst that sends the right attorney from England to Hatrack, where he can defend Alvin. Once again, the alternate history is fascinating. This time we not only see America (but not much more than we've seen before), but we see how England and France have fared in this world of small and large magicks. My only complaint: it felt like a middle book in a series, which it is. It seems less a complete story than a continuation. It introduces new characters that obviously have more to do (having a torch around helps the author give glimpses of the possible futures). I wouldn't start anyone with this book. And I want to get more than just a hint as to how the Crystal City will be created. I want more in general. So I guess I'll go read Heartfire and then wait like everyone else for the culmination of the series. I suspect Card won't let us down: he hasn't so far.
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on June 26, 2015
Such a unique story. It takes a bit to get into these books, but the character development is great. The setting is something of an alternate universe where historical characters are meshed into the same timeline and some have superpowers called "knacks." It isn't a fast paced book, but a good story about the protagonist pursuing a dream.
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on May 2, 1997
These books are some of Card's best work. In my opinion they are better books than his more famous Ender series. They do for North America what The Lord of the Rings did for England - they create a new mythology for a geographical area (although in this case the mythology is also an alternate history). Card weaves an invented fantasy universe with American folklore of all kinds, from native tribal religion to European superstition and sorcery.
Alvin, a young immigrant, is born under a host of omens and signs. He is the seventh son of a seventh son, and becomes intertwined with the destiny of the American frontier. He finds that he is the most important figure in the battle against that which he calls the Unmaker. Throughout the course of the book he attempts to quell the tide of entropy by "making" things. He unites people of many races, and tries to bind humanity together as he becomes increasingly aware of the spirit around him that ties everything - the land, the people, and the unfolding of history - together
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on June 8, 1998
This series will be a joy to someone starting to read it 15-20 years from now.
This is an excellent continuation of the Alvin Maker series - a truly fantastic fantasy/historical series of books. If history books had read anywhere near this I may have actually learned something in those classes instead of somehow getting A's while learning nothing long-term!!
Please be aware that this is NOT the last book in this series - like some previously ticked off reviewer thought.
The series published:
1st in '87 2nd in '88 (not bad!) 3rd in '89 (kinda bad) 4th in '95 (Yikes! Why so long!) 5th one forthcoming in '98...
There's probably at least a 6th coming, maybe a seventh. Can Card finish this series before he dies? Well, let's hope for no more pauses like the one before this one was published...
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on July 1, 2001
Like its prequel ALVIN PRENTICE, this book has all the trademarks of a good Orson Scott Card tale. It's fast-paced and engaging, and the characters' offbeat dialects are just plain fun to read. They live in the 1800's (well sort of, its an alternate reality) and unlike many modern-day novels, they don't talk or act as if they grew up in the 1980's. They seem genuine, or as genuine as they can be in a world where magic and coincidence are equally common parts of life.
At this point in the series, Card allows himself to have a little more fun, as the action criss-crosses the Atlantic, and we get to meet hilariously distorted versions of Napolean, Marquis de LaFayette, Benjamin Harris, and Daniel Webster. This book is much better than the low point of the series (RED PROPHET) because there is less hocus-pocus Indian magic and more character development. But it is not as fresh or inventive as the original (SEVENTH SON) partly because Alvin's naivete and innocence is much more believable in a ten-year old boy than a 25-year old adult. I look forward to the end of the series, but like many other reviewers, I wish it would come soon.
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