Seventh Son is the first in The Tales of Alvin Maker
series by reknowned science fiction writer Orson Scott Card
This novel falls into the "alternate history" genre, which sets narrative in the past, but the past as imagined had certain events been different. Card's alternate history is set in the mid-19th century of America, mostly in the Illinois, Indiana and Ohio regions. This is not the United States we all learned about in history classes though. New England is a separate country from The United States of America. Detroit is firmly in the control of the French. The "Crown Colonies" of the Carolinas, Georgia and so forth are controlled by the King of England in exile. It appears Oliver Cromwell was never deposed in England. There are countless other minor, but intriguing changes to the historical record. Card had played around with alternate history in his novel Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus and does the same here seamlessly.
The historical changes are interesting enough, but another twist is a magical element to living in this "America that never was". People have what Card describes as "knacks", which are mystical abilities that they are mostly born with. The ability to find where one could dig for water, drawing a *really* straight line, makeing people feel comfortable: these are all ordinary knacks that people use with varying degrees of success.
The two main protagonists of this story have exceptional knacks. Alvin Miller is born the seventh son of a seventh son, which in folklore is an auspicious birth. At his birth, he is saved by a young girl named Margaret Guester. Peggy, as she is known, is a torch, meaning that she can see the various possible futures for any person she examines. She sees the futures of Alvin as he is born, and sees both the incredible future of the boy and her own place in it.
Alvin is a Maker. To break down his abilities in a pedantic fashion, Alvin is able to control most forms of matter to do whatever he commands. Stone splits beneath his hands, wood shapes itself and metal reforms at his thoughts. He is guided in his remarkable abilities by a figure named Taleswapper, an itinerant story teller who emigrated from England, where he was known as William Blake. It is mentioned often in the book that the last known Maker had been Christ, immediately placing Alvin into a messianic role.
Anyone familiar with Card's work knows he often incorporates his beliefs as a Mormon. This book may be the strongest expression of this of any of his works, and the life of Alvin is suspiciously close to that of Joseph Smith. Still, the alternate history combined with the mythical qualities of the narrative override cursory concerns over doctrine, and this book is the least "churchy" in the series.
This introduction to the saga focuses on introducing Alvin, his abilities, his allies and his future enemies. In short, it's a remarkable work that satisfies on many levels and is worth reading for any fan of science fiction.
Published: 1987 Tor Books