Ophelia’s War

The priceless ruby necklace secretly given to fifteen-year-old Ophelia Oatman by her dying mother isn’t easily given away—nor is her virginity. But Ophelia must choose between them.

The necklace becomes both Ophelia’s ticket to freedom and the shackles of her shame. Fate, family legacy, hair color, the shape of her skull, sex, survival, the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and the tension between Mormons and Gentiles in the Utah Territory all converge to shape her destiny.


Ophelia’s War chronicles the battles for love and survival fought by a young frontier girl in the nineteenth century: her limited choices between polygamy and prostitution, the high cost of keeping the jewels her mother gave her, and the impossibility of protecting them. In an era when many women committed suicide rather than be shunned and have to face the shame of being labeled “damaged goods,” the rebellious and resilient Ophelia uses disgrace and the “rubies of her ruin” to reinvent herself and work her way towards financial freedom. Yet what is the ultimate cost? Can love and reconciliation triumph over her loss and shame?

Based on 41 Reviews
Jenny Baird
October 23, 2020

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story; Somewhat risky topic and keeps you on your toes!

This book was a great read! It kept my interest and I never wanted to miss one paragraph as so much is in each page! This book took me on an adventure of murder, prostitution, betrayal, love lost, love gained, and reuniting with loved ones. It also took me deep into Ophelia’s mind and what lead her to decide to work as a prostitute and how that changed her life drastically. It was really interesting to see how this changed Ophelia’s financial position and her opportunities, along with how she felt about herself deep down. All the characters in this story are fascinating and I felt like I was in the wild west! It was also interesting to hear more about Ogden Utah’s history and how life could have been back then. I am excited to read more of Alison’s books and I appreciate her for creating a passionate, soulful and somewhat risky topic to write about. I definitely recommend this book to humanitarians or anyone that is interested in why people become the way they are.

November 20, 2019

5.0 out of 5 stars This author has a gift of storytelling

Ophelia’s War was a great read! Living near Ogden and raised a Morman made this a fun read. The descriptions of the time period were rich, the characters were well developed, intriguing, and colorful and the story pulls you in from page one and transports you back in time to the late 1800s. The historical aspect of this story just takes you right into those times of pioneers, gunslingers and seedy characters on the Western frontier. You will actually learn a few things about those times by reading this story. This author is a beautiful writer, with the gift of storytelling. I’m looking forward to reading all her books.

April 6, 2019

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for a book club

I moved to Utah in 2000 and knew little about the state before arriving except for it being the homeland of Mormons and Donny Osmond. I found Ophelia’s War at a local artisan shop in Ogden Utah and was intrigued. I purchased it and was in the middle of my book club’s book at the time, so did not start it right away. I soon discovered that my husband got to it before I did and finished it in just a few days! I’ve been in the culture here for 18 years and have read a few series books on the Mormon history, but this has a completely different slant on things. Taking place 125 years ago, the story revolves around the life of a young Mormon pioneer girl who loses her family not long after they settle in southern Utah. The challenges she faces both in the settlement she’s in, her escape from one set of circumstances right into another just as dire. Lots of church history, Utah history and American history as the story moves on to include the trials of the completion of the Trans-Continental Railroad. The book easily draws you in and sends you hurtling though a wide range of emotions. I loved the book so much it is my book club choice for November! As a special treat, Alison McLennan will be joining us to talk about Ophelia and give us some insight into the sequel!

Gary Helms
September 10, 2017

5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Lady's Frontier Odyssey

Well written , fascinating story of a simple Mormon girl’s transition to a woman for hire on Ogden’s notorious 25th Street during completion of the transcontinental railroad. Driven always by fierce independence, she eventually achieves redemption and a sense of self-worth. Adventure, history, relationships: it’s all here.

January 11, 2017

5.0 out of 5 stars Very well done story

Different from any other… a tough time with humanness and love in the worlds of bordellos… with an upbeat ending

K. Suhr
November 9, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Twists Kept Me Reading

What’s not to love? A "saint" turned sinner, a mysterious necklace and enough twists and turns and highs and lows to keep the reader turning the page. I especially enjoyed spending time in the early days of the Mormon West, a period, place and culture that were completely unfamiliar to me. McLennan’s characters are well-drawn, and the plot is unpredictable though believable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!

