❮Reading❯ ➸ Seventh Son ➰ Author Orson Scott Card – Saudionline.co.uk

10 thoughts on “Seventh Son

  1. says:

    Orson Scott Card described his novel Seventh Son as an American epic fantasy, contrasting with the uncompromisingly British Tolkeinesque genre of fantasy books.

    This reminded me a great deal of Larry McMurtry’s The Berrybender Narratives in its imaginative use of historic people and places to tale the story of the American Frontier in the 1840s. Card, telling a story perhaps set in the 1810-20s makes this even more interesting by slowly unraveling the American past into an alternative history fiction, remaking the American foundation into one more accessible for a fantasy writer. Agree or disagree with his politics, Card is a good writer and spins a good yarn.

    What bothered me about this was the deliberate goal of forming a series rather than as a stand-alone novel. No doubt about it, I liked this book a lot, but as I came near the end it became clear that a denouement was no where in sight and I would be expected to pick up a … (gulp) sequel! Card himself in an afterward conceded that the story spun out of control and he expanded the idea of a trilogy into six, then maybe seven books.

    A book should be contained between two covers. Having said that, I enjoy a good series, find distraction in an ongoing story and a seemingly endless parade of interesting characters, but winding up one chapter should not simply be a cliffhanging commercial break (pun intended) to get to the next installment.

    Having said all that, I (hopeless sappy hypocrite that I am) wasted no time in reading the next book Red Prophet.


  2. says:

    Rather than discuss each of the books in the Tales of Alvin Maker series separately, I'll use this review for all of them. They present an alternate-history account of a nineteenth-century America in which magic is a potent force. Although it might not be evident to non-Mormons, this series is a thinly veiled fictional adaptation of the life of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith (just as his Homecoming Saga is a similarly thinly veiled science-fiction version of the story of the first part of the Book of Mormon). As such, it tends either to enthrall or horrify Mormon readers (just as did Saints, his overtly historical novel about Joseph Smith and polygamy--see my review of Saints). Non-Mormon readers can either have fun looking for the parallels or simply sit back and enjoy the stories for what they are--good stories. They should particularly appeal to those who like to see magic treated intelligently in a series.

  3. says:

    I'm re-reading this book now and, is it just me or does it seem like OSC could actually WRITE BETTER back then?
    He doesn't write like this anymore. Now his books are the conservative lecturing version of the Anita Blake serious where instead of sex scenes after sex scenes you get characters nagging about morality and marriage.

    Also, why do folks insist on being so dang cruel to kids? Hitting them with hazel rods and smacking then and such? I don't get that.

    What I also don't get is, why do people allow religion to separate them anyway? I always think the bonds between people are more important than any religion at all ever.

    Now the actual review.

    OSC what HAPPENED to you?
    You used to know how to write! This was the first book I read by you. It shaped my paradigm. If there was any lecturing about family values it was SUBTLE. You even had a character who wasn't religious and didn't vilify him. You showed him as a loving father who loved his wife but just didn't want to go to church.
    You used to be able to tell a good, strong story full of awesome images.
    Now it's just nag nag nag. It's too depressing to compare this book to Ender in Exile. That book just isn't as strong because every character is taken over to lecture the audience, and who wants that?
    I do not. I want a good book.
    Like this one!

    May 10, 2014. Read it again. It's still good. It doesn't fill me with rage the way Ender's Game does or Lost Boys or so many other books I liked by OSC one does. Why can't he still write this way?

  4. says:

    I went into this as an ignoramus, not knowing much about Mormons and the influence that the religious ideology has on Card's work. In fact, my knowledge of the faith largely comes from a South Park episode, which had me in stitches.

    A lot of the negative reviews refer to Card's faith, but coming in cold, I can honestly say that I loved this novel, and had no idea of any overt religious aims.

    I'm not necessarily a fan of fate and the fact that Alvin is the seventh son of the seventh son and therefore wields powers, but any fan of fantasy knows that fate often plays a role. How many times does Gandalf speak of it in LOTR? Countless fantasy novels use similar tropes, so it didn't bother me either.

