Alvin Miller, Jr is the seventh son of a seventh son. He’s born into an alternate version of 19th Century America–one in which the Revolutionary War hasn’t happened and where folk magic is a strong, powerful and very real force.
Alvin is a maker, a strong and potentially powerful force in the world. And he’s got an equally strong, unrelenting enemy, the Unmaker who stop at nothing to ensure Alvin doesn’t grow up and into his power. Much of the novel looks at the efforts the Unmaker uses to try and destroy Alvin. It also examines the story of how Alvin comes to realize he has abilities and how he can and can’t use them. At one point, Alvin selfishly uses some cockroaches to terrorize his sisters, leading to several fo them dying. At this point, Alvin makes a vow to not use his powers for selfish gains, a decision that becomes pivotal in the final stages of the novel.
As with “Ender’s Game” the strength of Orson Scott Card’s story is his ability to relate authentic, believable young characters. While not quite as complex as Ender, Alvin is still interesting and relatable while still feeling and acting like a young boy would in the circusmtances. Alvin doesn’t seem to realize he has a destiny, though he does realize he has something that sets him apart from others around him.
The story is far more episodic than “Ender’s Game” though. The first portion of the novel, relating the day Alvin, Jr is born was originally a short story. Card then decided to expand the universe and does so here, as we check in with Alvin at various other points in his life. It ends up feeling a bit too episodic at times and while the novel is supposed to introduce us to Alvin and his universe, I still can’t help coming away feeling like the overall experience was incomplete. Alvin learns to use his powers, yes. And we know that the Unmaker is after Alvin, set to destroy him. But beyond that, nothing much really happens to Alvin, except for a number of potential attacks on him that we get to see Alvin avert. A few more happen off stage as well, referenced by various characters during the course of the story.
This feels like a long prologue to a greater saga. I know there are five other novels in the story but I found myself yearning for something a bit more substantial once the final page was turned. It’s easy now that I can go out and find the next book, but I imagine those who read the story when it was first published walked away frustrated at having to wait at least a year for the next installment to hit bookstores.