So I was going along, listening to the book, and it was all fine, and then all of a sudden, I came to a realization. “Wait a minute, this is JESUS!” Yes, this all seems to boil down to a second coming of Christ (or Christ-like character.) (Or something to do with Mormons. I’m not sure.)
This is an alternate history of Frontier era of America. From what I quickly read of the introduction before I started, I knew there would be some differences, the main one being that of the presence of a sort of magic. What threw me off a bit was the changes in history Card threw in there. There is a different king of England. Washington was beheaded. And the Native Americans have representation in Congress. (That last one has more of an impact on the story than the other two.) And some of the names of things are slightly different, for some reason.
Alvin Miller is a seventh son. He and his pregnant wife Faith and their twelve children (6 boys and 6 girls) are travelling west to start over after a flood destroyed their prosperous mill. The first section of the book covers the traumatic birth of their child, Alvin Jr., who is the focus of the rest of the book. Alvin Jr. is the seventh son of a seventh son, and so is said to be either blessed or cursed, depending on who you ask.
A lot of characters in the story have powers, or “knacks.” A lot of the powers are similar to what hedgewitches can do in other stories. One character is a Torch, and can see people’s heartfires and their pasts and potential futures. Others can create wards and hexes. Young Alvin Jr. has all the signs that he is a Maker. Alvin Jr. can make things whole. But Alvin Jr. has an enemy that is trying to destroy him. It was said the last Maker before Alvin Jr. “turned water into wine,” which brings about the Jesus realization.
There is also a theme of Christianity here, which is interesting. Reverend Thrower is the local pastor, and he abhors the locals who use what he calls witchcraft, because he believes it is ridiculous and shuts out the Lord. One local points out to him that while he may not believe in it, others do, and he may preach against it in deference to the Lord, but to deny that it works to the people that believe is foolishness. He is so narrow minded that it is simple to see how he can easily be deceived and led astray.
I got to the end, and I was like, well, maybe I’ll check out the second one, just to see where this is going. But then I heard the afterword. Whenever an author says that he’s “setting to write the Great American Epic,” I’m like, NOPE! I don’t think you can “set out” to write a Great Work. You write a novel, and time will tell if it’s great. I mean, you can hope it does well, but to expect it to be the next Beowolf? (His comparison, not mine.) He also talks about how the story got out of control, how it started with a poem he wrote and in expanding it came out with six (soon to be seven) novels. The first book is kind of like the introduction to the character, and in each book he doesn’t quite get the rest of the story told.
Now, is this a bad book? No, not really. Card is a good storyteller and a good author. But he’s trying too hard. And since he’s trying to write “greatness,” some of the characters are a bit archetypal, which may be on purpose. Alvin Jr. is a good little boy, and perhaps a little too good to be believed. He fights back with his siblings, but is a good-natured boy all around. He does something not-so-good when he is six, and comes to a much deeper realization than most six-year-olds are capable of. Reverend Thrower is single-minded. Faith Miller is your stereotypical overworked mother who has too much to do to put up with anyone’s nonsense. Alvin Miller is a good hardworking man who has doubts. Armour-of-God Weaver is a religious man who has aspirations of government. So it’s not bad, but I’m not in any rush to read the rest of the “epic” story. Maybe I’ll get to it eventually, but I’m not in a rush to find out what happens to young Alvin. (After reading the synopsis of the other books, I’m really not in a rush. It gets weird.)