Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin

Through Waters Deep (Waves of Freedom #1)
By: Sarah Sundin
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2342-2


Following a childhood trauma, Mary Stirling’s primary goal in life became a concerted effort to remain as unobtrusive and unnoticed as possible – for pride in one’s self and accomplishments brings notice, and as her mother was always quick to remind her, pride comes before a fall. Now a secretary at the Boston Navy Yard, far from family and the memories that so rigidly defined her, she excels at her job, but is careful to do all she can to remain out of the spotlight. With war in Europe leading to an increasingly tense environment on American shores, rumors of sabotage between rival isolationist and interventionist political factions swirl around the Navy Yard. When a bottle of champagne at the latest launch – organized by Mary – is found to have been refilled with gasoline, the nebulous, rumored dangers at long last become a frightening reality. The ever-observant, always invisible Mary is perfectly placed to ferret out talk of sabotage – she goes everywhere and is remarked by no one. But as the pre-war tensions escalate, Mary’s amateur sleuthing efforts could bring her the kind of notice she never anticipated – the notice of a desperate saboteur willing to do anything – or hurt anyone – to achieve their aim.

Ensign Jim Avery welcomes the renewal Mary’s friendship when the one-time schoolmates reunite at the Navy Yard where Jim’s brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood, is about to be commissioned. While he never viewed Mary romantically, instead preferring her best friend, the unattainable golden girl Quintessa, the more time he spends in Mary’s company the more he comes to appreciate her steadfast nature and quiet beauty. But just as he begins to realize the depth of his feelings, his orders send him out to sea and into danger, where a crude sabotage attempt is discovered. As tensions rise at home and abroad, the need to discover the saboteur at the Navy Yard increases as Jim and his fellow sailors face increasing threats from U-boats intent on stopping Lend-Lease convoys. The coming conflict forces both Mary and Jim to a crossroads, where each must decide whether or not they have the courage to face their fears and seize their chance at victory in life and love in the shadow of war.

The period leading up to and covering the second World War has long been one of my favorite areas of study, and film and fiction set during this period are guaranteed to pique my interest. As such Sarah Sundin’s novels have long been on my radar, but due to the ever evolving height of my to be read pile, I’ve yet to read her work until now. And, full disclosure, I totally picked this book to start with as I think the cover is stunning – that red dress! Swoon! Here Sundin dives into what has always been in my experience a relatively untapped market in historical fiction – stories set on the American homefront. Movies and novels covering this time frame are more often than not set in the action-heavy locations of the European or Pacific theaters of conflict. Happily, this first installment in Sundin’s Waves of Freedom series fills that gap, exploring the social and political tensions that regular citizens confronted on a daily basis, tensions Mary finds in one of its most extreme forms as sabotage and accusations fly around the Navy Yard.

Sundin’s characters are a delightful throwback, capturing the mannerisms and worldview of the time period with an authentic flair. While the nautical metaphors – such as Jim’s well-meant but ill-advised preference to “float” through life, thus avoiding accountability for decisions that could harm others, and both Jim and Mary’s reluctance to “make waves” either professionally or personally – wore thin as the novel progressed, one cannot fail to appreciate Sundin’s characterization, so critical in bringing the setting to vibrant life on the page. Mary and Jim, as well as their friends and colleagues, speak with the rhythms of the time period, their dialogue and worldview resonating as though it could have stepped straight from the pages of a 1940s-era Hollywood script.

I loved Mary’s character, even as I swung between heart-wrenching empathy regarding her self-confidence struggles and mind-blowing frustration at her seeming inability to ever stand up for herself. But that very tension is what made her such a compelling, relatable character, one I loved all the more for being a woman so wholly of her time. Despite her reluctance to ever step into the spotlight, I loved her hidden spunk, born of her passion for mysteries and an appreciation of the iconic – and always confident – sleuth Nancy Drew. Likewise, Jim is an everyman hero with a laid-back appeal reminiscent of the likes of a young Jimmy Stewart or Robert Taylor, all boyish charm and earnest heroism.

The friends-to-lovers trope has rarely been handled better, as Sundin deftly illustrates Jim and Mary’s respective maturation and slow-burning, simmering regard for each other slowly transform into the possibility of something more. It’s a bit rare for me to find swoon-worthy quotes in my much-loved inspy romances, but when Jim returns from his first deployment, eager to declare his feelings to Mary, and practices his opening gambit – “ever since we said good-bye, I couldn’t wait to say hello” – I was a GONER. That moment perfectly encapsulates why I love the romance of classic film and proves that Sundin must be, in that respect at least, a kindred spirit, able in that one rhythmic, heartfelt declaration to catapult Jim and Mary’s romance high onto my list of all-time favorites.

As the proud granddaughter of a Navy veteran, I loved the subject of Sundin’s latest series and couldn’t help but imagine a bit of my grandfather and grandmother’s wartime experiences alongside those of Jim and Mary (although to my knowledge they never encountered a saboteur! *wink*). Sundin spins her tale of life and love on the cusp of wartime with a compelling warmth and authenticity that speaks to both her affinity for her subject and her knowledge of the time period. I loved her focus on the homefront, particularly Mary’s – and her roommates – working woman status, hinting at the professional opportunities to come for women during the coming conflict.

Through Waters Deep is a thoroughly entertaining, engaging tale, a deft blend of history, romance, and a dash of intrigue. Sundin alternates points-of-view between Mary and Jim, which works for the most part – until one is left with a cliffhanger ending, to be resolved in the next alternating chapter. But setting aside that narrative issue, Mary and Jim’s story proved to be the perfect entry point into Sundin’s work. Her sense of time and place made the history-lover in me sing while her delicately-rendered romance made me swoon. Through Waters Deep is a beautiful story of second chances and bravery. I’m more eager than ever to catch up on Sundin’s backlist!

About the book:

It is 1941 and America teeters on the brink of war. Handsome and outgoing naval officer Ensign Jim Avery escorts British convoys across the North Atlantic in a brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood. On shore, Jim encounters Mary Stirling, a childhood friend who is now an astute and beautiful Boston Navy Yard secretary.

When evidence of sabotage on the Atwood is discovered, Jim and Mary must work together to uncover the culprit. A bewildering maze of suspects emerges, and Mary is dismayed to find that even someone close to her is under suspicion. With the increasing pressure, Jim and Mary find that many new challenges -- and dangers -- await them.


  1. What a lovely and thoughtful review, Ruth! I'm so glad you enjoyed Jim & Mary's story!

    1. Sarah, I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment! Honored that you took the time to check out my review. :) Just loved Jim & Mary's story and I look forward to reading your future writing endeavours!