Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review: Seventh Son

In Seventh Son Orson Scott Card attempts to create a vision of an early America plagued by an extreme ethnocentricity that fueled a hatred toward those who owned the land before us while simultaneously caught up in the inner strife Americans fought with one another in trying to determine which recipe of religion and folklore would define them.

Alvin Miller, Jr. is born the seventh son of a seventh son, destined for power if you were a follower of folklore and tentative fear if you followed gospel. In Seventh Son, Card introduces his audience to what will ultimately become a series chronicling Al Jr.'s extraordinary life. In doing so, allusions to religion, founding fathers, and the social environment of frontier America are woven into the story as a vehicle to further emphasize the struggle Al will face in making his decisions in his fight against "The Unmaker." It's your classic good vs. evil (which I don't mention to defeat such a purpose as G v. E is likely my favorite theme in literature).

While all of that was very fascinating and made me feel sufficiently idiotic for not knowing my early U.S. history as well as that test I passed to prove I was smart enough to teach it seems to think I do, I would never have guessed that this book was written by the same author as Ender's Game. It just didn't have the same writing style and there wasn't a single chapter in the first two-thirds of the book that I was able to read without putting it down (oftentimes for days). While my attention span increasingly wanes as I age, I can still pick up Ender and have it finished in a day. In short, I was sufficiently taken aback that, aside from common thematic elements between Ender's Game and Seventh Son, the latter quite well could have been written by someone with infinitely more tiresome diction than Orson Scott Card.

Ultimately, there were several elements that I found intriguing:
*The attitude of Americans that the "Reds" were vicious and would kill a white-skinned person, man, woman, or child, in a heartbeat if ever a one-on-one situation were to occur. Still, the "Reds" were seen to have healing powers which furthered the telling of folklore and threatened religion.
*The place of superstition in a community and how it bound some together and kept others out was fascinating.
*The geography of early America was explored and assisted in providing an image of where America was going as it expanded.

The problem is, these intriguing elements were introduced but not developed in a way that I found meaningful to Al's life or his power. Perhaps it was intended as a foundation for the rest of the series but it felt so clumsy in this book that I have no need to read anymore of the series. Also, I wasn't sure until the last third of the book if Al was good or evil, I didn't care if he lived or died: the characterization was atrocious- not just of Al but of all of the characters excepting the Reverend which I suppose could show this book as less of a portrayal of how the soul perceives good and evil and more of a religious commentary.

Anyhow, to be clear, I wish I hadn't spent so much time getting through this book and had followed my two chapter rule.

My favorite sentence:

The truth when we see it is ridiculous, and if we wish to worship it, we must never allow ourselves to see it.

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