Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card

Seventh Son
Red Prophet
Prentice Alvin

Alvin Journeyman

by Orson Scott Card

(additional books in the series that I haven't read yet or are still forthcoming:)
The Crystal City

Master Alvin

What I like best about Card is his ability to create suspense. He's very good at it. He writes a story that, once I start, it is nearly impossible to put the book down because I need to know what happens to the characters.

This particular series is an alternate reality-type thing—in this case, what would colonial America have been like if folk magic actually worked, and altered some important events in history? (Normally, I get pretty annoyed with alternate reality books, books where a story is set in the world we know, but not... how do I explain this? A novel that is based in fact and history, and yet changes history and the world we live in...I can't put my finger on it, exactly, and I don't want to try because it will detract me from the review I'm trying to do. All I can say is that sometimes an alternate-reality fiction can irritate me to death, e.g., anything by Piers Anthony. I can also try and describe it like this: One person I know says she hated The Last Unicorn for precisely the reason I'm trying to describe: that Beagle warped the rules—not of the real world, but those of the fantastic, canonical world of fantasy—by whimsically mentioning tacos, and it irked her to no end. Anyway. These books didn't bother me like that. Enough digression.)

This series has Card's usual amount of tension, so I couldn't put the books down. And he does so well writing about people—about their motivations, their fears, the hidden things that make them a menace or a blessing to those around them. He's very good at that.

In this series particularly, Card's Mormonism leaks out. (How can it not? He's writing a story about a young boy in a young America who has a strange and wonderful can he resist putting in all sorts of parallels and tributes to Joseph Smith?) Sometimes that sort of thing bothers me. Sometimes when an author does something like that, they end up getting sidetracked from their story and can lose momentum and all of a sudden they're no longer telling a story, they're preaching. Yick. Card, fortunately, doesn't do this. Good for him.

The books each explore vital themes that are historically appropriate: the second book has a great deal to do with the fate of the Native American in the hands of the white man. The third book has an awful lot to do with the evils of slavery. And none of this is done in (at least, what I consider to be) a heavy-handed manner. Card handles ideas with grace and truth. They were a pleasure to read.

At least they were, right up to the last bit of the third book. There was a scene that just smacked me in the face with the overt symbolism. Of COURSE there were going to be parallels, allegories, symbolism, whatever with the Gospel and Joseph Smith—but I wasn't looking for them. I was reading for the story (and he does do suspense well) but when I got to a particular scene—the climax of the third book—what happened was so obviously a BAPTISM, that I...I don't know. (One main character was trying to save another character from having to return to slavery, and in order to save him, he had to change him just the tiniest bit so that the...well, trackers (for the sake of abbreviated descriptions) wouldn't be able to find him. And as he changes him, he immerses himself and the other in the water of the river and his hands are described as being just so... I mean, C'MON! Was that really necessary? I felt like I had been smacked in the face with a dead fish. I felt so disappointed.

And after that, I've sort of lost interest in Alvin Smith (for heaven's sake! SMITH!) and his annoyingly good-humored character. And then, other things that were slightly annoying—but that I was willing to overlook as long as I cared so deeply for what happened next—suddenly were too obnoxious to ignore: his entirely STUPID romance with Peggy, other symbolic parallels, the golden plow (sigh)...

I guess what happened is that the story lost its credibility for me, just in that one scene. I no longer trusted what the storyteller had to say. And suddenly—poof!—the magic was gone, and I had lost interest. Too bad. I almost would've liked to see what happened next. I only read the fourth book because I had checked it out with the third, but I don't think I'll be continuing with the rest of the series.

I still really like Card, and I still think he's a great storyteller, but...oof. That stupid scene just killed me!

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