Book Reviews

Prentice Alvin * Orson Scott Card

In the Tales of Alvin Maker, Orson Scott Card does the same thing for Mormonism that Lewis did for general Christianity in Narnia, but the world of the tales is much closer to our own than Narnia is this world is an alternate america in the early 1800s, an America with a slightly different history, a world where magic works.

Alvin’s mortal enemy, the Unmaker, has found hearts and hands willing to do its bidding, while Alvin and the Prophet’s people were making their last stand. Just across the Hio River from the town of Hatrack River was the first of the slave-holding territories – and they ran south all the way to the sea.

Both the United States and Appalachee have abolished slavery, while the Crown Colonies still deal in human flesh. But the slaves know that their hope of freedom lies just beyond the river; and the daring – or desperate – have often come within the range of Hatrack River’s torch. Little Peggy Guester, the torch that saw Alvin’s possible futures, is now sixteen, and has seen more of the world’s evil than anybody rightly should – and when she “sees” a young girl and her infant son she isn’t surprised by the cruelty the slave is running from. The girl dies but the infant stays into the Guester house and is named Arthur Stuart, like the king.

Arthur’s father is Cavil Planter, a slave owner whose wife was too sick to bear children. After receiving a vision of a man whom he thinks is Jesus Christ but was actually the Unmaker, the plantation lord proceeds to rape all his female slaves and plant his seed so that the evil in the world be diminished.

A man might have plenty of help finding the short path to hell, but no one else can make him set foot upon it

Cavil’s first son is born to a young African princess, who uses her voodoo magic to turn into a blackbird and fly away with the baby. She died and the Guesters took over the upbringing of the half black – half white son.

“Slavery, that was a kind of alchemy for such White folk, or so they reckoned. They calculated a way of turning each bead of a Black man’s sweat into gold and each moan of despair from a Black woman’s throat into the sweet clear sound of a silver coin ringing on the money-changer’s table. There was buying and selling of souls in that place. Yet there was nary a one of them who understood the whole price they paid for owning other folk.”

Peggy’s father takes the risk of bringing the two back to the guest house, and in doing so creates the one path in all of Peggy’s possible futures that may lead to happiness for both her and Alvin.

Peggy decides to run away from home and go live with one of his father’s first loves, Mistress Modesty, since she saw that Alvin (her future lover and life curse) would be coming soon into town and she did not want to meet him yet. This desire of hers is to escape her destiny – which she knows she cannot.

Peggy could see so much in other people’s heartfires that she hardly was acquainted with her own.

And so when Alvin arrives in Hatrack River to take up his apprenticeship with Makepeace Smith and learn to be a blacksmith, he finds that nothing is as he expected it to be. The would-be Maker is on his own, and the works of the Unmaker are close at hand. The Smith, dispirited that the apprentice came a year later and his father only gave him away to study until he was 17, asks the boy to stay his full term, and Alvin agrees – saying that he will leave when he turns 19.

After a few years, we meet Alvin again, now a 14 year old lad, who has grown nearly into a man, tall and strong and good with horses. We see him telling his master where to drive the nails into the hooves of his horse, using his knack as not to hurt the animals. We see his master, who was a fair man, turn into a spiteful being, envious of the younger apprentice’s skill, putting him down whenever he could and teaching him as little as he could. If Alvin would have made his power known – the ability to straighten a bent nail to how it used to be, to make an iron sword so thin that the sun could shine through it but still strong enough to cut through steel, the master would probably have been in awe but soon would find a way to make money off the kid’s back.

When a Dowser comes into the area, Alvin has a small disagreement as to where the Dowser picked a well and in revenge, the master tells him to dig up the well where the Dowser pointed it and not come back into the house for food and water until he has drawn water. Alvin tries to tell him that the spot is bad but his plea falls to deaf ears.

So he spends his evening digging a hole until he reaches the first stone, and then the next. The entire well area was covered in stones, impossible to move out of the way. His anger is rising and Peggy, miles away and still tuned into him like a far-away radio, can sense the approaching danger. He is inviting the Unmaker because of his anger. And because of the well and the water that wanted to kill him even as a babe, Alvin will face mortal danger.

“He’d undone all he could. You can be sorry, and you can be forgiven, but you can’t call back the futures that your bad decisions lost”


Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker have created a moving fantasy world from the dream of America and the simple magics of the people who settled her. Here is a world where folk magic is as much a part of life as hard work and religion, and where the red man and the white still have hope for living in peace with the land and each other. It is a fantasy unique to literature, yet as inevitable as breathing.

What a great book. For a child, for an adult.

It is a work that will live forever in your heart.

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