A diverse group of people drawn to the new Mormon faith in the 1800s face back-breaking hardships, struggles and enlightenment in this fluidly written, well-researched book of historical fiction by Elaine Stienon.
The book opens with Hannah Manning, 19, and missionary Aunt Elizabeth, as they travel by wagon from Pennsylvania to Kirtland Mills, Ohio. Elizabeth hopes to reason with the “poor, deluded, ignorant people” there before they convert to what she considers a sham Mormon faith. Hannah, however, is drawn in by this sincere group (partly after falling for handsome convert Daniel) and soon joins the journey to Missouri to be free of persecution.
Numerous characters interact as the story evolves, with backgrounds from the Seeker and Shaker religious groups as well as the Huguenot and French. All suffer their share of starvation, hardships, threats, and violence while making extreme sacrifices to reach their spiritual destination. Nevertheless, selfless acts of kindness and valor abound.
Historical details such as Joseph Smith’s living situation and elopement around the time he finds the gold plates add interest to this fictional work, which is based on accounts and journals from this time period. Characters are engaging and vividly drawn, with lively and illuminating dialogue to match. For example, sourpuss Sarah complains, “Eb, you git out there and clean off them boots. If I wanted chicken ditty on my floor, I’d go bring it in myself.”
Despite scenes of violence as angry Missourians attack the new settlers, this is no action-packed thriller, because the passages lack the requisite tension and emotional impact. Rather, the story is more of a somewhat predictable love triangle woven into the hard life and times of these pioneers. Even so, the book should draw wide interest among fans of historical fiction and those interested in the Mormon experience.