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'Fourth Nephite' series brings church history to life for LDS teens

Published: Monday, Jan. 31 2011 7:00 a.m. MST

When Jeffrey S. Savage met with Deseret Book publishers in July 2008, he asked for a book idea. Initially, he didn’t like their answer — something with the action and adventure of fantasies like Leven Thumps and Fablehaven but totally Latter-day Saint.

“That was not really what I was hoping to hear,” Savage said.

He did it anyway.

Two years later, “The Fourth Nephite” was published, and a sequel is already planned for release this summer. Savage said combining fantasy elements and the LDS Church into a novel is a tricky process, but he is satisfied with the result of his efforts.

“If you don’t walk the fine line just right, it tends to make it look like the gospel is part fantasy or that fantasy elements are part of the gospel,” Savage said. “The goal was to bring church history alive by taking those elements that really happened and weaving in an exciting adventure-type story.”

The story follows Kaleo Steele, a high school football star, who gets caught under the high school bleachers with the wrong crowd on the eve of a big game. To make matters worse, the troubled teen is discovered by his seminary teacher.

Facing the prospect of missing the region championship game, Steele consents to meet his seminary teacher’s friend, a mysterious old blind man who operates a pioneer museum in Salt Lake City. Before long, the teen is wandering through a maze of dark tunnels under the city and somehow finds himself in Palmyra, N.Y., in the fall of 1827.

In order to return home, the athlete must help the young Prophet Joseph Smith in a battle against evil men attempting to steal the gold plates. Along the way he befriends a 19th-century girl and develops a testimony of the gospel.

A big fan of Gerald Lund’s Work and the Glory series, Savage spent around four months researching the time period, and many of the characters in the story are based on real individuals who lived during that era.

Savage, the author of eight published novels, also consulted Chris Heimerdinger, author of the Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites Book of Mormon time-travel adventure series.

“I am a huge admirer of Chris,” Savage said.

Savage hopes readers are entertained and get excited about the series. More importantly, he hopes they come away with a greater appreciation for church history.

“I hope it makes them want to go back and learn more,” said Savage, who resides in Spanish Fork, Utah, with his wife and four children.

The sequel, titled “A Return to Palymra,” is scheduled for publication in June, he said.

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