The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin
In 1943, Private Clay Paxton trains hard with the US Army Rangers at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, determined to do his best in the upcoming Allied invasion of France. With his future stolen by his brothers’ betrayal, Clay has only one thing to live for—fulfilling the recurring dream of his death.
Leah Jones works as a librarian at Camp Forrest, longing to rise above her orphanage upbringing and belong to the community, even as she uses her spare time to search for her real family—the baby sisters she was separated from so long ago.
After Clay saves Leah’s life from a brutal attack, he saves her virtue with a marriage of convenience. When he ships out to train in England for D-day, their letters bind them together over the distance—but can a love strong enough to overcome death grow between them before Clay’s recurring dream comes true?
Ah, The Land Beneath Us! The book that (almost) snapped me out of a reading slump. (It didn’t cause me to start reading other books, but I read this one in less than a day nonetheless!)
All that aside, this is one of my favorite Sundin books now! It’s not my absolute favorite (the romance wasn’t as swoony as With Every Letter, Blue Skies Tomorrow, or A Distant Melody to me), but it’s up there!
Let’s dive into why this is such a great read (even though I’m sure I’ll get across more inarticulate mumblings than anything – it’s hard to talk legibly about a book you just loved!).
Honestly, I didn’t really get so much into the romance as into the plot & themes of the book. Oh, and the characters! Those were what really carried the novel for me.
I liked Leah a lot. She was a noble character who I admired, thought was a nice twist on your typical “bookworm main character” (and she seemed more realistic to me than most), had a strong faith, and always remained true to what the author presented her as. (Most fictional dreamers with a soft heart really don’t.)
I was really disappointed with the conclusion to her family’s story, and I couldn’t agree with it (I’m sorry, but … I would want to know even if I was happy, mmkay? I’d rather be miserable and know the truth!), but I understand why the author chose to make it that way.
Clay was also pretty great! I went into this book thinking I wouldn’t care about him, but his dream, and his peace with it, and just that whole plotline was SO. GOOD. You don’t see authors doing that kind of thing in books nowadays, but it’s both feasible and really cool (in a … kinda sad way …). I adored the way the author put it back on Clay, making it his choice how it ended even though he liked to pretend it was fated, sort of.
Also … everything about Helen. Gahhhh!
I was a bit concerned that the author underplayed certain elements of PTSD which might have been stronger in real life. However, given the main character, perhaps that’s feasible. I’m really not sure. I mean, with God, it’s possible, but …? I don’t know.
I also loved that Leah was Greek, all the talk about the muses, the truth about her family (yes, I wasn’t happy with the conclusion, but the fact behind it was great!), and just … all of that. Sundin is marvelous at culture. I loved seeing her exploring some different settings and different groups of people!
p.s. we need more mother-in-laws like Mrs. Paxton!
For these elements, and some little-discussed ones in Christian fiction that just added marvelously to the story, I adored the book.
I was never really as convinced of Leah and Clay’s relationship as in Sundin’s other books, however. I think it was because there wasn’t really time or space for “chemistry” between them. Sundin is a master of this, but … not so much space in this one.
However, since I know in any other circumstance it would’ve been swoonworthy, well, I’ll just let it go. 😉
Overall, this was another win! I’d give it more than 5 stars if I could, but since that’s all that I have to offer …
Content Warnings: multiple murder/rapes are alluded to, a child is conceived from rape, blood/wounds from a violent attack are mentioned, past sins from the brothers are alluded to (cheating, fornication, stealing). Basically, something like 16+. Sundin is quite tasteful, though, and like I said, so excited about how she handled the whole “marriage of convenience” trope.
Does this sound like a book you’d enjoy? Do you enjoy WWII fiction? Isn’t this THE BEST series!?