Set in an alternate American frontier, Seventh Son is the first in Orson Scott Card’s THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER. Alvin Miller is the seventh son of a seventh son which makes him special and potentially a very powerful healer, or “maker” — at least that’s what many who practice folk magic, believe. They know that many folk have “knacks” and they’ve seen the effects of curses and charms. It’s obvious that there’s a supernatural war going on around Alvin Miller. He’s almost been killed many times (usually by water), but it’s clear that some other force is protecting him. While his family expects greatness from Alvin, some of his neighbors think he may be “devil spawn.”
Reverend Thrower, the new Christian pastor who has just come over from Europe, finds all this folk magic to be rather creepy. He’s trying to dispel these superstitious notions while teaching his parish that any magic they think they see can be explained by scientific investigation. After interacting with Alvin’s family, he may be forced to reconsider his position. Is this folk magic superstitious nonsense, evil witchery, or a gift from God?
Seventh Son begins with an emotionally gripping scene as one child dies and another is born to the Miller family. These first few scenes make up the Hugo and Nebula nominated novella Hatrack River. The emotion doesn’t let up, the world-building and characterization are admirably complex, and there’s a nice touch of folksy humor — especially in the episodes of sibling rivalry.
I’ve heard it said that Seventh Son is loosely based on the life of Latter Day Saints prophet Joseph Smith, though I don’t know enough about Smith to notice the parallels. Orson Scott Card is known to be religious and conservative (and a member of the LDS church), but you wouldn’t know it from reading Seventh Son. Though religion is the dominant theme, Card’s religious characters are, at least on the surface, hard to sympathize with. For example, though Reverend Thrower’s intentions are good, his deeds are more evil than the deeds of the “immoral” people he opposes. It’s easy to see this from our perspective, but we can also see why Thrower thinks he’s doing the right thing. It’s a good parallel to some of the religious conflicts we see in our society today.
I’m intrigued by Card’s alternate America where familiar politics and personalities are slightly different from historical facts. This played an insignificant background role in Seventh Son, but will surely become more prominent in future volumes of THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER. I look forward to that.
I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version of Seventh Son which was narrated by a full cast including Scott Brick, Gabrielle de Cuir, Stephen Hoye and Stefan Rudnicki. This is a superb cast who did a great job individually. The parts were split up by chapter rather than by role, so on a couple of occasions I was initially confused at the different accents used for the same character by different narrators. Included in the audiobook version is an afterword by Orson Scott Card which explains the origin of Hatrack River and Seventh Son.
Published in 1987, Seventh Son was nominated for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards and won a Locus Award. It’s a beautifully written emotional story set in an original fantasy world.