On one hand, Prentice Alvin feels quite a lot like the previous two Alvin Maker stories. We have a continuation of the alternate timeline, this time dealing with how apprenticeships and slavery work in this world. We learn more about the town where Alvin was born, which we haven’t seen in a while, including Peggy–the torch who has been keeping an eye on him this entire time.
On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like the story went anywhere. Alvin learns a bit more about his powers, but it’s mostly shades on what he’s known before. He’s still weirdly good at everything. On top of that, he spends seven years apprenticing as a blacksmith–even though he’s better than his master by the time he’s ~13 years old. Peggy runs off, comes back disguised as an old woman, and still doesn’t interact terribly much with Alvin. In end end, we come back to the town where Alvin grew up. Almost a decade has passed, but what really has changed?
One of the new aspects this time around was a storyline centering around a slave owner who, inspired by the Unmaker, has decided that he must save all of the black people by turning them white–by way of impregnating the women and selling off the resulting ‘part white’ offspring. It’s disturbing and I’m not really sure the plot gains enough from it. Having the Unmaker convince a preacher to try to murder Alvin? Sure. This? Eesh.
Random nit: Apparently Alvin can cross a river and essentially baptise someone in the water now? I thought the entire point was that water was the element of the Unmaker and would try to kill him at any opportunity?
Related to that: Sudden modern theories of atoms and DNA are sudden. Anatomy (in the form of Alvin’s healing) made sense. Cut someone open and you can see everything that Alvin can see with his powers. This feels like Card went from just letting the magic be fuzzy and unspecified to wanting a basis for how the magic actually worked. It made some sense in the more philosophical parts of the Ender sequels (since those were set thousands of years in the future). Here, in alternate history hundreds of years ago, it just doesn’t feel like it fits.
Side note: A living golden plow? That’s… weird.
I think I’ll go ahead and continue with Alvin Journeyman, although at this point I’m no longer entirely sure why…