    What I admired is the wonderful prose, which comes alive in terms of both voice and imagery; along with the courageous exploration of an America with an alternative history. This is a marvelous example of the dynamism of speculative fiction.

    So, outside of a comical South Park episode, which basically defines Mormonism as 'dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb' Card's beliefs had no influence on my reading of this enjoyable novel.

  5. says:

    You may have heard—O.S. Card is a Mormon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just makes this little story a trifle more interesting, because you see, our main character Alvin goes through A LOT of the things that Joseph Smith did, growing up. Like Smith, Alvin has parents who disagreed about religion and like the Smith family, Alvin’s family practices a religious folk magic in addition to Christianity. Smith also claimed, like Alvin, to be confused about the claims of competing religious denominations, a situation which is resolved by a religious vision. In addition, Smith suffered from a bone infection in his boyhood, although presumably not from having a mill-stone fall on his leg, the scenario in Seventh Son. Interestingly, Joseph Smith had an older brother named Alvin. [For all these details of Smith’s life, I am reliant on Wikipedia—not the most reliable of sources, but not the worst either].

    Add to that the alternative history aspect of the story—a North America which gets settled and governed in a radically different way (George Washington, for example, gets beheaded for treason). Here the hex signs on the Pennsylvania Dutch barns (which began as pure decoration) are used to suggest a whole practical magical system for this timeline (and the author presumes that they actually spoke Dutch rather than Deutsch). Add to that a rather odd Puritan set of names for characters (Alvin’s twin brothers Wastenot and Wantnot, for instance and his brother Calm). Somehow this odd mixture of religions does make a rather understandable system.

    Seventh Son’s main character, Alvin, does suffer rather badly from “chosen one” syndrome, but as a seventh son of a seventh son, it seems he just can’t help it. He is destined to be special because seven is viewed as being such a lucky number. In addition to his birth order, Alvin is born with a caul (membrane) over his face—yet another omen of a child destined for great deeds. Card has pulled out all the stops and made Alvin into the special-est snowflake that he possibly could.

    I have to say that the religiousness of the book’s characters (especially in the beginning) was a bit off-putting for me, but by about half way through I had reached some kind of stasis and was enjoying the story more. However, I found the ending rather abrupt. At least there wasn’t a cliff-hanger, but a reader wanting to know “how things end” will very obviously have to continue reading the series.

    This was book number 210 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

  6. says:


    I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't like this book. I read about 80 pages and just couldn't go on. I found the story to be pretty boring, and it seemed very bogged down in religion. On top of this, I found the character names to be inexcusably silly. Maybe I just don't 'get' it?

    I read The Ender Quintet and Enchantment in high school, and really loved the story lines. Because of my previous positive reactions to other Orson Scott Card works, I thought that this was a no-brainer.

    I wouldn't be opposed to giving this another try in the future, but as of now I'm moving on.

  7. says:

    Since quantum physics (or a vague conception of it :-)) entered popular consciousness, alternate worlds have become a staple of science fiction; but the burgeoning of alternate worlds in which magic works has become a parallel movement in the fantasy genre. Judging by this first installment, Card's Tales of Alvin Maker series is a strong contribution to the latter.

