Title: In Clouds of Fire: A Story of Community
Author: Elaine Stienon
Publisher: AuthorHouse
ISBN: 1-4184-5738-8
Pages: 448
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: CC Thomas

Elaine Stienon’s In Clouds of Fire: A Story of Community is one of those rare historical fiction novels that take account of actual historical figures and paints them in real colors for modern-day readers to enjoy. Stienon’s book looks at the then newly-formed Mormon religion, its founder Joseph Smith, and the other men and women who embraced the philosopher’s teachings in the New West during the early 1800s. While most of the characters are nameless surrogates for the original founding members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith and his young family figure heavily in the early part of the book. Particularly interesting are the chapters featuring Emma, the prophet’s wife, as she explains their courtship, marriage, early years, Joseph’s misgivings about his new religion, the founding of the church, and the effect this event had on their family life. Stienon weaves in fact and fiction, painting Smith in a realistic light, such as when he was dragged from his home and tarred. Reading about the death of his young adopted son during the event brought the Smith husband and wife into sharper focus as a real man and woman, not just mythical religious figures.

Joseph Smith has always been a fascinating historical figure, and his early years as a visionary even more so. However, Smith’s story is more of a background storyline and is used to show how his decisions influenced his followers. The story opens on an early setting of Mormonism, in Kirtland, Ohio. There, Elizabeth Brighton Manning is a missionary who has traveled to the far reaches of the west to halt the spread of this “deluded” religion. Manning considers her own faith to be right and any other idea to be ridiculous. She is traveling with her niece, Hannah, who is much more open-minded to the new religious ideas, and certainly much friendlier.

The main plot centers on Hannah, and a young Mormon man, Dan. They fall in love and Dan asks for her hand in marriage. Dan goes to Missouri to save money, so he can ask Hannah to marry him. A Shaker, Nathaniel, overhears Dan’s love confession and starts questioning his own religion and beliefs. He tries to leave with his beloved, but she can’t handle the change. The chapters on the early Shaker religion are just as interesting and readers can’t help but compare these two religions, and other religious ideologies. While some of the storyline is a tale of romance, heavier thoughts bubble just below the surface.

When Hannah discovers that Dan has been writing her letters that her aunt intercepted and burned, she gets baptized and heads out west to marry Dan. On the way to Dan, Hannah’s path intersects Nathaniel’s. As both head towards their future, they are unsure of many things, the surety of love and faith amongst their greatest struggles.

Elaine Stienon’s In Clouds of Fire is a solidly good read. The characters are realistic and, even though their lives are vastly different than modern-day ones, the reader will feel a connection to each one. When considering that many of the events in this story actually happened, it brings a richer and more enjoyable experience to the read. One certainly doesn’t have to be a Mormon, or even religious in any way, to appreciate this book.

Title: The way to the Shining City: a story of the early Mormons in Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois
Author: Elaine Stienon
Publisher: AuthorHouse
ISBN: 9781456754150
Pages: 300
Genre: Historical fiction
Reviewed by: Lisa Brown-Gilbert

As Mormons, they were looking to build God’s Kingdom on Earth; Zion they called it, but religious intolerance made it hard to accomplish this holy goal for the early Mormons. In her newest addition to her books on Mormon life, The way to the Shining City, Elaine Stienon brings historical fiction fans an immersive saga which follows a group of early Mormon settlers, chronicling their experiences with life, love, tragedy and triumph and especially religious persecution, during their quest to live in peace in a community of their brethren while faithfully adhering to the tenets of their religion without harassment.

Presenting an engrossing story from the start, this character driven narrative competently intertwines with historical events, as readers are taken back in time to the 1800’s where in the harsh environment of the American Midwest a small group of Mormon pioneers find themselves facing the daunting task of resettling after having been forced to flee from Kirtland Ohio, due to harassment and intolerance of the Mormon lifestyle. The group consisted of a varied mixture of people including married and single adults, a child, and a freed slave. The group made their way to Nauvoo,
Illinois, where others had already started a community, albeit a fledgling one at that.

