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Book cover art by Dennis Nolan (left); Lee Gibbons (right).
Review © 2007 by Thomas M. Wagner.
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Red Prophet, the second Tale of Alvin Maker, expands upon a number of plot elements tantalizingly hinted at in Seventh Son. It's a fine example of how a sequel should be written, taking the metanarrative of the series in some surprising directions while maintaining consistency and fidelity with what's come before.

In Seventh Son, we were given ominous glimpses of a growing tension between native tribes and the white settlers encroaching upon native land in their forts and frontier towns, their hearts afire with manifest destiny. Here the conflict comes to a boil. The opening chapters overlap the narrative of Seventh Son. Card establishes, without flinching, the depth of the racist hatred between whites and Reds in the Wobbish Territories just south of the Great Lakes. The introduction of whiskey, which the natives guzzle like water, is nothing less than an intentional campaign of genocide. But those Reds who aren't addicted to drink are just as cynically exploited by the French up in Canada, who pay the indians to kill white settlers in the American frontier.

If there's a legitimate criticism to be made of Red Prophet, it is its imbalanced treatment of race. With precious few exceptions, the whites — especially William Henry Harrison, governor of Carthage City, whom Card swears was a nicer guy in real life than he's portrayed here — are opportunistic, violent, narcissistic, and ethically bankrupt villains whose only common ground is the degree to which they're convinced of their own righteousness. But among the Reds, there's more nuance. Red Prophet does manage to skirt becoming a preachy PC fable about the Noble Savage, but it does so at the expense of moral nuance among white characters.

One of two key native characters is Lolla-Wossiky, a completely pathetic alcoholic, a "tame Red" who, when we first meet him, is so besotted with liquor that he thinks nothing of enduring the most inhumane humiliations from Harrison. In the novel's fourth chapter — which stands as one of the single finest pieces of storytelling Card has ever put to paper — we witness his salvation from the bottle as, escaping from Harrison, he makes his way to the town of Vigor Church and has the life-changing encounter with young Alvin Junior (seen in chapter seven of Seventh Son) that sets him on the path to becoming the Red Prophet.

As the Prophet, Lolla-Wossiky preaches separatism, the idea that the Reds should travel west of the Mizzipy River, where they will found the Crystal City, and never again have to interact with whites. But this isn't enough for Lolla-Wossiky's older brother Ta-Kumsaw, who wants war. He becomes an unwitting patsy of the French, who have just dispatched a new, promising young general named Napoleon to the Canadian colonies.

Lolla-Wossiky and Ta-Kumsaw are among Card's most extraordinary creations. Lolla-Wossiky, even after his epiphany, isn't necessarily saintly, just a man with visions and power who comprehends the futility of violence. Ta-Kumsaw, on the other hand, seems at first too single-minded in his bloodthirsty quest for vengeance. But we see another surprising side to him later in the novel, one which reveals the level to which he's truly civilized, and how the two halves of his character spark his inner turmoil.

Alvin is drawn into the oncoming war when he and a brother are captured by Reds in the pay of Harrison, under orders to slaughter whites and blame the carnage on the Red Prophet. There is a chance to stop utter chaos before it begins, but the story proves the old adage that a lie will travel halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoelaces. Once wheels are set in motion, tragedy seems unavoidable.

The last few chapters lose the book some of its narrative focus. Card lays some of the mysticism on a bit thick, and the story feels like it meanders a bit. But this is minor. Red Prophet is Card in the midst of his 1980's peak, a writer who sought to explore every nook, cranny, and dark recess of the human heart, in search of the answer to why people cannot overcome their basest instincts and learn to get along. Some of the bad guys in Red Prophet do get their comeuppance, but real life isn't so fair or so clean. If a story like Red Prophet could help to illuminate some of those dark recesses, and get readers to think about what lessons history teaches us should we care to learn them, then Orson Scott Card was obviously only too happy to write it.

Followed by Prentice Alvin.