Red Prophet: Entertaining alternate history

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRed Prophet by Orson Scott Card fantasy book reviewsRed Prophet by Orson Scott Card

Red Prophet is the second book in Orson Scott Card’s THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER, an alternate history set in a frontier America in which folk magic is real. In the first book, Seventh Son, we were introduced to the main protagonist of the series, Alvin Miller who, because he’s the seventh son of a seventh son, is a gifted healer. We meet Alvin as a baby and follow him into boyhood. At the end of the story he has a vision of a shining man who gives him moral guidance.

In Red Prophet we learn that the shining man is Lolla-Wossiky, an alternate version of Tenskwatawa, spiritual leader of the Native American Shawnee tribe. His brother Tecumseh is their chief. While Card focused on the religious implications of a magical American frontier in the first book, the focus here is on the interaction between the “Whites” and the “Reds” and culminates with The Battle of Tippecanoe.

At the beginning of the story, William Henry Harrison, governor of Carthage City, is dealing with the Native Americans his own way — with poison. He purchases huge quantities of whiskey and sells it to the “Whiskey Reds.” Because they have a low tolerance for alcohol (it’s genetic), they become alcoholics and many die. Andrew Jackson is disgusted with Harrison’s sneaky tactics; he wants to do the more honorable thing and just shoot them all.

Tecumseh, who realizes that alcohol is killing his people and knows of Jackson’s plans, decides to lead his people against the Whites. He allies with the French in Canada, led by the effete Marquis de Lafayette and Napoleon Bonaparte (yes, Napoleon’s in America). Lafayette, however, has his own agenda. He secretly loves the idea of democracy and he admires the American spirit. He wants to use Bonaparte to bring democracy to France. (This storyline is amusing, especially when read by the narrators I listened to in Blackstone Audio’s version.)

Alvin Maker, who is on his way to his apprenticeship, meets Tecumseh and becomes involved with the war. Not only is he instrumental in affecting the outcome of The Battle of Tippecanoe but, with the help of Lolla-Wossiky, the Red Prophet, he sees visions of possible futures and learns more about his powers.

Orson Scott Card is a great storyteller and he’s got a big imagination. This alternate history is exciting, entertaining, thoughtful, and occasionally humorous. I thought Card’s depiction of the Native Americans’ magical connection with the land was beautiful and makes for a lovely American mythology. Many “Whites” who read Red Prophet will feel ashamed at how the Native Americans were treated by our ancestors. Some readers have accused Card of being racist (anti-European), but I didn’t feel this way and I noted that Card gives us many Caucasians to admire and shows us that not all “Red-White” interactions where destructive.

Orson Scott Card is particularly good at voice, dialogue, and character nuance. His heroes are capable of doing evil and his villains can have good motives. Characters don’t always do what we expect them to and there are times when we might even change our minds about how we feel about them. I look forward to seeing these characters grow throughout the series.

I’m listening to Blackstone Audio’s productions of THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER which is performed, in alternating chapters, by Stefan Rudnicki, Scott Brick, and Stephen Hoye. All three of them are excellent readers. I’ve already purchased book three, Prentice Alvin, and book four, Alvin Journeyman, on audio.

Red Prophet, first published in 1988, was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo award. It won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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