Editor’s note: When Ruth reviewed this book in 2012, she reviewed the “first part” of CITY OF SAINTS called Liahona. Since then, the series has been released as one novel called City of Saints.
It’s the days leading up to the Civil War, and both the North and the South are desperate to bring the Kingdom of Deseret, with President Brigham Young, in on their side. Both forces send envoys to the remote kingdom, hoping to secure the allegiance of the Mormons and their rumored phlogiston weaponry. The British Empire is also seeking to secure the favor of Deseret, and Samuel Clemens, Edgar Allen Poe, and the famed British explorer Richard Burton all set out from Fort Bridger in a desperate race to the Salt Lake Valley. Throw in a dwarf, some Pinkerton detectives, a woman who may or may not be a spy, flesh devouring beetles, and giant steam-powered carriages, and you have a non-stop action adventure.
The description of Liahona, the first novel in the CITY OF SAINTS series by D.J. Butler, enticed me into picking it up. I like steampunk and I also like alternate histories. As a Mormon, both of those combined with an alternate LDS history seemed like a good mix. But unless you’re familiar with LDS history, I don’t think you’re going to quite get the impact of Porter Rockwell showing up and threatening people. Additionally, even though you’re probably familiar with Samuel Clemens and Edgar Allen Poe, I don’t think it’s enough to take historical figures, stick them in your story, and call character building done. It’s an alternate history. What they do – and have done – in this history should be important to the fictional world you have created. Why are Poe and Clemens acting as government agents? You do get some background motivation for some of the minor characters, but I really didn’t care about any of the people involved, and the plot wasn’t enough to keep me reading.
I didn’t finish Liahona. I think it is an interesting premise, but it’s matched with weak character development. I got interrupted in the middle of a fight scene, when it seemed likely that at least one character was going to die, and two weeks later I still hadn’t picked it back up. That’s not a good sign. If you’re not as interested in characters, and just looking for a fun action adventure, Liahona may fit your bill, because Butler’s writing is visually evocative and has a knack for always keeping the plot moving. Even then, however, I don’t think this book is going to be a classic in that genre any more than in steampunk.