Friday, August 15, 2014

The Crystal City

The sixth book in the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card is entitled The Crystal City and picks up several years after the previous novel Heartfire. For those interested in following this series without gaps in the narrative, Card published two short stories in this series after Heartfire. The first, entitled Grinning Man, is about Alvin's encounter with Davy Crockett as he made his way from the Puritan lands in New England to the midwest. The second is called The Yazoo Queen and is about Alvin's trip in a paddle-wheel boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans with none other than Jim Bowie and Abraham Lincoln. These stories help to more fully develop the characters of Alvin and his brother-in-law Arthur Stuart, and fill in some gaps in The Crystal City that might otherwise feel a bit jarring.

This story follows Alvin as he helps to free some 5000 slaves from New Orleans and lead them to safety in the north. On this journey, Alvin comes to understand that the vision of the crystal city given to him by the Red Prophet was precisely to provide a land for these refugees. The story arc involving Alvin is based on the biblical tale of Moses leading the Isrealites out of Egypt. As the story reaches its culimination, Alvin finally comes to understand the purpose and use of his golden plow, and how he is to go about construction of his crystal city.

As for the novel itself, this was most definitely the weakest in the series. There was little in the way of satisfying character development and the story plodded along without truly satisfying drama or excitement. It seemed as if the story arcs of several major characters were short-changed. It is hard to fully describe, but there was no real crescendo of events and the story telling felt rushed and uninspired. One of the most disappointing aspects of the story is the crystal city itself. Alvin was not give a vision of building a town for the band that he was leading, but a crystal city. The purpose of this crystal city has never really been explained. In fact, the crystal city is apparently not a city at all, but just a single building in this town. The story ended in a rather anti-climactic fashion. Originally, it seems that Card had meant for this to be the end to the Alvin Maker series. However, in some recent interviews, Card has admitted plans to release another book in this series in a year or so tentatively called Master Alvin. He definitely has some work to do to save this series from a disappointing ending.