Monday, September 6, 2010

Random Thoughts about The Fourth Nephite

Oh, dear, I came here to post my review of The Fourth Nephite, and I see there's already one up. Well, I'll just call my review Random Thoughts, then, which is probably closer to the truth anyway.

I'll admit it, when I first read the title, I imagined a kid going back in time to the age of the Three Nephites and becoming their young sidekick for a while. I was a bit surprised to find out that the protagonist of this story goes back to the time of Joseph Smith -- but I wasn't disappointed. This book is unique in its premise; instead of having Kaleo Steele go back in time by accident and flounder around until he finds his way home again, he's deliberately sent there with a quest to fulfill before he can return. He's on a journey of faith, trying to gain the knowledge that he needs, and this knowledge, or at least the opportunities of getting it, are symbolized by the parts of the key that he must collect and fit together before he can open the door that leads back to the future.

I really liked the character of Kaleo, the way he's so focused on football at the beginning of the story. Although he goes to seminary, his heart isn't really in it, and he's more inclined to think of the entire Book of Mormon thing as some kind of fantastical fairy tale. He's a good athlete, yet shy around girls, becoming tongue-tied when faced with one close-up. Each chapter starts with some of his wry observations, many of which made me smile. His football skills help him out when he runs into the gang of ruffians that are after Joseph Smith and the golden plates, but he also has weaknesses along with his strengths. I think teenage readers of both sexes will be able to identify with him -- I know I certainly could, even though I'm much older and I don't even like football.

I personally wasn't in much doubt about the ultimate ending, but I certainly enjoyed Kaleo's journey of getting there. I liked the inclusion of Sally Chase and her peepstone, and sinister Alastair Blackburn, both showing the true nature of the forces working against Joseph Smith. Jennie was also a great character, and I think the author showed us an accurate portrait of both Joseph and Hyrum Smith as well.

There was a little Savage-style cliffhanger at the end of each chapter to keep you wanting to read more, and although the book itself was a relatively fast and easy read, I didn't think it was too skimpy when it came to details or characters.

The signs on the walls with different sayings reminded me a little of the library organization system from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Those sayings might seem random now, but I'm sure that there must be some kind of code behind them. But what I really liked was the way that the lights changed as Kaleo went down the tunnels to the wooden door, fluorescent lights giving way to single bulbs and then gas lights. I thought that was a great and subtle touch of showing Kaleo going back in time.

Although the story itself was gripping and expertly done, and I have nothing but praise for it, on further reflection, I find that it's the "set-up" that really interests me. This system of tunnels under Salt Lake City -- who made them, and why? Kaleo sees all kinds of household items from the 1800's, such as handcarts, coins, and butter churns, but would someone else see items from a different time? No, probably not, as the girl is thinking about how long she's studied history and learned about the people who helped restore the gospel. But who is this girl in the tunnels, the one who works with Ladan? What's her backstory and why did Ladan ask her to work for him? Why doesn't she need the door? Will her wish to go through it ever be fulfilled, will she ever be rewarded for her diligence? For that matter, who is Ladan? I don't remember that name from the Book of Mormon, so I'd guess that he isn't one of the original Three Nephites. I've come to consider him as a kind of Faith-Promoting Mastermind here, able to travel through time and space and organize a complicated paper trail for doubters to follow. Actually, this sounds like some kind of program that's been going on for years, with everything all planned out beforehand and scheduled like a military operation. Although, if Ladan is the one going back through time and setting it all up, what exactly does the girl do? I wonder if Brother Mortenson had a similar experience with Ladan and time travel, earlier in his life? I think he must have, and that was how he knew Ladan could help Kaleo. Who will be the friend that Kaleo brings back, the one that needs the door even more than Kaleo did? Is it somebody we've already met in the first chapters of this book, such as Jeff Greene, Crush Carlton, or Terri? Or somebody completely new? I'm already eager to find out, and hopefully, the last line of this book will foreshadow the coming of the next one, making it appear "much sooner than you think."

Thank you for the review copy, Jeff. Getting a free book did not influence my opinion in any way.

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