Central to the group and the story is Gabriel Romain, a doctor and a church elder. Introduction to him comes by way of a passage from his diary, within which he ponders the current state of his people and the church. Gabriel lives a stressful life but is a fascinating character, whose strength, stalwart disposition, courage and kindness play out well throughout the story. Moreover, multiple perspectives of life for the settlers fuel the story as individual characters are affected by their rugged life, their varied perspectives intrigue as the intimate details of life at that time keeps the story flowing and engaging.

Conclusively, I found The Way to the Shining City to be an altogether stimulating read that provided and expansive view of life for the early Mormon settlers as well as providing empathetic food for thought. Author Elaine Stienon tells an illuminating story which flows gracefully while imparting knowledge and essential details about an aspect of history, not usually found to be a topic of discussion. She essentially grants the reader intelligible access and insight into one of the many unfortunate aspects of human history, with her portrayal of life for the Mormons, who were violently attacked and persecuted by the Gentiles and chased from settlement to settlement, while looking to build a city dedicated to God; as well as having to manage a growing dissension within
the religion itself.

The Way to the Shining City is a book which fans of historical fiction or anyone with a thirst for knowledge about how the many varied religious paths ultimately lead up to the current day will find very satisfying.

Title: Children of a Northern Kingdom: A Story of the Strangite Mormons in Wisconsin and on Beaver Island, Michigan
Author: Elaine Stienon
Publisher: AuthorHouse
ISBN: 9781546203346
Pages: 288
Genre: Historical History
Reviewed by: Susan Milam

In Children of a Northern Kingdom, author Elaine Stienon offers an account of the rise and fall of the Strangite Mormons during the mid-1800s. The book offers a wealth of historical facts of which many readers most likely have been unaware of. In addition, the author tells a compelling fictional story about a band of believers who follow James Strang to Beaver Island in hope of building a Mormon community.

In 1846, Rusty Manning, along with his wife Marie, Dr. Gabriel Romain and a few close friends and fellow Mormons set out for Voree, located on the White River in Wisconsin Territory. They are heading toward a new religious community founded by James Strang. After Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is murdered in 1844, Strang proclaims he had received a Letter of Appointment from Smith just days before Smith’s murder. Strang undergirds his right to succeed Smith by saying he was anointed by an angel at the time of Smith’s death. A succession battle ensues and splits the Saints; as members of the sect refer to themselves. Some of the Saints go west under the leadership of Brigham Young, Strang’s strongest opponent; others, like Rusty and his family and friends, follow Strang to Beaver Island, Michigan. Over the next decade, the residents of Beaver Island will face battles within Mormonism as a whole, as well as within their community. In addition to the struggles within the Mormon colony, Rusty and his cohort will experience personal tragedies and triumphs.

Children of a Northern Kingdom operates on two levels. First, it paints a picture of nineteenth century Mormonism. People who are not students of the Mormon Church’s history probably won’t be aware of the factions within the religion after Joseph Smith’s death. They may also be unaware of the widespread persecution of Mormons during this time. Second, the book recounts the ups and downs of Rusty and his family and friends as they attempt to forge a new life on Beaver Island. The reader comes to know and care about this diverse cast of characters, and the author uses these characters to illustrate the issues grappled with by the Saints in Strang’s community. Thus, rather than a dry recitation of facts about Mormonism, the author provides an authentic give and take amongst viewpoints.

The book is compelling throughout, but the story takes on an added dimension when Rusty is separated from his family after the locals rebel against the presence of the Saints on Beaver Island. The action moves between Rusty and his companions on one path toward home and Marie, Gabriel and a few others on their path toward home. The subjects of racism, slavery and abolition have been an undercurrent throughout the text. Now, as the two groups make their way back to their roots, the author expands upon these themes with a short stay at a stop on the Underground Railroad. As with the other elements of the book, all the events are integrated seamlessly into the stories of Randy, Marie, Gabriel and their friends.

Children of a Northern Kingdom will certainly be of interest to members of the Mormon Church and those interested in the church’s history. In addition, the book offers a fascinating introduction to Mormonism for those who may not know much about the religion and its evolution. However, even people with little interest in Mormonism will find themselves swept up by this tale of a plucky band of friends and family.

