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Book review: Living is the best revenge in WWII historical novel 'Defiance'

"DEFIANCE: A World War II Story," by A.L. Sowards, Covenant Communications, $17.99, 310 pages (f)

It’s 1944, and Lukas Ley is an 18-year-old immigrant from Germany living in Virginia in "Defiance: A World War II Story." His older brother, Bastien, is already serving with U.S. military intelligence in Europe, and Lukas is eager to enlist to help in the war effort. Lukas' primary motivation for service lies in the circumstances of his father’s death at the hands of the Hitler regime. Unfortunately, Lukas’ preferred choice for service, the Army Air Corps, is denied to him because of his faulty eyesight.

Returning to the theme of her other World War II tales, Utah author A. L. Sowards follows the story of Lukas as he leaves home and sweetheart to participate in the events of the Battle of the Bulge.

After a series of skirmishes, accompanied by the maturing nature of war, Lukas is captured and consigned to a German prison camp. At first, he is confident and ready to endure the challenges presented, but over time, the deprivations of the camp begin to wear on his resolve. Add in the cruelty of the guards when they discover he is a native German, and Lukas finds his faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and desire to do good being challenged at levels he never expected.

Sowards’ excellent research helps her do a good job re-creating the war experience and the misery that often accompanied prisoners of war. As Lukas begins to lose friends to the ravages of war, his faith is tested and his own personal esteem is damaged. Even when he is finally released, Lukas has doubts about himself and the future he can have.

There are several nongraphic instances of beatings and war-related death, including mild descriptions of starvation. One instance of sexual assault is intimated, but specifics are not given.

Sowards, whose novel about Bastien Ley titled "The Rules in Rome" won a 2015 Whitney Award in the historical category, is the author of four other historical novels, two of which have been Whitney Award finalists.

Mike Whitmer lives in West Valley City and can be reached at