Seventh Son (Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 1)
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2000
I tend to read in spurts. I 'discovered' Card at the very beginning of his career, when I read Ender's Game in Analog. And I was taken by the story and wanted more. I kept up with Card through Songbird, continued buying his books and adding them to my unread piles, and occasionally dipping into them. I knew he was writing a saga entitled The Tales of Alvin Maker, but I didn't delve into them, waiting until the series was finished. But someone insisted I read Seventh Son recently, and I found myself entranced, again, with Card's vision. I forget, from spurt to spurt, just how well he writes. Here are fully-fleshed out people, with vision and pettiness mixed. Here, also, is an excellent ear for the spoken language. And most of all, here is a surprisingly clever alternate history of America, in which small magicks and hexes really work, and American Indian visions come true. It also isn't often that an alternate history takes place in the past, and makes you wish it were true.
But regardless of how clever the setting is, the people are are the most important: the family members full of love and fears; Talespinner, a man seeking his own visions and the teacher of young Alvin; devout Armor-of-God (what a wonderful name!), married into a family of magickers and unsure how to handle it; Reverend Thrower, a preacher tormented by his own temptations; and young Alvin Jr., a special boy full of magick he only begins to understand by the time this part of the story ends; and his father, filled with visions of Alvin's death by his own hands. The book is full of moral choices, without the preaching a lesser writer might force upon the reader: how one views the world, challenges to those views, what is right and wrong, and how does faith fit in, are all woven into the story seamlessly. Some of the decisions made by these interesting people will surprise you. And if you continue on, there are still more surprises coming.
The only weakness in this book is that it is obviously just the beginning of a longer epic, which is still unfinished (two more books to come). There are huge questions left unanswered, including just what is the Unmaker that Alvin almost sees, and why does water hate Alvin. But that won't stop you from wanting to go to the next book immediately.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 1999
Seventh Son is set in the early 1800s--a tale of "a magical America that might have been." In this world, hexes and spells work. Alvin Miller Jr. is the seventh son of a seventh son, a very magical birth indeed. Alvin is no ordinary child--all his life, he has had a "knack" for making things (hence the name of the series, Alvin Maker). When a Presbyterian preacher from Scotland builds a church near the Miller homestead, things turn worse for young Alvin. The preacher alienates Alvin Sr. immediately, preaching that hexes and the like don't work and are just foolishness. The preacher, Philadelphia Thrower, is told by a Visitor that he must turn Alvin to God's way before he is fourteen years old. Thrower seems to hate Alvin, constantly trying to 'reform' the mischievous boy, making Sundays a nightmare. Then a wanderer named Taleswapper comes to town...
This is a really great book! I loved it, and I can't wait to read the next one. Once you pick it up, you can't put it down! Orson Scott Card is a wonderful writer. I've *never* been disappointed by one of his books. Seventh Son is a superb (did I spell that right?) novel!
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
The first book in Orson Scott Card's "Tales of Alvin Maker" series, SEVENTH SON introduces the reader to a remarkable alternate history in which early 19th-centrury America looks much different than our own and folk magic is real.
The novel opens with the tumultuous birth of Alvin Miller, a seventh son of a seventh son, as his family moves through Ohio hoping to start a better life in frontier territory. Alvin's heritage means he'll have great powers, and even from the start it becomes apparent that some force is moving against him. Through this slim first novel, we are acquainted with Alvin's boyhood and the world in which he lives, where hexes and beseechings are commonplace and actually work.
Card's alternate history is one in which the Restoration never happened in England, leaving the Puritans in power there and resulting in a very different America. The Stuart dynasty is in exile in the Southeast, New England is still run by fundamentalist Pilgrims, and the United States consists of only a few key states between. West of this, in what in our world would be Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, is the frontier where Alvin grows up.
SEVENTH SON is a very light opening to The Tales of Alvin Maker, and the action begins really from the second book, RED PROPHET, in which Alvin's destiny is revealed. Card gives one just enough here to see if it's right for the reader. For myself, I found Card's setting so fascinating that I went on to the rest of the series. I give the book only three stars for two reasons. One was I didn't like the fact that he made the first book so insubstantial compared to the subsequent novels. The second is that while the series is very good, Card's strength is his ideas, not his writing. His prose is clunky, especially when he tries his "aw, shucks" narrative voice. While I would indeed recommend SEVENTH SON to those who like the concept of an alternate America, The Tales of Alvin Maker is not destined for great literature.
Incidentally, The Tales of Alvin Maker is much like another series Card was working on at the same time, the Homecoming books. Both series include Mormon allegory, child protagonists, and the series even touch on one another with the same mystical dream figuring in both. I'd recommend that series if one enjoys The Tales of Alvin Maker.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2000
I enjoyed Seventh Son and would recommend it to anyone. It takes place in the colonial era of America, but there are many differences. For one, the old monarchs of England rule in the south after Oliver Cromwell took over, there is no United States of America, and most of what we consider colonial America is split into different countries. Also, many people seem to have some sort of magic or "knack." Here enters Alvin Miller, who is the seventh son of a seventh son, making him twice blessed. He was gifted with the possibility of becoming a Maker, someone who can make things out of thin air. The book is about Alvin as he grows from his birth and goes through the attempts on his life by what can only be called evil itself. Mostly he doesn't notice them because he has an unseen protector in the form of Peggy who was present at his birth.
I think this book is good because it puts the presence of magic in a place we already know-our past. It makes the possibility of magic seem more likely because it includes people from our history. One such person was Benjamin Franklin, who great scientific works made many people think he was a Maker. Another was Thomas Jefferson, a politician in the country of Apalachee. The list goes on. The way Card ties real people into his work of fiction lends their credibility to his book and its events. Everybody wants to believe that magic exists, and this book brings out that feeling in its readers, igniting the hope that there is real magic, even if its only things always knowing a lie, or being able to charm people into agreeing with you, or other such "knacks" that people have.
Also, like many other great stories, Seventh Son is a story about Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Dark, Creator vs. Destroyer. One such story known worldwide is Star Wars. People are attracted to that age-old struggle because it is completely universal. They talk of days when supernatural things occurred regularly, and have the same fight against evils of the world. Everybody can relate to stories such as these because they all want to live in a better world. because the better world doesn't exist here, we all like to hear or read or see stories where we see people fighting for, and achieving, that goal.
If you are a science fiction/fantasy fan, I highly recommend this book to you. It is a short read, and it has a great story line. If you aren't a sci-fi/fantasy fan, i still recommend this book to you, and pretty much for the same reasons. If you like it, than I urge you to read the rest of the series, which continues on with Alvin's life and have the same motif as Seventh Son.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2006
Imagine a North America where things in the early 1800's were different. How different? Imagine if the magic and folklore of the Native Americans had more influence on history. What if white man had a different relationship with the natives while they settled the West?