In Clouds of Fire: A Story of Community
Elaine Stienon
AuthorHouse, 441 pages, (paperback) $20.95, 978-1-4184-4767-0
(Reviewed: July, 2013)

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.

Starred Review
The Way to the Shining City
Elaine Stienon
AuthorHouse, 291 pages, (paperback) $15.19, 978-1-4567-5416-7
(Reviewed: December 2012)

This absorbing, well-researched book tells a fictionalized account of early Mormons struggling to live in peace with their newfound religion despite surrounding turmoil.

Gabriel, the book’s main character, is a blacksmith and physician who joins other Mormons to build a new life in Missouri and even rescues a man from slavery along the way. However, continuing violence against the Mormon families forces them to flee the state. Gabriel is shocked at what he hears about the attacks: “The murder of children. The supreme event in a series of outrages. Grief and anger rushed over him. All he had seen and experienced, all he had heard, seemed to culminate in one great surge of rage. Rage not so much at the soldiers, but at God for allowing such evil to be played out to its bitter end.”

The Mormons escape to a small town on the Illinois side of the Mississippi called Commerce, which is renamed Nauvoo and directed by Brigham Young. But the families become unsettled when the Invincible Dragoons militia is formed and shocked when they hear rumors that new leaders Joseph Smith and Dr. John Cook Bennett are taking celestial (or multiple) wives. The turmoil destroys the city and disrupts the dreams of the Mormon families, who are uprooted once again.

Author Elaine Stienon has done a masterful job creating likable and genuine characters. A selfdescribed buff on the history of the early Mormons, she has skillfully woven the lives of her
imagined families among the factual people and details surrounding the persecution of this religious group during the time period of 1839-1846. The book’s dialogue rings true and the backlight of history is vividly presented without weighing down the fictitious elements of the story.

Stienon’s empathy for her characters is well placed in her compelling work regarding a littleknown time in Mormon history. It is bound to please and educate a wide audience of fiction readers.

Also available as an ebook.

Stared Review

Children of a Northern Kingdom: A Story of the Strangite Mormons in Wisconsin and on Beaver Island Michigan
Elaine Stienon
AuthorHouse, 281 pages (paperback) $20.99, 9781546203346
(Reviewed: May, 2018)

Author Elaine Stienon has chosen to craft a novel out of a particularly convoluted and largely forgotten bit of 19th century American history. Her story involves the Mormon Church’s split into factions following the murder of its founder and original prophet Joseph Smith, one led by Brigham Young, who practiced polygamy and headed for Utah, the other led by James Strang, who rejected plural marriage and eventually ended up on Beaver Island, Michigan.

The novel follows this latter group to the island, concentrating on a small set of families mostly following the lead of Gabriel Romain, a doctor and blacksmith, as its members struggle to come to terms with the changing landscape of their lives. And change it did: Strang declared himself king of the Beaver Island community, took multiple wives, thus violating one of the main reasons behind the Mormon schism in the first place, and was finally assassinated while his followers were driven from the island and scattered by vengeful and intolerant “gentiles.”

Stienon, who has written several previous novels based on the story of the early Mormon Church, skillfully blends this plethora of historical events in all their confusing detail into her story, making them work smoothly as elements of her fiction. She should be heaped with praise for holding the many strains of the story together so adeptly. Her characters—man, woman, white, black, Native American, Strangite, or Roman Catholic—are all well-drawn and strong enough to resolutely drive the plot forward.

Although some might find the resolution somewhat glib and improbable, none can deny its possibility. What we are left with, at the end, is a fine account of a neglected slice of the past, as well as a remarkably tight and well-told novel.

Also available as an ebook.

3 Starred Review

Children of a Northern Kingdom: A Story of the Strangite Mormons in Wisconsin and on Beaver Island, Michigan
Elaine Stienon
AuthorHouse (Sep 8, 2017)
Softcover $20.99 (288pp)

With its well-developed characters and real feeling for the era, Children of a Northern Kingdom is a solid addition to American frontier literature.

