Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card


FantasyAlvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card Alvin Journeyman
Orson Scott Card; Tor Fantasy 1996

Once his apprenticeship was finished, Alvin Smith returned to his family home in the Wobbish Country. As the seventh son of a seventh son, Alvin has a strong Maker knack (an internal magic) and an upright heart to use his powers to help people. He starts to train the residents of Vigor Church in the basics of Making, building towards a possible future shown to him by the powerful Native American Tenskwa-Tawa. When a young teen falls in love with him, Alvin leaves Vigor Church when she tries to compromise him.

With a young free black boy, Arthur Stuart, Alvin returns to Hatrack. He had done his apprenticeship under Makepeace Smith there. His journeyman piece was a plow he made using Makepeace’s scrap iron. But with his Making power, the iron had transmuted into living gold. Makepeace, a miserly man, was furious when Alvin took the golden plow with him. Now that Alvin is back in Hatrack, Makepeace has Alvin arrested, claiming the plow is rightfully his as Alvin’s smithing master. Everyone in Hatrack knows the two men and knows that Alvin was the better of the two smiths. They know that Alvin uses his magical knacks for building up and for good. Even so, Makepeace has a legal case if not a moral one.

Someone or someones down south in slavery territory want to bring Alvin down. They hire Daniel Webster to be the plaintiff’s counseling lawyer to assist the local man from Hatrack. Webster believes in the law and seems to have his own knack of suggestion that allows him to twist a story without actually breaking the law. The trial soon becomes a trial of Alvin’s character rather than identifying the true owner of the golden plow.

Calvin, Alvin’s younger brother, is also the seventh son of a seventh son (their older brother died after Alvin had been born). He also has a powerful Making knack. But he is jealous of Alvin and tends to misuse his powers. He has to get away from Vigor Church and Alvin. Calvin goes to New York City and then to Europe. Eventually he becomes a healer for Napoleon, keeping away the vicious gout pain the emperor has. Calvin wants to become powerful and show up his brother.

Alvin Journeyman is the fourth novel in Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series. It is contained within itself well enough that it could be read as a stand alone. Card gives enough explanation to bring the new reader up to speed. Even so, Alvin Journeyman is much stronger after reading the first three books.

Card has created an alternate United States in the early 1800’s. The geography is split into numerous small territories. Those south of the Hio river thrive on slavery. One territory is governed by the Irrakwa. Card uses many of the famous people from the time, including William Henry Harrison, Napoleon, Daniel Webster, and the author Balzac. This alternate history resembles the one we know, but has its magical twists.

Alvin Journeyman is another strong novel in this series. The trial is only a small portion of the story. More of it is about the plots of the people behind it, the motives of the people involved, and building up known characters in the series. Peggy Larner returns to Hatrack. She still refuses to marry Alvin but is ready to stand by him in court. There is a bloody curse on the men from Vigor Church, but Alvin’s brother Measure comes to Hatrack anyway. He is willing to tell his horrific tale as many times as needed to help save his brother.

Even though, as a reader, I knew Alvin would be set free, I still got caught up in Alvin Journeyman. The motives and emotions of the characters come alive. Card builds this series to a conclusion still in the books’ future yet is able to keep Alvin Journeyman standing on its own. Alternate history is always intriguing. Alvin Journeyman is a book where it is done well.

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