This was an odd book for me to really love because its main strength is not in unique characters, but in vivid scene painting. And plot? There really isn't one to speak of. But who needs plot when you can bring deserts and pueblos and caves and tamarisk trees to life the way Willa Cather can?
The story deals with two French Catholic missionary priests sent to an unknown diocese spreading out around Santa Fe, and with the Mexicans and Native Americans among whom they work. But interestingly, the most important character is really the land itself. Stories come from it, and people live not on it but with it, and even their religions bear the stamp of the place. In fact, as one Navajo character said, their religion was inseparable from that country and would die with the loss of it.
For the priests, however, whose religion is not a religion of one place, there is always the tension between the call to stay and the call to go. This provides most of the conflict in the story--a story which is slow as a pack mule on a Grand Canyon trail, and just as sure in winding up toward its end. When I finished, I had the sense of having read a long and beautiful poem.
Yes, I am officially crazy about Willa Cather right now. :)