Card's Crystal City is hopefully a herald of innovation to come. Review by Violet Kane

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In Print
Orson Scott Card's newest novel in the Alvin Maker series has everything I look for in a good fantasy story. I am hoping that new writers and currently publishing authors take his example.

Of course, one might expect such accolades for a new novel from one of the modern greats of alternative reality literature. However, as many literary aficionados have discovered over the years, the comfort of a marketable name can lure some authors into complacency. No worries with Card. Crystal City is both an ambitious and well-executed crossover, and a solidly character-centered story. Card's conceptual milieu is a combination of fantasy and alternate history. Main character Alvin Maker is a quietly powerful man in a magical early 19th century America. But these are not the ante-bellum states of your high school history books. Native American and African folkloric magics are real in this America, just as the witches and sorcerers of the European folk imagination are brought to life in most fantasies. But in Alvin's America, the powers wielded by individuals and groups have changed the history that we know. An alliance of American Indians holds the lands west of the Mississippi, and most of the European colonizing crowns still hold claim to areas in the East and South. This novel begins in New Orleans, where the Spanish have recently superseded the French, renaming the city Nueva Barcelona.

Book Cover

On Audio
Alvin has been sent down to Nueva Barcelona by his wife, Peggy, whose magical "knack" is for seeing the branching out of possibilities for the future. With his own "knack" as a maker—a skill which allows him to alter substances on a molecular level, among other things—Alvin has the ability to select for one of the future paths that Peggy has seen. She has not, however, told Alvin what future she has seen for him in Nueva Barcelona, nor any clue of what he should first do. With his apprentice maker, Arthur Stuart, Alvin arrives in Nueva Barcelona to find an uneasy social climate where current and former slaves, along with displaced French, live in tension with local and larger powers.

The Crystal City is several novels down the line in Card's Alvin Maker series, which I did not realize when I put it on my reading list. Therefore, I can say with much authority that you needn't read the previous novels in this series before picking up this book; it is thoroughly enjoyable as a standalone, the concepts well-explained through the natural progress of the story. I am, in fact, glad that I read this novel, rather than starting at the beginning of the series. From what I understand, the first books take place in Alvin's childhood as he discovers and learns his maker craft, and I am not as favorably disposed to what I consider the belabored trend in fantasy of writing book for adults about kids. The Crystal City thankfully greets all of its characters in adulthood. As characters, they are diverse, quirky at times, and well-drawn. This story, even on the conceptual level, is centered on its characters. Peggy's foretelling magic is an excellent vehicle for emphasizing the theme of character choices having determinative consequences. In addition to excellent characterization, this novel boasts an innovative conceptual setting and well-conceived and executed use of language on Card's part.

The Crystal City has such a dynamic mix of fresh elements and solid fundamentals, that I imagine any lover of good fiction would enjoy this book. Its crossover of fantasy and alternate history has wide appeal.

Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.

Alternative Reality Web Zine: ISSN# 1559-3037

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