Tradition has long ascribed special abilities to a man born the seventh son of a seventh son -- powers such as prescience, dowsing, and bloodstopping. Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series tells of one such. A seventh son of a seventh son, born with a caul, another omen of power, Alvin is destined to become a wizard, or Maker. Alvin lives in a world where many people have knacks, doodles, hexes, small powers of one type or another, but true Makers are an extreme rarity. He resides in the United States, a small nation, bounded by the French colony of Canada, Puritan-controlled New England, and the cavalier-settled Crown Colonies, where a Stuart king rules in exile.
Seventh Son begins just prior to Alvin's birth. His mother goes into labor as the family fords a river in Hio, a river that suddenly floods, as the water itself tries to prevent the birth of a dowser. The townsfolk of nearby Hatrack River effect a rescue. The family's eldest son, Vigor, trapped in the river, clings to life just long enough for Alvin to be born a seventh son. A little girl, Peggy, assists in the birthing. Peggy is a torch; she's able to see into a person's heartfire. She recognizes that the newborn will be a Maker, and sees that their lives will be entwined.
Alvin's family found the town of Vigor Church in the Wobbish Territory, and it is here that Alvin grows up. His childhood is filled with close calls and near-fatal accidents, as water repeatedly tries, but fails, to destroy him. A being known as the Unmaker also appears, with the same goal. Alvin is not without protectors, however. One, whom Alvin calls the Shining Man, cautions the boy against the misuse of his abilities. Soon after, a man known as Taleswapper appears. Taleswapper is an interesting character, a storyteller (who only tells true stories), mystic, engraver, and poet. I won't give away Taleswapper's identity, but he is based on an actual person. I was rather pleased with myself when I deduced who that was, but then was annoyed that I'd missed previous clues.
Red Prophet continues Alvin's story, but interweaves it with that of Lolla-Wossiky, a Shaw-nee who drinks to quell a "black noise" in his head. Passing through Vigor Church, Lolla-Wossiky meets young Alvin, who cures the black noise. Freed of the affliction, Lolla-Wossiky has several visions, and changes his name to Tenskwa-Tawa, the Open Door. Among his visions is one of a mysterious Crystal City.
In the meantime, Taleswapper has arranged for Alvin to return to Hatrack River, to apprentice under the blacksmith there. Alvin and his brother Measure set out, and are captured by by a party of Reds (as native Americans are called in these books). These Reds have been hired by the Governor, Bill Harrison, who hopes to start a war between White and Red. The plans are foiled when Ta-Kumsaw, the brother of Tenskwa-Tawa, shows up and takes the boys into his own custody. They journey to Lake Mizogan, where Tankwa-Tawa shows Alvin the vision of the Crystal City.
The folk of Vigor Church learn of Alvin's capture, and, spurred on by Harrison, massacre a Red village at Tippy-Canoe. Tenskwa-Tawa places a curse on those involved, and most of the Red tribes move to lands west of the Mizzippy.
Alvin returns to Hatrack River in Prentice Alvin. Peggy has run away, in search of a better education. Her mother has adopted a boy of mixed race, Arthur Stuart, the son of an escaped slave woman who dies in childbirth. Alvin apprentices to the local blacksmith, Makepeace Smith, and sets to learning a trade. During the years of his apprenticeship, Peggy returns, magically disguised, to serve as schoolteacher, and in the evenings tutors both Alvin and Arthur Stuart. Nearly completed with apprenticeship,Alvin begins work on his journeyman piece, a plow which he intends to turn to gold. As the work is completed, slave hunters appear, sent by Arthur Stuart's father. Alvin foils the slave hunters, but in the process Peggy's mother is killed. Now twice motherless, Arthur Stuart travels with Alvin to Vigor Church.
Alvin Journeyman finds Alvin back among his family. Dreaming of the Crystal City, Alvin tries to teach Making to his neighbors. Jealous at Alvin's return, his younger brother Calvin leaves home. Because of the death of their brother Vigor, Calvin was also born a seventh son of a seventh son, and he feels a great envy for his brother's stronger knacks. Calvin travels eastwards, eventually to France and the court of the emperor Bonaparte. Alvin himself leaves soon after, driven out by false accustaions. With Arthur Stuart in tow, he returns once again to Hatrack River. There he is arrested, when Makepeace Smith charges that Alvin stole the golden plow from him, and in addition, charges of slave stealing are leveled against him. After extensive courtroom battles -- one of the prosecuting attorneys is Daniel Webster -- Alvin is acquitted. He and Peggy marry, but soon part on separate missions.
Those missions are explored in Heartfire. Alvin and his companions, including Arthur Stuart and Mike Fink, journey to New England. Alvin believes that someone there can help him discover the location where he is to build the Crystal City. The hitch is that knacks and other magics are outlawed in New England. It's only a matter time before Alvin is arrested for witchcraft, and tried, with John Adams presiding.
Meanwhile, Peggy travels to the Crown Colonies. In the capitol of Camelot, she is lobbying to stop Crown Colony interference with the United States' abolitionist movement. A slave rebellion is brewing, and Calvin's unexpected appearance and meddling fuel the flames. With Alvin's aid, the bloodshed is prevented, and Alvin is reunited with Peggy and reconciled with his brother.
These books are a blend of fantasy and alternate history, with healthy doses of traditional American folklore thrown in. Fictional characters mix with historical ones, from Andrew Jackson to Mike Fink to Alvin himself, who I suspect is modelled in part on Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith.
What next for Alvin? I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in this
series. Will the Crystal City be built, and where? And what about the
premonitions that Peggy has for Alvin's death? I can't wait to find out.
Orson Scott Card has a Web site called Hatrack River.