    Set in 1800-1810 in what would be, in our world, the Ohio and Indiana frontier, this novel describes the birth, and significant times in the young childhood, of Alvin Miller, the uniquely gifted seventh son of a seventh son, born into a frontier America in which the folk magic of our world's old superstitions actually works and plays a significant part in people's lives. But this isn't the only difference between this world and ours. Here, Oliver Cromwell lived to be 97, so England's Puritan Commonwealth never fell, while the exiled Stuarts emigrated to the Southern colonies and maintained their rule there. While the Puritans in England were able to keep their grip on New England (largely populated by their co-religionists), neither English group could dislodge the Dutch and the Swedes, or the French, from the New World --so Alvin's America is a much more polyglot and decentralized place than the real one. Canada is still a French colony here, and France is still a monarchy; there was no French Revolution, because there was no bloody American Revolution to inspire it. Instead, Ben Franklin was able to parlay the intrigues of the two English governments for influence in the middle colonies into acceptance of the peaceful formation of an independent United States as a buffer, made up of the seaboard lands between Virginia and New England and uniting the former English, Dutch and Swedish colonies --and with the Iroquois territory admitted as an Indian-ruled state. The American Compact excludes slavery, provides for religious freedom and democracy, and models an ethnic harmony that the one in our world didn't quite achieve --so Card is here depicting an America that might have been, as a model and inducement for a real one that could be.

    The author's cosmology is as original as his alternate history. The universe, he posits, has a secret ultimate enemy, the Unmaker; unlike Satan, who only wants to dominate it, the Unmaker wants to annihilate everything that exists. There are similarities here to the premise of Holly Lisle's Minerva Wakes, with its cosmic struggle between the Unweaver and the human Weavers who stand against him; but Card's vision is shaped by a theistic framework. The Unmaker's human opponent is Alvin, born to be a supernaturally-powered Maker; and young Peg, the "torch," or seeress, who assisted at his birth recognizes in his endowments the "hand of power" of God.

    Religion plays a significant role in the book: an important character is a clergyman, Alvin's home community centers around a church, his mother is a devout woman, and an even more important character is Bill "Taleswapper" Blake --the William Blake of our world, here an immigrant to the New World and an itinerant teller of tales, but as mystically oriented and full of yearning to be a true prophet as his real-world counterpart. Card, of course, is a Mormon, which undoubtedly influences his worldview; some reviewers have seen the series as Mormon propaganda, and it seems clear that Alvin is destined to play a role as pivotal here as Joseph Smith's in our world. But from what I've read so far, it isn't clear that Alvin's religious message will be what we know as Mormonism. The author's portrayal of some of the worst aspects of early 19th-century institutionalized religion, and of the capacity of decent people to be deceived into doing profoundly wrong things in the name of religion, comes through loud and clear; but this is a critique that can also be echoed by evangelicals, and Card's basically equalitarian treatment of women doesn't reflect traditional Mormon sexism.

    The quality of the writing, the world-building and characterizations here are all top-notch. Card's dialogue and narration are leavened with humor in places (I read the book out loud to my wife, and she frequently laughed aloud at droll exchanges or comments). But there are also plenty of serious, even poignant, moments, and some beautifully lyrical prose in places. The narrative is well-paced and absorbing. All in all, it's a really impressive series beginning! Now, it's on to the second installment, Red Prophet.

  8. says:

    Let's start by the good things in this book:

    -I like how Scott Card uses language to convey a whole place and moment in time.
    -I think that, although the ending is open enough to leave important questions unanswered, there's a level of satisfaction about it that makes for a good closure (for all those, like me, who don't plan to read the whole series, more about that on the things i didn't like).
    -There are glimpses of what cultural assimilation means for those who had been conquered showing the tragic reality of what displacement and genocide means, but of course as Mr. Card is not in the business of accepting that's exactly what happened in this reality based-fantasy, it's all reduce to that, glimpses.

    Now about the things I didn't like:

    -The portray of Native Americans as nothing else but useless drunks.
    -The flimsy cover of religious indoctrination presented through the story.
    -The imposture of European traditions and superstitions as the sole reality.

    All that say, I must come clean and accept the book is easy to read and entertaining. It has some interesting moments and Card surely knows how to create full and well rounded characters.

    Now, if you're curious about what the story is about and so on, I'm sure there are many places where you can find a nice and complete synopsis. Here I just wanted to talk about the reasons why I won't be reading anymore books in this series.

  9. says:

    4.5 stars. Fresh, original fantasy using the United States of the 19th century as its backdrop. This creation of a truly "American" fantasy novel was truly original and I thought made it a cut above a lot of cookie cutter fantasy stories.