October 8, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Recommend for fans of historical fiction

Already a fan of Alison McLennan’s writing, this novel was rich in historical detail, scandal, excitement and suprise. Anxiously awaiting the sequel. Recommend for fans of historical fiction, romance, and adventure!

Rock Addict
September 21, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner!

Read this in one day because I just couldn’t bear not knowing what would happen to Ophelia. The building of her character makes for such an amazing ride. The descriptive narratives are just so beautiful and make one feel as though they are sitting in the middle of the story. The historical aspect of this story just takes you right into those times of pioneers, gunslingers and seedy characters on the Western frontier. You will actually learn a few things about those times by reading this story. Beautiful writing, well researched and a highly recommended read. I bet you can’t stop until the last page……hurry up and finish that second book Alison!!!

Cindy Spangler
September 9, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars This book was fabulous! Highly recommend it! Love this Author!

Alison McLennan’s first book that I read was Falling for Johnny. I own this book in Kindle Edition and also in Paperback. This is a very good story! Once I started it I couldn’t put it down! I couldn’t wait for her 2nd book to come out! Ophelia’s War is an amazing novel! I live just North of Ogden Utah and I learned so much history from this book! It takes you back in the Wild West in the late 1800s. I love how the author takes you through twists and turns back in the pioneer years. While you’re reading, the writing is so powerful that you feel everything that Ophelia’s feeling. I also own this novel in Kindle Edition and Hardcover. I love to have Hardcover books to display in my own personal library. I highly recommend this novel and congratulations to the author for her writing skills! Looking forward to her next book!

Wendy L. Crook
September 9, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful and intriguing story of a young woman striving to survive alone in the old west

As a Utah resident I can tell you this book is really on target. I loved the story of this brave young woman in a harsh world. The story pulls you in and keeps you interested from beginning to end, and I was disappointed when I reached the end because I wanted more! Can’t wait for the sequel! A wonderful Alison-story!

Janet A. Mulliner
September 8, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Bits of History Woven into a Great Story!

Wonderful book! Great plot twists and turns and it kept me page turning from beginning to end! I highly recommend Ophelia’s War–nice holiday gift or great read cuddled up by the fire.

Christine P.
September 7, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great novel. I learned so much about Ogden

This is a great novel. I learned so much about Ogden, Utah. It described the hardship a young girl/women had to endure back in the pioneer years.

Olga Mirkina
August 9, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed reading this book

I really enjoyed reading this book. Story moves on from the first to the last page, hard to put it down. Having little knowledge about the time and culture described, but being a frequent visitor of Utah, made it magical for me. I know my travels from now on will be filled with ghosts and spirits of the past, brave, honest, cruel and tortured, living in the word that no longer exists, placing roots we now flourish on. Pick up this book, you will not be disappointed.

August 1, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars The Wild West….

If you are a fan of historical fiction, Ophelia’s War should be on your list. It provides insight into what life was like during the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The story of a young woman’s struggle to survive is drawn on a backdrop of tensions between Gentiles and Mormons, the changing face of the Utah territory due to the transcontinental railroad, and her love for her brother who is part Native American and, therefore, subjected to bias and cruelty. It is hard to imagine how brutally tough life was during this era, but Alison McLennan manages to draw this picture while telling Ophelia’s tale. I highly recommend this book!

Julie Zeigler
July 31, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!

I read this book from front to back in a few days. Highly interesting, entertaining, thought provoking, disturbing because of Ophelia’s circumstances, and flat out a good read. I found myself very sympathetic to poor Ophelia, a Saint turned prostitute, who from the beginning was dealt a tough hand in life. And found it slightly ironic that one of the heroes of the story is a successful prostitute and brothel owner who befriends Ophelia and rescues her by providing her shelter and a career. As a Utahan who lives just north of Ogden, I loved all the references to Utah locales such as the beautiful peak of Ben Lomond.

