Embers in the London Sky
Grade : A-

Embers in the London Sky, is a story of love, loss, and how to stand up for what is right in a world gone horribly wrong.

Netherlands, 1940. She plans to escape. For several years, Aleida van der Zee Martens has lived in an abusive marriage, barely able to protect her fragile young son Theo from his father’s anger and violence. Aleida makes a careful, meticulous plan to get away, but although she believes she has prepared for every contingency, just as she is ready to put her arrangements in motion and flee to her aunt in England, the Nazis invade. Her husband takes charge of their flight from the fighting; his insane demands and foolish choices bring about his own death and cause Aleida to be separated from three-year-old Theo. Since they were fleeing with other refugees, she has reason to believe her child was evacuated to England, so she heads there as well.

Once in England, Aleida determines to leave no stone unturned in her search for Theo. Exploring hospitals, orphanages, refugee centers, and charitable organizations throughout London has proved fruitless, so she settles in the city and gets a job with an agency responsible for evacuating children to the countryside. It will give her the opportunity to search outlying villages for her little boy while she is also doing the worthy task of caring for the young children of the metropolitan area.

Hugh Collingwood loves his job as a BBC radio correspondent. It gives him the opportunity to report in the moment, letting his listeners hear the action around him for themselves. It is not a typical career for someone from his upper-crust social bracket, but Hugh doesn’t care that his parents and peers don’t approve. Since his asthma prevents him from being a soldier, this is the only work he can do that he is good at and that makes him feel like he’s doing his bit for king and country.

When Aleida approaches Hugh to ask that he tell her story on the air, he has to decline - his editor won’t invest air time in that kind of human interest piece. But seeking him out has introduced Aleida to his friends, who take an immediate shine to her, and she becomes a regular part of their gatherings at a local pub. Hugh also introduces her to his uncle, Elliot Hastings, who has been fighting for the refugee community via his parliamentary seat. Elliot is able to give Aleida a list of new places to try and she is charmed by his genial manner and gentle kindness.

Elliot’s work is not popular with everyone, however, and some few have gone as far as to send him death threats. Both he and Hugh treat them as a joke, but then Elliot is murdered, shot with his own gun during a house party, with clear evidence of the event being the result of an altercation. Hugh does not do investigative reporting, but he is determined to investigate this crime and see his uncle’s killer brought to justice. He doesn’t know how to go about solving a mystery, but the organized, methodical Aleida has spent the last few months learning to unearth small clues in her quest for her son. She agrees to help Hugh in exchange for him helping her in her pursuit as well.

This is an inspirational novel that emphasizes biblical teaching on love and acceptance. A continuous theme throughout the tale is the welcoming of the stranger (foreigner), a teaching of both the Old and New Testament. Hugh sees it as the duty of any civilized nation to uphold this principle, but not all his countrymen agree. Aleida had attended school in England, is fluent in English and has the blonde hair and blue-eyes of many Brits, but her soft Dutch accent immediately marks her as a foreigner once she starts speaking. She and her friend Nilia Sharma receive plenty of prejudice from their boss at the Ministry of Health. François Jouveau, a French reporter and close friend of Hugh’s, and many other ex-pats taking refuge from their war-torn homes talk about how badly some people treat them. On the other hand, many kind folks are welcoming of the refugees and grateful for the work they do in the war effort. I loved how the author works this theme throughout her story, showing the genuine desperation of those who made it to safety on England’s shores, the fear they had for the relatives they left behind, and just how difficult and dangerous it was for them to get there. She also does a lovely job of showcasing the warm, welcoming, accepting nature of Hugh and the quiet, resilient courage of Aleida.

Another strong theme in the novel is the acceptance of those we consider flawed due to physical limitations. Aleida’s husband had despised their son because Theo had no fingers on his right hand. Theo wasn’t allowed out of their home, and Aleida wasn’t allowed to take pictures of him because the man wanted no evidence he had fathered such a child. Hugh’s asthma often limits him, twice nearly costing him his life. He was coddled by his family and lived a quiet, sheltered life, much like Theo in his early years, though in his case, he was smothered with love rather than shame. At one point, he tries to rescue Aleida, and she winds up having to save herself and him because Hugh has an immobilizing asthma attack in the midst of the action. Sundin does such a lovely job of depicting Hugh as heroic - he uses his platform to help the needy, does all he could for the war effort, is a peacemaker in his friend group, crosses social lines, and breaks down barriers between the classes - while showing that not all heroes are of the He-Man variety.

As a couple, Hugh and Aleida are charming. Theirs is a friend-to-lovers romance, which is appropriate since she is a recent widow searching for her son. She is emotionally wrapped up in her quest, and her abusive marriage has made her wary of trusting any man, especially one as charming and amiable as Hugh. Her husband had been similar during their courtship. Part of Aleida’s growth arc in the novel is learning to trust her instincts and judgments once again. Part of Hugh’s growth arc is accepting his limitations and recognizing he can be loved romantically in spite of them.

Embers in the London Sky has a fairly high religious level, with God, faith, and prayer being mentioned throughout. It also contains some difficult subject matter, with the Blitz and its death toll serving as a backdrop for the setting, some characters being the victims of bigotry, and the search for Aleida’s son emphasizing just how easily a child can be lost during wartime. At one point, she has to make some hard decisions regarding this issue, including trusting Theo to God’s grace rather than her own warm embrace. All of this is handled in a thoughtful, compassionate manner and I would encourage those who enjoy inspirational stories and are up for a bit of angst to pick this one up.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : February 17, 2024

Publication Date: 02/202

Review Tags: World War II

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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