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Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card

Seventh Son (1987)

by Orson Scott Card

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Tales of Alvin Maker (1)

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3,313501,642 (3.86)1 / 46
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Originally posted at FanLit.

"When you’re surrounded by light, how do you know whether it’s the glory of God, or the flames of Hell?"

Set in an alternate American frontier, Seventh Son is the first in Orson Scott Card’s THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER. Alvin Miller is the seventh son of a seventh son which makes him special and potentially a very powerful healer, or “maker” — at least that’s what many who practice folk magic, believe. They know that many folk have “knacks” and they’ve seen the effects of curses and charms. It’s obvious that there’s a supernatural war going on around Alvin Miller. He’s almost been killed many times (usually by water), but it’s clear that some other force is protecting him. While his family expects greatness from Alvin, some of his neighbors think he may be “devil spawn.”
Reverend Thrower, the new Christian pastor who has just come over from Europe, finds all this folk magic to be rather creepy. He’s trying to dispel these superstitious notions while teaching his parish that any magic they think they see can be explained by scientific investigation. After interacting with Alvin’s family, he may be forced to reconsider his position. Is this folk magic superstitious nonsense, evil witchery, or a gift from God?

Seventh Son begins with an emotionally gripping scene as one child dies and another is born to the Miller family. These first few scenes make up the Hugo and Nebula nominated novella Hatrack River. The emotion doesn’t let up, the world-building and characterization are admirably complex, and there’s a nice touch of folksy humor — especially in the episodes of sibling rivalry.

I’ve heard it said that Seventh Son is loosely based on the life of Latter Day Saints prophet Joseph Smith, though I don’t know enough about Smith to notice the parallels. Orson Scott Card is known to be religious and conservative (and a member of the LDS church), but you wouldn’t know it from reading Seventh Son. Though religion is the dominant theme, Card’s religious characters are, at least on the surface, hard to sympathize with. For example, though Reverend Thrower’s intentions are good, his deeds are more evil than the deeds of the “immoral” people he opposes. It’s easy to see this from our perspective, but we can also see why Thrower thinks he’s doing the right thing. It’s a good parallel to some of the religious conflicts we see in our society today.

I’m intrigued by Card’s alternate America where familiar politics and personalities are slightly different from historical facts. This played an insignificant background role in Seventh Son, but will surely become more prominent in future volumes of THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER. I look forward to that.

I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version of Seventh Son which was narrated by a full cast including Scott Brick, Gabrielle de Cuir, Stephen Hoye and Stefan Rudnicki. This is a superb cast who did a great job individually. The parts were split up by chapter rather than by role, so on a couple of occasions I was initially confused at the different accents used for the same character by different narrators. Included in the audiobook version is an afterword by Orson Scott Card which explains the origin of Hatrack River and Seventh Son.

Published in 1987, Seventh Son was nominated for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards and won a Locus Award. It’s a beautifully written emotional story set in an original fantasy world. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
excellent start to a series. I enjoyed the unique look at good vs. evil and magic in frontier America. I will definitely be reading more from this series. ( )
  MillieHennessy | Sep 2, 2013 |
Card's historical America-that-could-have-been is well thought out and beautifully described. Each character adds to the story in such a way that also helps to make the country grow, just as what would happen in a new place with new ideas, only as readers we get to experience it intimately. When you read you feel as if you know the characters, their families and situations just as if you had stopped in for dinner on a long journey to somewhere new. Descriptions are written as they would have been thought up in the time, adding to the natural feel of the story.

The culture created around this alternate America was clearly well thought out. You have the magical aspect that is rooted in superstition and tradition pushing against the Christian ideas that are introduced as the country grows and churches are built where there was once only open country and a few houses. Neither one is right or wrong over the other, they simply both exist and although there are some families that clearly pick one over the other, it is also good to see homes like Alvin's where tradition and the church have found a way to survive together as an accepted way of life. Could the magical way have been real at one point in time and we simply lost that ability to recognize it? Reading Seventh Son certainly can make you believe it would all have been possible.

I have both the book and the audio version (read by Nana Visitor) and though I know the story well, I find myself regularly turning on the audio or picking up the book to experience everything over again. The audio is so beautifully delivered that when reading the actual book, my mind hears the audio as I read, making both experiences even more magical as they are joined together. This is a story that does not get old, a reader can easily relive it with fondness and wonder again and again. ( )
  mirrani | Aug 4, 2013 |
This is a fantasy set in an alternate history America--which is part of what makes it so fun. OK, a lot of what makes it so fun. Things seem to have split off from our Timeline at the time of the English Civil War. There's a Lord Protector and Crown Colonies in 1800--but also an American Compact. Benjamin Franklin was reputed a wizard, George Washington was beheaded for treason and Thomas Jefferson a guerrilla fighter, and in American territories Native Americans are full citizens. Oh, and there's magic. One with a definite American folk magic feel. It's a world oh so different than the usual faux Medieval European fantasies that you so commonly find.

