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.

City of the Saints Kindle Edition by D.J. Butler fantasy and science fiction book reviewsCity of Saints by D.J. Butler

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.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

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.

Published June 25, 2012. Publisher: 1859; war looms over the United States. Intelligence agents converge on the Kingdom of Deseret in the Rocky Mountains. Sam Clemens, leading the U.S. Army’s expedition aboard his amphibious steam-truck the Jim Smiley, has a mission: to ensure that the Kingdom, with its air-ships and rumored phlogiston guns, brain children of the Madman Orson Pratt, enters on the side of the United States and peace. Can he outrace and outmaneuver his British competitors, anxious to protect their cotton trade? And where are the agents of the treasonous, clandestine Confederate leadership? And why does the Madman seem to be playing his own game? Liahona is Part the First of City of the Saints, a four-part steampunk gonzo action adventure tale.


  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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