The Sound of Light is Sarah Sundin’s eighteenth WWII-set novel and her experience, and historical knowledge is abundantly evident in this tale, one that highlights how love can give us the courage to shine in even the darkest times.
The night the Germans arrive in Denmark, Henrik Ahlefeldt is celebrating his birthday with friends. Once a champion rower and Olympic hopeful, he has fallen into the rather dissolute playboy lifestyle so common among wealthy young men of his time. The sound of the Nazis’ marching boots proves to be his wake-up call. That very night he sheds his previous identity to become shipyard worker Hemming Andersen. In this guise, he rows intelligence and messages from occupied Copenhagen to his contacts across the water in Sweden.
Dr. Else Jensen is an American physicist with Danish roots. She refuses to leave Copenhagen when the Nazis arrive, determined not to abandon either her research or her grandparents. She enjoys what she does, even if she doesn’t love the sexism she faces from the men she works for, and she loves hanging out with her friend Laila at their boarding house. Mostly a place for students and researchers, their after-work conversations during dinner and later, in the parlor sitting near the fireplace, are lively and educated.
It surprises everyone when their landlady allows shipyard worker Hemming Andersen to move into the attic room. A quiet man with gentle manners that belie his huge, gruff exterior, he blends surprisingly well into the tenant’s little clique, silently whittling during the others’ animated discussions about science. It isn’t long before Else comes to consider him a friend, albeit one very different from the others in her circle.
As the days of occupation turn into months and then years, Else notices a growing frustration in Laila. It doesn’t surprise Else when that frustration turns to action, and Laila starts to distribute resistance newspapers, and Else surprises herself by becoming involved in the project. Using the mimeograph machine at the lab, Else does the printing for one of the periodicals, reveling in this chance to strike back against the oppressive forces sweeping across Europe. Her own clandestine behaviors lead her to see Hemming in a new light. Is his silence actually a cover? And could his burly physique and ease on the water mean he is, in fact, the heroic operative known as Havmand, the legendary link between the freedom fighters in Denmark and the allies in Sweden?
One of the major themes of this novel is courage, and I like how the author works that through in her characters. Else is initially a very timid young lady who accepts the abuse heaped on her by the senior physicist she serves as an assistant for. Hemming encourages her to speak out and make allies in confronting the man’s sexism, and Else does. Ms. Sundin uses this initial moment beautifully, showcasing both how it fits into Else’s growth into someone who will eventually be a resistance fighter and how it impacts Else’s relationship with Hemming. I also appreciated that Else has other traits needed by a physicist: patience, a willingness to think through and around problems, and an open mind toward new ideas.
Henrik/Hemming has never lacked courage, but he doesn’t have much faith in his ability to be a team player. Living with a demanding, verbally abusive father has left him reluctant to trust himself around others, fearing those same traits lurk within him. The Havmand has been the perfect role, allowing him to serve his country in an independent manner. Part of his journey is learning to forgive the past, and another part is gaining the courage to believe he is capable of interacting with loved ones without hurting them. Both his faith and Else play a large role in his ability to do this.
So as a couple, Henrik and Else bring out the best in each other. Theirs is a friends-to-lovers story, with a lot of necessary secrets keeping them from achieving real intimacy for the first half of the tale – Hemming understandably can’t explain any portion of who he is to Else. The Germans are looking for a champion rower who could be serving as the conduit between Denmark and Sweden and in his identity as Henrik, he fits that bill. They are also looking for someone who has the contacts within the Danish government and Sweden to pass the kind of information the Havmand is famous for, and again, as Henrik, he fits that bill. Being Hemming, a seemingly slow-witted, low-born factory worker has kept the Germans from even considering him as a suspect, and it is vital the situation stays that way. For a good chunk of the story, he has to deceive Else, which is naturally detrimental to their relationship when she finds out.
This means that Else is initially drawn to a very different person than the one she winds up with. The physical attraction remains the same but a lot of who Henrik/Hemming is changes between hix personas. Hemming is a quiet man, Henrik is quite sociable and friendly. Hemming is poor, Henrik wealthy. Hemming is subservient, Henrik is the heir to considerable power. Most importantly, Hemming presents as virtually illiterate. Many who work with him consider him simple. This is something Else really grapples with when she first finds him attractive. I liked the way the story challenges whether Else needs to find her mental equal to be happy or if the fact that Hemming is a kind, sweet-tempered man who is always considerate of her as well as supportive of her career is more important than any of his mental deficits. In the end, it doesn’t matter because Henrik is very bright and well-educated. As Hemming, Else loved him but feared there would be an awkwardness in trying to fit into each other’s worlds. That’s not a problem with Henrik.
For the bulk of the novel, the author does a fabulous job with the tale’s pacing, giving us plenty to be interested in without resorting to non-stop action that would keep our characters from having time to develop the relationship.
My only major quibble is that at about the eighty percent mark, Hemming makes some choices in the name of love, which are eye-roll-inducing and rather TSTL. It is a mercifully brief, if incredibly annoying, section.
This is an inspirational romance with faith playing a role in both how Else finds her courage and how Hemming learns to control his temper, forgive his father and move forward as a leader. I would rate the religious level at moderate, with the author doing a lovely job of presenting her characters’ beliefs organically.
While this is listed as a standalone novel, the couples from Ms. Sundin’s two most recent books make an appearance in the epilogue. However, you don’t need to have read their tales to enjoy this one.
Fans of the author will be pleased with The Sound of Light as will any reader of Inspirational romances who likes this time period or books with sweet, character-driven love stories. I am happy to recommend it to that audience.
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Good, I hope you both like it!!