Alvin Journeyman

Orson Scott Card

Tor. $24.95
(paper $6.99)

Alvin has been teaching Making to the people of Vigor Church. He has frustratingly little success, and much of the accomplishment is lost when a young, love-struck girl claims that Alvin has seduced her. Alvin, despite his innocence, quietly leaves town.

On his arrival once more in Hatrack River, Alvin is arrested and put in jail. The blacksmith under whom Alvin served his apprenticeship has accused Alvin of stealing a golden plow (Alvin did not; he made an iron plow as his journeyman's work, and then changed it to "living gold" with his talent for Making). Once again, confident in his innocence, Alvin waits patiently to be acquitted.

And here things go wildly askew as the most peculiar happenstances begin to work against Alvin. Someone has cast far and wide to secure the net that could bring Alvin to his death and destroy his reputation.

Alvin's world is an alternate America in the early 19th century, where history has taken a different path, where Spain and England still hold parts of the South and the state of Appalachee is the western frontier, and where magic and hexery work. The people of Alvin's world have "knacks," and Card explains them like this:

"Like a lot of folks, he has a knack and doesn't even know it because that's the way knacks work -- it just feels as natural as can be to the person who's got it, as easy as breathing, so you don't think that could be possibly your unusual power because heck, that's easy. You don't know it's a knack till other people around you get all astonished...Then you go, 'Boy howdy, other people can't do this! I got me a knack!' and from then on there's no putting up with you till you finally settle down and get back to normal life and stop bragging about how you can do this fool thing that you used to never be excited about back when you still had sense."

One person's knack might be for fine metalwork, and another's might be for fire or rope making, and a third's to "know what a body needs when he don't know it himself." Alvin's knack is Making, but we've yet to see what Making truly is.

Alvin Journeyman, part four of the as-yet unfinished "Tales of Alvin Maker," does perfectly well as a free-standing novel. Card can be an expert storyteller; he never kills his world or his story with over-explanation, and creates much of the richness of his setting by hint and suggestion. The series has been called "one of the most important contributions to American fantasy writing of recent years." *

There is a feel to Appalachian fantasy, and it isn't the "hillbilly" dialect of the narrative. It's the description of the land and the people; what they do and how they think, their occupations and their religion; and in Card's 19th century Appalachee, their attitudes toward Indians and slavery and knacks. Speech and dialect are the least of the identifiers, although -- perhaps unfortunately -- the most obvious. Other significant Appalachian fantasy works include the "Silver John" novels and short stories of Manly Wade Wellman (After Dark, The Lost and The Lurking, The Old Gods Waken, etc.) and the more recent Bracken County created by Rebecca Ore (Slow Funeral and related short stories).


The Tales of Alvin Maker:

Seventh Son. Tor, 1987
Red Prophet. Tor, 1988
Prentice Alvin. Tor, 1989
Alvin Journeyman. Tor, 1995
Heartfire. Tor, 1998

Orson Scott Card's web page

* The St James Guide To Fantasy Writers. St. James. 1996

This review copyright 1996 by Wendy Morris
Information last updated January 17, 1999

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