Elaine Stienon’s Children of a Northern Kingdom delivers a hauntingly human tale of early Mormons and their search for religious peace and freedom.

Following the 1844 assassination of Joseph Smith, the Latter Day Saints were forced to leave Nauvoo, the city they’d built in Illinois. Friends and families separated and fled in many directions, setting a pattern that would last for decades. Children of a Northern Kingdom tells the story of a small group that clung together in their search for a place to call their own.

The book’s strength lies in its characters who, from the first page, emerge as credible individuals, realistic and easy to empathize with. The opening chapter is especially effective, introducing the main characters with vivid descriptions that show that Mormons were far from an all-of-one-mind group.

Trekking through the wilderness toward the new settlement of Voree in southeastern Wisconsin are blacksmith Rusty Manning, born to his trade as well as his religion; Rusty’s best friend, the French physician and convert Gabriel Romain; and a third best friend, ex-slave Eb Wanfield. Joining them in Voree are wives, children, and Rusty’s father and stepmother, all of whom are well defined—especially Rusty’s wife, Marie, who is also Gabe’s sister and still Catholic by faith; Gabe’s childless and depressed wife, Bethia; and Jess, Marie’s best friend and Eb’s wife.

When the small settlement of Voree becomes the target of persecution, the group flees yet again to Lake Michigan, where they join a larger group of Mormons led by James Strang. The lush scenery and spirit of the northern lake country is deftly described.

The narrative does an excellent job of depicting Mormons as human rather than monolithic in their beliefs. Even before the assassination of Joseph Smith, splits were bubbling to the surface; after, multiple leaders competed to replace him. Some groups, like Rusty and Gabe’s, shunned polygamy, and there were running debates over whether persecution should be ignored or aggressively responded to.

The prose is well tuned throughout, and when the book focuses on the main characters in the first third of the book, the pace remains brisk and absorbing. The middle third of the book, though well researched, is the weakest section, as the focus moves away from the main characters and their lives into an overlong description of multiple incidents of persecution and arrest, as well as internal arguments over leadership, prescribed behavior, and the finer points of faith. Since most of this action takes place beyond the book’s main characters, it’s relayed and debated primarily
through “Have you heard”–style dialogue that slows the pace to a crawl.

Happily, the third section of the book brings the focus back to the lives central characters. As animosity toward the settlement builds and intruders see a chance to seize the Mormons’ well-tended farms and businesses, tension turns into life-threatening violence. In following the fate of each character, the book is compelling. The end, made up of separations, reunions, and new beginnings, is satisfying without devolving into melodrama.

With its well-developed characters and real feeling for the era, Children of a Northern Kingdom is a solid addition to American frontier literature.

SUSAN WAGGONER (May 30, 2018)

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Elaine Stienon
AuthorHouse (288 pp.)
$20.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-5462-0334-6; September 8, 2017

A dramatization of the turbulent genesis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the outset of Stienon’s (The Way to the Shining City, 2011, etc.) latest series installment, Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormonism, is assassinated in 1844, and his church is cleaved by intramural dispute. Some of his disciples follow Brigham Young (the Brighamites), but others throw their lot in with James J. Strang (the Strangites), who claims that he’s Smith’s intended successor, and that he was visited by an angel who confirmed his election. A caravan of Strangites, led by a doctor, Gabriel Romain, makes its way to the town of Voree in Wisconsin territory; the travelers had been reluctant to abandon their Illinois homes but anxious to flee violent anti-Mormon mobs. However, when they arrive in Voree, they’re disappointed to find that the land there is expensive. Romain later leads the group to Beaver Island in Michigan, described as a Utopian paradise and the fulfillment of Strang’s prophetic vision. However, many have concerns about Strang’s leadership when he claims to be Jewish, descended from the House of David, and crowns himself a king. He also begins to take multiple wives, in contravention of the Strangite rejection of polygamy.
Meanwhile, intolerance threatens the new settlement, raising grave questions about the Mormon position on defensive violence. This is the third installment in a series, and while it’s essentially a self-sufficient story, readers will find considerable benefits in reading the previous books beforehand. Overall, though, Stienon’s command of Mormon history and doctrine is simply astounding throughout. Along the way, she nimbly describes how the church’s doctrine is still in bewildering disarray and artfully depicts the confusion that necessarily ensues when an embryonic religion, fractured by disagreement, claims definitive authority. The author’s prose is plain in style but self-assured throughout, and the plot is filled with grand but nuanced drama.

