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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Crystal City

The Crystal City by Orson Scott Card. New York: Tor, 2003. ISBN: 0-312-86483-3

The Crystal City is the sixth and penultimate novel in Orson Scott Card's "Tales of Alvin Maker" series. This is one of the most unique and rewarding fantasy/alternate history series ever written, at least in my not so humble opinion. Which is another way of saying that it is one of my all-time favorites. Just pick up one of these books, and look at the maps typically found on the inside covers, and you will probably be hooked. Card's map of North America is quite different than ours, and the concept is fascinating.

In Card's 19th century America, there are several nations, including a much smaller United States, squeezed in between Virginia and New England, but extending west into Ohio and beyond. Irrakwa is one of the United States, and is a state controlled by the "westernized" Iroquois Indians. New England is still a colony of England, an England in which the Restoration never took place. What we think of as the southern seaboard states comprise The Crown Colonies, a nation founded by The House of Stuart in exile. West of these lies the independent nation of Appalachee, whose first president was Benjamin Franklin. Florida and Nueva Barcelona (the area round the mouth of the Mississippi) are controlled by Spain.

As interesting a concept as all of that might be, what makes up the primary milieu of the book is a society based on the lore and folk magic of early America, in which this unique kind of magic actually works. Everyone has a "knack," some special ability unique to him or herself. One person can plow a preternaturally straight furrow; another can heal sick animals. "Charms and beseechings, hexes and potions," as the fly jacket has it, are all a working part of this society. Into this world comes Alvin, the seventh son of a seventh son, which gives him substantially more powerful powers than just about everyone else. Alvin is on his way to becoming a "maker," someone who can literally see down into the molecular level of things, and alter them.

But all of this background would be meaningless if it weren't for the stories themselves. Card works his usual magic here, and once you begin to read one of these stories, you'll be hooked. Here is a list of the titles thus far:

Seventh Son (1987)
Red Prophet (1988)
Prentice Alvin (1989)
Alvin Journeyman (1995)
Heartfire (1998)
The Crystal City (2003)
Alvin Maker (forthcoming somewhen, but not soon enough!)

You can read brief descriptions as well as the first chapter of each book online at Card's Hatrack River website using the links above. Obviously one should begin at the beginning with this series, and read right straight through in order. Highly recommended! 11 stars out of 10.

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