Friday, November 4, 2016

Fire and Steel Vol. III: The Shadow Falls - Gerald N. Lund

Summary: How do good people mistake evil for good? Is it possible for an entire nation to be deceived?

In the third volume of master storyteller Gerald N. Lund's dynamic new series, the Eckhardt family finds itself clinging to hope in a nation on the brink of collapse. Work is scarce, food has become an extravagance, and money is practically worthless. War-torn Germany has been battered down and humiliated on an international scale, and the people have lost the pride and conviction that once carried them.

Living in such desperate circumstances leaves the people vulnerable to fall for a wolf in sheep's clothing, and Hans Eckhardt is not immune. His friend Adolf is charismatic, driven, a man of vision—seemingly, everything that Germany needs. While a few suspect that this rising new political leader may not be the rescuer they seek, many more are quick to turn a blind eye to the warning signs.

But there are bright spots amid the bleakness. Faith and family continue to provide joy and solace as life journeys forward. And a visit from two former LDS missionaries and their families brings a spark of excitement to the Eckhardts. Family life seems to be the one area unmarred by the turmoil all around them—until personal tragedy strikes.

Join the Eckhardts and their American friends the Westlands as they unknowingly dive into a momentous turning point in the world's history. (Summary and image from deseretbook.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  I didn’t review the second book in this series. After the first, I was unsure whether I’d continue with reading them, but I felt that Reader’s Guilt — oh, come on, you know the one.  You start a series, so you have to finish the series.  If you don’t, it’s like you need to turn in your Bookworm Card.  I approached this book with trepidation, for, while the second book was slightly more accelerated and interesting than the first, it felt extremely formulaic.

And then came Book Three.

To be fair, there is definitely a Lund Formula to these books.  Jokingly, while talking about how much this third installment had captivated me with friends, they asked about the first two and I summed it up thusly, "World War I, people find the church, happy, sad, gospel. And Hitler is there." Simplistic, but the general gist is there.  Not a lot happened — it felt like the first two books in the series were really just the most extensive volumes of backstory ever.  The characters behave so similarly to Lund’s famed Work and the Glory series that I think that’s why I didn’t connect with them in the first two.  I’d already known and loved that storyline, I wanted something new and wasn’t finding it.  The formula is still playing out here, but Lund has found his voice.

We join the third book at the beginning of 1919.  Our characters are doing fine although the political climate in Germany is unsettling.  And Hans’ war buddy Adolf has started to drop by more and more.  First, it’s to ask Hans’ help in assessing this new, struggling political startup called the German Workers’ Party.  Then, it’s to resolve a question about coups—why they work, why they fail.  Before we know it, Adolf Hitler is a welcome and frequent guest in our main characters’ home and a major influence in their lives.

Remember that scene from Friends when the boys are betting the girls over who knows them better, and in a frenzy, the boys raise the bet to switching apartments?  And Monica shouts “It JUST. Got. INTERESTING!!”?

That.

Gerald N. Lund is an astounding researcher.  It’s one of his greatest strengths in any series.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen his talent and his ability of bringing his research to life better than this book.  For the first time in this series, I was gripped.  I needed to know how he’d marry history and his fictional families—and while I knew the history he was talking about, I couldn’t believe how real it became.

It’s in this third book of the series that Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the GWP is illustrated.  As a fictional friend of his, Hans Eckhardt is one of his right-hand men, allowing the reader the inside glimpse into those first crucial years of what we all recognize now as the Nazi party.  Again, Lund’s research is overwhelming.  Using Mein Kampf, historical transcripts, news articles, journal entries, etc. Lund has recreated the pivotal scenes—how Hitler literally seized power from the party leaders, how he accelerated their growth and their vision, his direct hand in the party’s flag, salute, name, and rankings--along with some of Hitler's earlier orations.  The talent Lund exhibits in this book blows the preceding two books out of the water.  

However, more importantly, Lund has captured the national unrest and insecurity that allowed such madness to happen in the most chilling and clear manner.  I’ve heard clips of Hitler’s speeches, enough that as I read Lund’s story, I could hear his voice.  I know the German people, and the Austrian people, and I love them dearly. This book rang so true to me in presenting the Germans as wonderful, wonderful, loving people who were terrified of losing everything.  They were humiliated beyond compare after the Great War, feeling like their very essence had been stripped away.  They were lost, they were scared, they were starving, and they just wanted to make it better.  At the core of it, Lund has encapsulated that the general feeling among the Germans was one of correction - the desire to improve their quality of life instead of losing their lives through starvation and humiliation.

It was this terror and searching for anything that might improve their positions that gave Adolf Hitler his perfect petri dish for his political experiment, and to see Lund lay it out as such chilled me to the very core. I read this book in two days (I finished it Thursday morning after the World Series, because I was too excited to sleep.  Go CUBS!!), and as I read it, it struck me how eerily similar this plot is — how spookily parallel things can become without our realizing it.  I don’t want to get political (go vote), but reading this book truly scared me for what can become with the right orator, the right flame, and the right kindling.

I also need to mention that this book is a marriage of political history and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ in Germany at this time.  Because I served a mission for that church in Germany and Austria, the historical recounts and statistics that Lund propels his characters’ personal storylines brought tears to my eyes and a desire to serve another mission there.  It was fascinating to hear how much the Church grew at a time where there were hardly any missionaries. Also, to hear the financial and agricultural aid the Church provided was amazing.  It warmed my heart. 

Overall, I’m astounded by this book.  I don’t want to wait for another year or so for the next one to come out, however chilling it’s going to get.  In my review of the first book in this series, I implied that Lund’s ability had slipped with age.  He’s back, and this book is better than ever.

Rating: Five stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Lund recounts a barroom brawl meant to end the Nazi party and it’s quite unsettling.  Antisemitism is also introduced as a political tool.

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