This is the backdrop for The Seventh Son. Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son...a magical thing, indeed. He is gifted in ways that bring him power but also to bring condescension and exclusion in his town. He finds that his "knacks" may be more than he thinks. He is discovering evils that he doesn't understand, but knows that he must build things in order to fight those evils that seek to tear down.

One of my favorite things for an author to do, if they do it well, is to "accent" their dialogue with plain talk and bad back-country grammar and dialects. This really gives grittiness and realism to the story. The author's use of historical figures (George Washington, Ben Franklin, e.g.) is somewhat humorous in that they lived different lives that what we came to know in our history classes. The political geography is also different with similar names (Appalachee or Irrakwa) which give a hint of location or culture....but different.

The underlying conflict, which I think is very interesting, is one which pits spreading Christianity, which most modern day Americans understand, against small magic, hexes and spirits. This is really the basis of the alternate reality that the author paints in this book.

Since magic is technically a fantasy prop, I'd consider the Alvin Maker series to be fantasy in an early American setting. Hard core fantasy readers may not get into the small-time magic that the author presents in this book and series, but readers who like "What if", alternate reality stories will like this book. The characters are real, dirty and smelly. They work hard on the American frontier.

Orson Scott Card is the author of the Alvin Maker series of which The Seventh Son is the first book. He has also other science fiction tales, such as the Ender series and the Earth series. He also has written a set of three romantic, speculative stories of three prominent "Women of Genesis", Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I'm assuming that most people reading this review are fans of Card's Ender's Game and are wondering what else he has been up to. This book takes place on the western frontier of America circa 1801. In this parallel universe an alternate history has been written that is similar to our own but here common folk have magical powers that make life a little more interesting. Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son and this is powerful and special birthright in this universe. This story is the first of five and much of it is exposition for the series.
A couple of things make this world interesting and Card's creativity shines through. Individuals in this world have special powers that range in power and usefullness. Some people have the ability to make a spark and light fires, one person has the abiltiy to find the best point to dig a well. Others have knacks for making protective hexes, or seeing your soul (called heartfire). Of course Alvin is not your average kid and his powers exceed and surprise thorugout the story in various entertaining manners. I really like the way Alvin is a character with exceptional morals dealing with various forces while trying to understand his adolescent view of the world. This first book sets the stage for two excellent followups before Card looses some steam and goes awry. The fourth book is average and the fifth book is downright bad. The family interaction is precious and Card gets away from this later on.
The religious aspect of this series is it's biggest downfall and the books where religion is more prominent are the weekest of the series. The Alvin Makers series is a loosely based on the Book of Mormon and Card tends to get a bit preachy at times (especially in the first book). This takes the book down a star as Card's dogma isnt necessary to the story or the actions of the characters. There are also mixed and hypocritical religious views within the stories that are too complex to go into here and needless to say religious zealots, born-again Christians and Orthodox Jews might get offended.
Bottom Line: This is good stuff if you can stomach the preaching and sentimental corniness. Books 2 and 3 are the Jewel of the series but these aren't really stand alone books.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
According to legend, the seventh son of a seventh son is a person of great power. The wife in a family migrating west into the Northwest territory of the Ohio river valley is carrying a male child who would be the seventh son of a seventh son. Suddenly, a seemingly tame river that they are attempting to cross engages in a flash flood in an apparent attempt to kill the mother. However, after great effort, they are rescued, although one of the male sons is swept away. However, he lives a few minutes beyond the birth of the baby, making the baby the seventh son of a seventh son. That child, Alvin Jr., has power over animals and naturally occurring raw materials, being capable of bending them to his will.
The story is an alternate history of the American frontier, as we hear mention of the names of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. There is also the itinerant Taleswapper, whose purpose in life is to travel and trade stories with anyone with a good one to tell. The forces aligned against the boy are very powerful, influencing the minds of the neighbors into believing that he and his family are aligned with Satan. Alvin Sr. is an agnostic, which makes him even more suspect in the eyes of the religious community.
