Werner's Reviews > Alvin Journeyman

Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card
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Jun 09, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: alternate-worlds, fantasy, books-i-own, got-from-bookmooch
Recommended for: Fans of alternate history fantasies
Read in January, 2010 , read count: 1

Card continues his top-notch storytelling in this fourth volume of Alvin's saga. One of my Goodreads friends was distinctly displeased with this installment, complaining that it brought the series no closer to its resolution, and introduced characters and subplots only for the sake of lengthening the story. My take on these points, though, is quite different. The characters and subplots don't simply lengthen the saga; they add depth and complexity to it. You can tell a great (in the epic sense) tale --and what Card has in mind is indeed an epic tale, the story of a life-work of monumental moral significance-- at short length, like a condensed, thin-volume overview history of the Civil War; and such concise overviews serve an educational purpose. In real life, though, that kind of process isn't short and neat and linear; instead, it's more like a kaleidoscope with a lot of different people's contributions and a lot of messy subplots, all of which add to the total picture, and the people living through it don't experience it as something hurried through. Although Card's is a fictional history in an alternate America, his method of story-telling is the kind that would more accurately reflect reality as it's lived --to keep the Civil War analogy, it's not a concise, 150 page overview, but more like Shelby Foote's monumental narrative in three massive volumes. :-)

Nor is it correct to say that this volume doesn't advance the plot of the series as a whole. True, when it ends, Alvin doesn't know any more about how to build the Crystal City of his vision than he does at the beginning. But his method of trying to learn how will change in this book; an important issue will be resolved; and he'll gain two new companions whose roles will undoubtedly be pivotal. In this book, too, the character of Alvin's brother and rival Calvin will come into its own, as a major present (and future) force in the plot. And not to include any spoilers, but this installment of the series will be epochal in Alvin and Peggy's relationship.

Along the way, Card will show us glimpses of the best and worst of human behavior, and the muddled intermediates of fallible, confused humans; depict moral redemption in the most apparently unlikely individuals, and testify to the power of forgiveness in one of the most luminous passages of the series. His world-building fascinates, and sweeps us from frontier America to London and Paris; his characters live and breathe (his portrayal of Balzac has me intriguied enough to be resolved to read Pere Goriot!); and the alternate-history riff on real historical events, in a world where things unfold in a way that's the same but different, both sometimes in surprising ways, never ceases to delight --at least for me; that's one of the chief things I like about alternate history, and that draws me to it. :-) Not surprisingly, I'm eager to go on to the next volume, Heartfire!
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