In Clouds of Fire: A Story of Community
by Elaine Stienon

"'I had just decided that I know very little.' Father Smith smiled. 'Ah--the beginning of wisdom.'"

After moving from New York to Ohio, Joseph Smith and the Mormonites are doing their best to live in peace and grow their community after establishing their religion. When a well-known Protestant lecturer visits the Mormons with her niece Hannah to better understand but also refute the new group, she comes away with her mind unchanged. Hannah, on the other hand, becomes taken with one of the young Mormons named Daniel Perry. Daniel is sent on a mission to Missouri and builds a cabin there to stay. Urging Hannah to make the long trip with her younger brother Russell, the two of them team up with Nathaniel, who came to the Mormons from the Shakers. Nathaniel feels he owes a debt to Daniel and agrees to escort the siblings, but he soon finds himself beguiled by Hannah’s charms, as well, making his promise a complicated one.

Historical fiction is most successful when it takes real events and makes them lively and engaging through the use of creative narration. Employing actual accounts of the early days of the Mormon church and weaving it seamlessly into a story of repression, travel, romance, and the yearning of free expression, this book puts the focus on entertainment while providing a fascinating portion of American history as the backdrop. The character of Hannah provides an ideal, largely unbiased look into the clash between new ideas and accepted norms, illustrating the way that unfamiliar religions are often treated in society. Not a religious person herself, her reasons for associating with the Mormons have more to do originally with love, though she finds a general caring sense of neighborly togetherness in the process. Whether familiar with the subject or not, this is ultimately an entertaining read that encourages an interest in its history.

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