In this story we see the paranoid side of Christianity, as the boy clearly uses his powers for good in the world. Nevertheless, he faces a constant struggle to survive against a monstrous evil, some of which resides in the local pastor, that recognizes the threat that he poses. The book ends with Alvin Jr. about to travel away from his village to be an apprentice blacksmith. Clearly, this is not the end of the tale, as nothing is resolved, other than that the boy has lived to reach an age measured in double-digits.
Nana Visitor does an excellent job in reading the story, she uses inflections and changing tones well as the action is described. It is an interesting tale, which made the ending so frustrating. I yearned for more than what was available on the tapes.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2005
This first book in the Alvin Maker series blew my mind. Here is a type of fantasy which I've always loved but almost never gotten: our folklore, our myths and legends made real within our own world. Orson Scott Card is one of the best fantasy writers of our time, and this book is the prime example why: it isn't formula fiction. Much of it isn't even fiction - you may learn something!

As with all my reviews, the good and bad of this novel:

Good:
1) I found myself loving the characters one minute, as well as fearing them a little. Always under the surface of this world that is so much like our own colonial period, there is the presence of danger from the unmaker. I spent the entire book dreading the turning of the page.
2) The frontier America that Card portrays is believable and vivid. I don't get enough of this - we learn about the earth, its peoples, a history much like our own...but with a twist. Its a lot of fun.
3) The magic system is engrossing because its literally our own magic system: backwoods hexes and charms, mountain cures and chants. I remember growing up and going to a Mennonite church as a child and hearing sermons preaching to the "womenfolk" not to be messing around with hexes. So in a sense, I had a little bit of a connection to this book that I'll never have to something like the Lord of the Rings.
4) One thing that I loved about the characters was the way in which they interacted. They did so realistically. They didn't always like each other, or respect, or trust, and we got to see it all. The good guys weren't all good, and the bad guys weren't all bad.
5) When the author did jump to another point of view it was interesting. I'm no fan of jumping points of view, but it was used sparingly here and productively.

Bad points:
1) I wish I'd had more time to coast with the characters. I wish the book was longer and I could coast a little without impending danger from the Unmaker, the various bringers of danger in the story. I like a happy tale, and this was a little unnerving.
2) I sort of wish that the reverend was more of a sympathetic character. I know, I know, if Card needed my help he'd have asked for it, but I somewhat liked the reverend, despite his pig-headedness. I hope he turns around later.

I don't have much that I can say that's bad about this 5-star book. I recommend you read it - highly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 22, 2008
Alvin Miller is born the seventh son of a seventh son, thus he is the focus of great power in this tale set in an alternate version of the American frontier where folk magic, hexes and yarb lore are all real and taken quite seriously by characters in the story. Alvin has so much power that one of the elemental forces of nature, water, pits itself against him - in the form of The Unmaker - and seeks to kill him at every opportunity.

Fans of James Fenimore Cooper - look elsewhere; fans of Rip Van Winkle and other American folk legends - this is the book for you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2008
An engrossing tale from this giant of the genre. Card takes us to the frontier of a pre-industrial America where magic, religion, and science exist in uncomfortable proximity, each competing for ascendancy in the hearts and minds of the people. Card has created a unique alternate history wherein the states are not united, various regions owe allegiance to various central governments, and Native Americans represent a dangerous and unpredictable force. With all this as a backdrop, Card elects to start his series with a small and homey tale that focuses on just one family, the Millers, and specifically young Alvin Miller, Jr., the seventh son of a seventh son, who possesses seemingly limitless magical potential. But will his power be enough to defeat the enemy of order known as the Unmaker? Or will the Water forces that oppose him find a way to destroy him? Don't expect to find out in this book, which is only the beginning of a series of novels, but count on being entranced enough with Card's seemingly effortless prose and captivating storytelling skill to stay with him through this volume's crisis, and eagerly await the next one, Red Prophet (which turns out to be even better).
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