A riveting look into 19th-century religious controversy.

In Clouds of Fire: A Story of Community
by Elaine Stienon
book review by Michael Radon

“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.

The Way to the Shining City: A Story of the Early Mormons in Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois
by Elaine Stienon
book review by Donna Ford

“Always seeking. Seeking the Kingdom of God. The place where there will be justice and—and peace. Where no one shall hurt nor destroy.”

Young doctor Gabriel Romain and elder Nathaniel had moved their small family group to Far West, Missouri, following Joseph Smith’s leadership after neighbors evicted the Mormons. New cabins were built, babies were born, young men and women married, and a southern slave escaped to join her freed husband. Even in Far West, pride, jealousy, and childlessness ate away at the family’s peace.

Rumors accuse the Mormons of polygamy, and Missourians respond aggressively. All Mormons must now flee again, even those who practice monogamy like Gabriel and Nathaniel. Most cross the river by ferry to Nauvroo, Illinois, and contribute toward building the temple of that shining city. Joseph Smith’s run for President can’t overcome Mormon prejudice; he is assassinated. New leaders declare that all Mormons rely on faith for healing, not doctors. Gabriel knows that Smith did not advocate such teachings. Should his small family hide on the Missouri side of the river with Nathaniel, follow Brigham Young across the Rockies, or follow James Strang to Wisconsin? Dangerous times force all to decide their path.

In this 289-page novel, the author uses her extensive historical research to document persecution of the Mormons by their non-Mormon neighbors during the mid-1800s. She engages the reader by telling the story from the viewpoints of French Huguenot and Quaker converts who were inspired by Joseph Smith’s evangelism to join the Mormons. From that perspective, portrayals of Mormon leaders in the book are understandably secondhand. The author reports eye-witness accounts of trouble against the Mormons as told by characters within the story. The short sentences and different tense used imply a sense of urgency. Stienon’s historical research—likely from diaries and newspapers—provide the reported information but are not documented in a list of resources. However, the technique of quoting from a fictional diary cleverly brings to life Dr. Gabriel Romain.

Children of a Northern Kingdom: A Story of the Strangite Mormons in Wisconsin and on Beaver Island, Michigan
by Elaine Stienon
reviewed by Joe Kilgore

“Gabriel has only seconds to realize that they must leave everything behind, even the animals and the tools. He blinks. How can he tell the others?”

An unholy trio of bigotry, fear, and religious persecution hovers like a malevolent cloud over this narrative of Mormon settlers in the American Midwest of the1800s. Cruel, oppressive, and violent behavior repeatedly confronts the principal characters in Stienon’s historical novel. Yet it is not the monstrous conduct of their persecutors that will remain with you at story’s end. Rather, it is the faith, strength, and resolve of the oppressed that will surely leave the most lasting impression.

After the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith is killed in Illinois, many believers followed Brigham Young westward. Others, however, remained in the Midwest as followers of James Strang and attempted to begin a new life on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. The majority of Stienon’s chronicle is set there and dramatizes the life of a man named Gabriel plus his immediate and extended family. While he prospers as the community’s blacksmith and doctor, non-Mormons constantly harass his friends and loved ones. Though able to withstand the perils and hardships of frontier life, the settlers are eventually unable to deal with their persecutors. Their leader, Strang, is murdered, and the Mormons are rounded up, stripped of all their worldly possessions, then put on ships that ripped families asunder and scattered them to the winds.

Stienon does a first-rate job of making the times and the atrocious events achingly human. Her compelling portrayals of births, deaths, hazardous work, and harsh environments—plus the all too human emotions of envy, fear, love, and loss—fill her tale with memorable moments. Joining this author’s fateful journey back to Beaver Island will duly reward anyone interested in history or captivating storytelling.

Elaine Stienon

Elaine Stienon