And here we have Alvin the Maker--Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The book opens with his birth and the novel follows him until he's ten years old. Alvin is magical. At one point he makes an oath to use his magic only for others--which so annoyed I was ready to drop the book. What's so wrong with doing for yourself, or so good about doing for others? Doesn't it matter more whether what you do to yourself or others causes harm? But that oath has consequences. And I was particularly charmed by the character of Tailswapper--an alternate universe William Blake, the famous poet and engraver. It's never stated outright, but it's a nice touch. This definitely left me wanting to find out what happens next in this world. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Jun 24, 2013 |
I didn't know hardly anything about the story of Alvin Maker before jumping into this book. I knew it was some sort of fantasy adventure story set in the early days of America's history and westward expansion. What I didn't know is that this was an Alternate History story set in a world with a slightly different timeline of events as well as different notions and ideals. For example, the Revolutionary War that we know happened a bit differently in this story and there ended up being only 7 states in the new United States as well as a number of different countries created from the other colonies and territories. In addition to the different history (which I suspect may play a larger part in future books?) there is also the presence of magic and supernatural occurrences. People are said to have "knacks" which enable them to see or do different things.

The book starts by introducing us to a young "Torch", a girl named Peggy who is able to see the various "elements" of things and people, especially their heart. She is also able to see possibilities in a person's life. As such, they like to have her present when a child is born so she can look into the heart of the baby and get some sense as to the future potential of the child and where the child may need help or guidance. It is through her that we meet the title character of the book, young Alvin Miller Jr, the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Peggy sees his heart fire from a distance while still in his mother's womb and then is present at his birth and through her "knack" she saves his life during the birthing process. She sees a myriad of possible futures for him all fraught with threats and dangers but also with great potential. She sees his possible future as a "Maker", a person with a special knack to not only see or influence people or events but also to literally change and create things. As Alvin and his family move away from Peggy's family, there is a suggestion that Peggy will be a part of Alvin's life in the future.

Through this book we follow Alvin as he grows from baby until about 10 years old with most of the story focusing on him and his family once he's a 10 year old boy. They are living in a small wilderness village that is just starting to grow. A pastor from England has recently arrived and is building a church and trying to quell the superstitious beliefs in magic and "knacks." A wandering man named "Taleswapper" has arrived in town and spends the season living with the Millers and helping out. There are a number of interesting adventures that suggest perhaps Alvin's life has a greater purpose and potential than anyone knows. He is frequently in deadly situations and escapes death through some inexplicable event. There are also some supernatural occurrences in the form of visions and visitations influencing the actions of the characters.

Seventh Son is filled with a lot of interesting ideas in a unique and creative setting. I enjoy the idea of early America mixed with real magic (as opposed to the magic scares of the Salem witch trials and other events). I'm not quite sure what to make of the alternate history in terms of different political boundaries or historical events. They don't seem to add anything to the story at this point. Perhaps the alternate history will have more bearing on the future books in this 6-book series. While this isn't a high fantasy world I do enjoy and applaud Card for the creative world of magic and mysticism that he's created here. There are some cool and intriguing rules and behavior that make this a unique tale.

My only complaint is that I wanted the story to keep going. There is definitely a lot of meat in this book in terms of character, setting and general world/plot development. But I really wanted the story to go farther before this first book ended. I'm told that this book series was originally envisioned as a short story (or a shorter series of books) but as Card undertook the writing, he just felt the work explode around him and provide so much material. I don't feel like he was dragging his feet in any means but I think I wanted more to happen in this first book. Still, the overall story is fabulous and I am eagerly looking forward to continuing on to find out what happens to Alvin next. At this point I am definitely hooked.

4 out of 5 stars ( )
  theokester | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Orson Scott Cardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harrison, Mark G.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nolan, DennisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Emily Jan,
who knows all the magic
that she'll ever need.
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Little Peggy was very careful with the eggs.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812533054, Mass Market Paperback)

From the author of Ender’s Game, an unforgettable story about young Alvin Maker: the seventh son of a seventh son. Born into an alternative frontier America where life is hard and folk magic is real, Alvin is gifted with the power. He must learn to use his gift wisely. But dark forces are arrayed against Alvin, and only a young girl with second sight can protect him.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In an alternate frontier America, Alvin, the seventh son of a seventh son, is born with a destiny to become something great, perhaps even a Maker.

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