REVIEW: The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin
In 1944, American naval officer Lt. Wyatt Paxton arrives in London to prepare for the Allied invasion of France. He works closely with Dorothy Fairfax, a “Wren” in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Dorothy pieces together reconnaissance photographs with thousands of holiday snapshots of France–including those of her own family’s summer home–in order to create accurate maps of Normandy. Maps that Wyatt will turn into naval bombardment plans.
As the two spend concentrated time together in the pressure cooker of war, their deepening friendship threatens to turn to love. Dorothy must resist its pull. Her bereaved father depends on her, and her heart already belongs to another man. Wyatt too has much to lose. The closer he gets to Dorothy, the more he fears his efforts to win the war will destroy everything she has ever loved.
The tense days leading up to the monumental D-Day landing blaze to life under Sarah Sundin’s practiced pen with this powerful new series.
Dear Ms. Sundin,
After seeing this lovely cover, I couldn’t resist reading the blurb. Once I’d done that, I knew I wanted to request the book. I was a bit surprised at the way it starts but then that event sets the stage for Wyatt’s journey to be the man Dorothy meets in London as they both work on the plans for Operation Overlord and Neptune.
Wyatt and his two brothers have always been close but a tragedy on what should have been a celebratory day has driven them apart. Stung with guilt over what happened, Wyatt fled his home and has had no contact with his brothers or parents since that day. Now as a naval officer with gunnery experience, he’s been assigned to help chart the beaches for the invasion of Normandy.
Dorothy is doing her part for King and Country as a WREN. With her mother dead from an explosion during the blitz and both brothers lost at sea, she and her father are alone now. It’s only with constant encouragement and effort that Dorothy gets him to eat at all and he’s all but given up going into his business. The way he ignores her tears at her heart and she knows that she’s a poor substitute for the wife he loved and the sons of whom he was so proud.
When a group of US Naval Officers arrives at planning Headquarters in London and begins to work with the British officers and WRENs, Dorothy is as curious as the others about the Yanks – or colonials as the Americans complain they are sometimes condescendingly called. But as nice as Wyatt is on the occasions when they meet, Dorothy has her hopes pinned on finally gaining the attention of the man she’s yearned for since she was a teenager. Eaton is an officer and friend of her brothers from Cambridge and Dorothy knows she needs to be the sophisticated kind of woman he’s interested in. It’s only with Wyatt that she feels free to be herself.
Surprisingly, her father accepts Wyatt whereas he remains cool towards Eaton. Dorothy soon realizes that she needs to keep her feelings about Eaton hidden as her posh blonde barracuda of a boss also has the English charmer in her sights. When knowledge that something is wrong at her father’s business reaches her, Dorothy remembers Wyatt saying he trained as an accountant and asks for his help trying to decipher who is embezzling money and driving her father towards ruin.
In getting to know bubbly Dorothy, Wyatt learns about her childhood spent on the very beach upon which the Americans have been assigned to land. Her knowledge of the area helps her scan the photos to produce accurate maps the two navies will need to bombard the beaches and support the landings. Dorothy tells him things about herself she hides from Eaton while Wyatt spills all the dark secrets from his past. Dorothy is stunned that through all his trials – some of his own making and some he’s had to endure – his faith has never wavered while hers has taken hits and faltered.
Together they make a pact to help the other do something each has resisted but with time running out before they’re locked down for the lead up to the invasion, will they be able to do and say everything that they might not be able to do later?
I agree with what you mention about utilizing this time period and setting – it was a time of intense effort and the chance to see what you could do under pressure. The war took people all over the world and put them into situations they’d never been raised to do but which had to be done. But these people are also human and we all make mistakes. Wyatt has made some major ones but he’s learned and become a better person – if only, as his friends and Dorothy say, he’d believe in and stop punishing himself.
It takes a close call during one of the training exercises to finally get him to begin to accept praise for what he does well. It takes Dorothy’s urging and reminders that he or his brothers might not survive the landings, to get him to seek their forgiveness. The pain of losing her brothers was bad enough but if they had been estranged at the time, she would have spent the rest of her life regretting the lost chance to make it right.
Wyatt’s open faith is almost too much for Dorothy’s British reserve but his thoughts on religion and efforts to get Dorothy to think about what it means to trust God begin to take root. This is a very faith heavy book but I never felt as if I was a sinner being preached at. Wyatt never does that to Dorothy either. Instead he tries to share his own faith and help her regain hers but it’s done with love and kindness rather than coercion.
I thought the wartime activities and life in London were well done. There’s enough detail to set the stage but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. The scenes during the start of Neptune/Overlord are tense and realistic with Wyatt’s (fictitious) ship taking on some of the actions of the Carmick, McCook and other destroyers on that day. While I would certainly hope that no officers would let their personal issues overcloud their judgment during such a crucial time, it did add to the drama and brought Dorothy’s final “Come to Jesus” moment to the fore.
The resolution of Dorothy’s father’s issues is tied in with that of their family ones. Okay so it’s during wartime and I’ll buy into the quickness with which he and Dorothy reunite. The romance has been growing over the course of the book with little moments and details highlighting how Dorothy and Wyatt are falling for each other. It’s a nice twist that it looks as if Wyatt might become a male-war bride. Hey, Cary Grant did it in the movie of the same name. I kept waiting for the moment when Wyatt heard back from his brothers but it looks as if that will be shown in the rest of the series. I’ll be waiting for them. B