    Winner: Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (1988)
    Winner: Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (1988)
    Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1988)
    Nominee: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1988)

  10. says:

    Books about special children with magic powers being manipulated by binary forces are kind of boring. There seems to be a glut of them.

    As the 18th century draws its final, decade-long gasps, America looks a lot different than our history remembers. Dutch colonies and Aboriginal nations have become states. Washington was executed for betraying his British superiors; Benjamin Franklin was (though he denied it), a “wizard”. Faith and superstition have formed a tense equilibrium that could topple given just the right sort of pressure. The frontier remains wild, for now, but civilization continues its inexorable march west.

    Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son, his father also coincidentally named Alvin. He’s from a family of millers, and he is good at everything—however, he is also prone to accidents, because a malevolent force wants him dead. Unlike certain other boy prodigies, Alvin does not have a love-powered lightning bolt scar on his forehead. However, he does have a well-meaning but anonymous protector who is watching out for him, so that’s something.

    I guess I was … underwhelmed by Seventh Son. The first few chapters were difficult, but once Taleswapper came in and Alvin grew up a little, the book fell into a rhythm that I enjoyed. Yet for all the interesting interactions between Taleswapper and the Miller family, between Reverend Thrower and the Visitor, between Alvin and his Shining Man, I never got the sense that the book was going anywhere. There’s conflict and a proper climax and falling action and everything that you need to make a story … but it’s a coming of age tale that never really comes of age, and that left me unsatisfied.

    My apathy (or perhaps harshness) might be a result of the setting. Revolutionary America does not tickle my fancy the way Tudor England does, and while I cannot apologize for my preferences, it’s possible those who find this era fascinating will be more charitable towards alternate history about it. But I keep thinking about how Seventh Son stacks up against Ender’s Game, and while that is a battle the former could never possibly win, I think it’s useful to examine why I liked one Card book so much and disliked another (albeit not with proportional intensity).

    Ender’s Game is a seductive, heartbreaking book. Card gives us a victory for humanity, but in so doing he breaks Ender in the way a child should never be broken. These are the two foci around which the ellipse of the story revolves: the moral impact of the book comes from that central question of whether Ender’s treatment (and, on the periphery, the treatment of all the children at Battle School) was justified by the threat to humanity. It’s an extremely deep yet also entertaining tale.

    In contrast, Seventh Son is about a kid with magic powers who breaks his leg. It has a vast and unknowable enemy that is Satan rebranded as a force of pure, neutral destruction—the Unmaker to Alvin’s role as Maker. It sounds titanic and epic and should be awesome—and that’s just the problem. Alvin’s a boy. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He can barely decide to use his power to heal himself, the result of an admirable but perhaps misguided attempt at creating some kind of personal code of ethics. Unlike Ender’s role in his story’s larger conflict, however, I don’t sense much ambiguity over Alvin’s destiny to oppose the Unmaker. As a larger-than-life force that, in some sense, is essentially impossible to defeat, the Unmaker is an ultimate Other.

    Unknowable enemies are almost as bad as crazy enemies. It’s unfortunate that Reverend Thrower seems to be going that way, because he starts the book as a fairly interesting character. I enjoyed getting inside his head and seeing his rational mind attempt to reconcile superstition, religion, and science (hopefully he understands why Newton decided to go into alchemy). Yet as the book progresses and the Unmaker seems to get more and more desperate, Thrower degenerates into a Renfield-like character with little intelligence or ambition of his own.

    For what it’s worth, Seventh Son is well-written, provided you can tolerate the dialect Card throws in for good measure. There were times when I could ignore my issues with the story and simply enjoy the experience of reading this book—and that is something to write home about. In the end, though, the road Card asks us to walk is a long one, and I’m not entirely sure the destination is worth it.

    Creative Commons BY-NC License

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  • Mass Market Paperback
  • 241 pages
  • Seventh Son
  • Orson Scott Card
  • English
  • 09 April 2018
  • 9780765347756