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War has a much larger impact than just armies shooting at each other. Two powerful new series dramatize events surrounding the clash between opposing forces and ideologies, one from nearly a century ago and one as current as tomorrow’s headlines. Highly respected historian Gerald N. Lund’s newest volume in his Fire and Steel series is a carefully researched look at that critical period at the end of World War I when the seeds were planted leading to World War II. Julie Bellon, also an educator, is perhaps not as well known as Lund, but has captured today’s fears and the unique elements of modern warfare.
THE STORM DESCENDS, FIRE AND STEEL Vol 2, by Gerald N. Lund
Gerald N. Lund set out to merge two series into one, giving us The Storm Descends, the second volume of his new Fire and Steel series. He continues the story of the German Eckhardt family introduced in Volume 1. The family has weathered the World War I years and this volume opens with the son, Hans Otto Eckhardt, healing in a military hospital at the end of the war in 1918 where he develops a strong attachment to one of his nurses, Emilee, and meets young Adolph Hitler.
Rather than concentrating on establishing peace and normalizing relations with Germany, the Allied nations seem determined to exact revenge on the beaten, impoverished nation. In addition to the land and assets grab of Germany’s neighbors, they also have to deal with a strong push from a communist faction to take over the weak and demoralized government. Crime is rampant, employment is down to fifty percent, food is scarce because the allies confiscated the means of getting farm produce to the city markets, and returning soldiers are unpaid and unemployed. Strong leadership is needed to consolidate the various districts and establish a new form of government. The remnant of the Army is the only group willing to take on the task, though there are independent groups and voices beginning to make themselves heard.
Hans doesn’t want to return to his parents’ dairy farm. His dream is to resume his college education to become an engineer. Without money that is impossible and he makes plans to become a mechanic instead. His feelings for Emilee grow, but a chance encounter with another woman impacts his life too and forces him to evaluate his standards. To avoid starvation he worms his way into the graces of a restaurant owner and works his way up to a position of trust and danger. Emilee keeps him grounded and pushes him into reestablishing his relationship with his family. Events push him back into contact with the military as the army fights with extremists and those bent on taking over control of the country. He also has contact again with Hitler who is beginning to spread his propaganda and hatred for Jews.
In far off Monticello, Utah, the Westland family, first introduced in The Undaunted and Only the Brave, are doing well on their ranch and are surprised by a visit from Mitch Westland’s former mission president. From the renewal of that relationship, they are both called to go to Germany to assess the needs of the Saints there and make arrangements to purchase the Army surplus supplies left behind when the American soldiers returned home following the war. Those supplies are to be distributed to the starving Church members in Germany.
The characters in this story are well developed. Readers may want to shake some sense into Hans at times, but he is well portrayed as a young man returning from war with mixed feelings, facing a great deal of loss and ruined ambitions. He is capable of great compassion, but is also sometimes hungry, and at times resentful of all the broken promises that have wiped out his dreams. Emilee is easy to love and admire. The Westlands are a little too good to be true and not as well-developed as the Eckhardts, but their role is not as large in this volume as it may be in future volumes. The story and plot line are compelling, well-researched, and some of Lund’s best writing. I enjoyed the footnotes a great deal and appreciate their placement at the end of each chapter rather than at the end of the book.
Though there are references to the Church, the book is not preachy and lets the events and actions of the characters and of the Church speak for themselves. There is no attempt to “sanitize” food and drink to fit the Word of Wisdom. The story simply tells the personal and political struggles of the German people and families immediately following the war and the punitive measures forced on them at the end of the war. The German people were starving and weren’t even allowed to fish in their own waters. It also shows the impact communism, socialism, the murder of the Russian Romanov royal family, and the takeover of Russia by Vladimir Lenin played in leaving a civilized people ready to accept the hope and positive future promised by Hitler. It clarifies how an intelligent, well-educated, but desperate people allowed the rise of an extremist leader who would lead the country into a second world war.
Gerald N. Lund won the hearts of LDS readers long ago with his The Work and the Glory series followed by The Kingdom and the Crown series. He served for thirty-five years in the Church Educational System and was a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy for six years. He has both a BA and MS degree in sociology from Brigham Young University. He and his late wife, Lynn, are the parents of seven children.
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THE STORM DESCENDS, Vol. 2 of Fire and Steel by Gerald M. Lund, published by Deseret Book, 607 pages, hardcover $27.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers.
THE CAPTIVE by Julie Coulter Bellon
Julie Coulter Bellon has introduced a new intrigue series with The Captive, the first volume in the Griffin Task Force Series. Even the cover shouts intrigue. It begins with former Navy SEAL Jake Williams being appointed to lead a task force of Americans and Canadians assigned to rescue a kidnapped American diplomat and his translator. Assisting the task force is Mya Amari, the daughter of an Algerian hostage negotiator, who has a few secrets and plans she has no intention of sharing with the team. The story begins in Washington D.C. then transports the team to Algeria.
There are a few too many people with conflicting motives involved, leaving both Jake and Mya uncertain whom to trust. Lives are at stake, including their own. As leader of the team, Jake is determined to succeed in the rescue of the diplomat and capture of an old enemy who is rumored to behind the kidnapping, a man known to brutally murder hostages. Mya is equally determined. She has a personal stake in rescuing the translator who is her sister and reuniting with her father whom she hasn’t seen since she was a child. There’s an undeniable attraction between Jake and Mya, which they are both determined to ignore, but it’s hard to ignore when circumstances push them together and their lives depend on trusting each other.
This is a story that reads like today’s headlines and takes the reader into the armpit of the middle east. It paints a vivid description of the terrain, the seeming mixtures of time periods, and the violence masquerading as religious fervor that dominates the area. Each of the characters has a distinct personality and characteristics, none of which is especially endearing. They’re tough people doing a tough job. Jake is aloof and on the bossy side. Mya is secretive and somewhat sneaky. The other characters are also mostly loners as well, driven by their missions more than relationships. Some of the characters appeared in earlier Bellon books and some references to incidents or people that occurred earlier are a little confusing. The plot is strong and dynamic. Readers won’t want to set this one down. The ending satisfies the questions raised by the immediate plot, but leaves the door open for the next volume in the series.
Julie Coulter Bellon has more than a dozen published novels to her credit and she has been awarded numerous awards for her work. She is well known for the international settings and flavor of her intriguing tales. She was born and raised in Canada, but has lived in the United States since her marriage. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in secondary education. In addition to writing and teaching, she and her husband are kept busy raising their large family.
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THE CAPTIVE by Julie Coulter Bellon, published by Stone Hall Books, 251 pages, soft cover $11.67. Also available for e-readers.