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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Pioneer Passage: The Journey of Cornelia Rose Book 3 is the third but hopefully not the last of author J.F. Collen’s epic story of a journey across America, taken by Cornelia Rose and her family in the mid-1800s. Cornelia Rose has left her beloved family and her lovely home in Sing Sing, New York to dutifully follow her husband, Obadiah, who has recently been appointed a Federal Court Justice in the territory of Utah. To reach the great Salt Lake City required a dangerous and arduous wagon journey on the famous Oregon Trail where mountain crossings, deep river fords, restless Native Americans and dangerous animals await these intrepid emigrants. That is before we even consider the possible dangers awaiting the Wright family when they finally do reach Salt Lake City. Rumors abound that the Mormon Saints are determined to rule Utah as their very own Jerusalem and are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep the United States Federal authorities out of their promised land that they called the State of Deseret. The wagon train is comprised of simple emigrants from all walks of life, some headed for the promised free farmland of the Oregon territory, some Mormon “Saints” who like the Wrights are bound for Salt Lake City, and some who head all the way across the great plains of the Midwest, bound for California and gold. With just deep and abiding faith in their Lord, some rudimentary maps and guidebooks plus the indomitable pioneering spirit of independence, this eclectic collection of families and individuals must somehow work together and navigate the travails that lie ahead.
Pioneer Passage is a truly delightful, meaty read that will satisfy any reader who enjoys an excellent adventure exceptionally well told. Having already read the second story in this saga, I was familiar with the principal characters of the Wright family and author J.F. Collen uses this iteration to expand on and emphasize the unique character and powerful faith of these early pioneers but more especially the women. Cornelia Rose is a woman ahead of her time; learned, well-read, opinionated, and skilled in the healing arts. Her need to be recognized, understood and listened to by men, especially her conservative and strict husband Obadiah, is a real highlight of this particular part of the story. I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Cornelia Rose and her male admirers who were all clearly besotted with the young wife’s beauty, charm, wit, and intelligence. Her handling of their advances was both amusing and, for the period, possibly even somewhat risqué.
What I particularly love about this author’s style is her ability to convey a wonderment and understanding of the physical environment the pioneers were passing through. Her prose is melodic, almost to the point of musicality and her descriptions vivid and real enough to transport the reader right into the wagon, alongside Nellie and her family, as they negotiate the dangers of the trail. One can truly feel the barrenness and spread of the western prairies, along with the power of the crystal-clear night sky through Collen’s melodic prose. I loved this story, as I did the second book, and I can only hope the author does not intend to end Nellie’s journey with their arrival in Salt Lake City. A fantastic read that I can highly recommend and one of the best I’ve had in a long time.