Rarely does a book get it all together as At the Journey’s End by Annette Lyon has done.  The cover is beautiful, one of the best I’ve seen on LDS fiction.  It is well-edited, the copy is clean and smooth, the research is remarkably well done, the characters are real and vital, the plot is compelling and fast-paced, and perhaps most importantly, it is superbly written.

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Many readers who enjoyed House on the Hill came to care about Abe Franklin and wanted the story to continue.  Lyon acceded to this demand and At the Journey’s End is the result.  As much as I enjoyed the first book, I found this second volume superior to the first.  From the stories surrounding the St. George temple to the journey undertaken by two hurt people seeking a meaningful future, this book is a carefully crafted and polished addition to any reader’s “keeper” shelf.

Abe is Indian, sold by his mother to a Mormon man as an indentured servant.  That man in turn, sells the eight-year-old boy to another couple, the Franklins.  Abe comes to love his adoptive mother who is kind and loving to him, but he hates her cruel and abusive husband.  He grows to hate the Church, too, because his stepfather professes to be a devout member and because of the many incidents of racial prejudice he suffers at the hands of people who attend Church and claim to be good Mormons.

Following the death of the stepfather and the pain of losing a woman he loves and wished to marry, Abe returns to his adopted mother and they grow closer, though Abe doesn’t feel that he fits into the Mormon community.  The lynching of a black man leads him to feel he isn’t safe.  He leaves, not knowing his mother is ill.  His journeying eventually takes him to Snowflake, Arizona, where he buys a home and makes plans for his mother to join him.  She is thrilled and excited to join him and to meet in St. George where she can finally go to a temple to receive her temple blessing.

In Snowflake, Abe’s path crosses that of Maddie.  Two-and-a-half years earlier, Maddie’s fianc had been murdered by an Indian while the young couple followed the Arizona honeymoon trail on their way to St. George to marry in the temple.  Now she is traveling that route again with her pregnant sister, her sister’s husband, their two young children, an elderly woman, and Abe.

Though the book is technically an historical romance, any non-romance fan who sets the book aside will miss a really good historical adventure.  The romance is kept low key and is not of the mushy variety.  Fans of real love stories will be impressed with the depth and quality of the relationship between these two characters, one a committed, obedient Mormon woman whose faith has been tested and a man who has been subjected to some of the worst degradation and pain that can be inflicted on a young man.

Though it is not a romance in the modern sense, At the Journey’s End is not the usual conversion story either.  It is a rich, powerful story about people and places far from the more familiar Church stories of that time period.

Lyon handles touchy subjects such as bigotry, abuse, and polygamy in a straightforward manner without excuses.  She’s bluntly realistic without being offensive.  She paints a believable picture of the sun-scorched, dangerous trail the Arizona Saints had to follow to maintain contact with the Church in Salt Lake and to participate in temple ordinances, and she does it smoothly without intruding the background beyond the story.  I found her understanding of the workings of the human hearts behind the story one of the most powerful elements of the story.

At the Journey’s End receives my highest recommendation.

Published by Covenant Communications, 340 pages, $15.95