Andrea Schindler
July 26, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this read and congratulations to the author for nailing …

Alison McLennin did it again- I couldn’t put this book down! I consider myself a selective reader and often get turned off by writing style or books that drag on but this story was so well written and so captivating that I couldn’t put it down! The research that went into the writing of this book was obvious as it accurately depicted the time period with detailed descriptions of the landscapes, culture, clothing, and towns so much so that I actually felt transported back in time. The characters were well developed and the story held my interest with unexpected and imaginative twists. I highly recommend this read and congratulations to the author for nailing it once again!

Stephanie Bedard
July 18, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! Highly recommend

I absolutely loved Ophelia’s War! The story was so different and interesting from the very start. I sometimes take a while to finish a book but this one was read in a few days. Look forward to the next!

July 13, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!

After reading Alison McLennan’s first book, Falling for Johnny, I was really looking forward to her second book. Ophelia’s War was worth the wait! The descriptions of the time period were rich, the characters were well developed, intriguing, and colorful and the story pulls you in from page one. The author transports you back in time to the Wild West of the late 1800s. The writing is so compelling that you feel everything that the main character, Ophelia, is feeling. There are twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout the story. What strikes me most about this author is that she is just a beautiful writer – a true artist – with the gift of storytelling. I can’t wait for her next book!

Jen Thomason
June 22, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible story of the harsh life growing up on the frontier

I feel like whenever I am reviewing a book it’s always positive, and I’ve had people even mention that. One reason they are mostly positive is I try to really look at the synopsis before I read and review a book or check out other reviews if available, to see if I will enjoy reading it. Some things I may be unsure of but give them a chance and end up thinking it was great. When I received a request to review “Ophelia’s War: The Secret Story of a Mormon Turned Madam,” I didn’t hesitate because it sounded like a fantastic book. I completely underestimated this novel and had no idea how amazing and well-written it would be. Before even getting into my review, I rank this up there in my top ten reads ever, and believe me, I’ve read a lot. This story begins with Ophelia Oatman, her half-brother Zeke (who is mixed ethnicity) and their parents heading to the Promised Land from Nebraska to Utah. Early in the novel, we learn that as Ophelia’s mother lays dying, she gives Ophelia a ruby necklace which they sew into her doll. Her mother tells her that it could bring her a fortune but it is also cursed. After the death of their parents, Ophelia and Zeke try to do the best they can and receive some help from the other Saints, but Ophelia fears becoming an older man’s 3rd or 4th wife. Their mother had written to their Uncle Luther before her death, so his impending arrival prevents her from being married off. However, upon his arrival, they learn that Uncle Luther is a card shark and gambler, and loves his whiskey. Ophelia also learns that Luther has come to Utah for only one thing, the ruby necklace. Luther’s arrival in Utah brings one heart-wrenching moment after another until Ophelia is separated from her brother and on the run across the frontier. Once Ophelia is on her own and has left her home behind, the author takes us on an incredible journey of bravery, survival and coming of age. “Ophelia’s War” follows this young girl from her teenage years into adulthood, painting detailed pictures of what she does to survive and be successful as a madam in a small frontier town. On her journey to survive she goes by various names such as Elizabeth, Ruby Doll House, and Peach, but she remains the same brave woman from beginning to end. Ophelia is confronted with every type of person one could imagine encountering on the frontier. People try to kill her, people try to help her, people use her to gain wealth, and some people genuinely care. Moments in this novel will infuriate you and break your heart because it’s unimaginable that one girl could endure so much and survive. Other moments you will cheer for Ophelia when she seems at peace with herself and her decisions. Alison McLennan’s writing in “Ophelia’s War” is simply fantastic. As you go through the novel it is moving, emotional and exciting all at once. To read this novel is to think that McLennan herself has lived on and survived the frontier, the Mormons, and the devious thieves that one could encounter. This is not a sweet, light-hearted novel but instead, an honest look at what one does to survive, whether ideal or not. Alison McLennan has gone above and beyond exquisite writing and story-telling in “Ophelia’s War,” setting the bar extremely high for other writers in her genre and beyond. *I received this advanced copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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