Beside a Burning Sea

Written by John Shors
Review by Jane Kessler

This novel takes place during World War II in the Pacific. The hospital ship Benevolence is torpedoed by the Japanese near the Solomon Islands. Only nine people aboard the ship survive by swimming to a nearby uninhabited island. Two of the survivors are nurses and sisters, Isabelle and Annie. Isabelle is married to the ship’s captain, Joshua Collins, who survives but is devastated by the loss of so many lives on his watch. Also among the survivors is a wounded Japanese soldier, Akira, who had been a university professor before the war. Akira, touched by the kindness Annie showed him aboard ship, saves her when she is too weak from a bout with malaria to swim to the island. Akira is haunted by his failure to prevent a young girl from being raped and killed by Japanese soldiers earlier in the war. Not surprisingly, he and Annie are drawn to each other and fall in love, although Annie is engaged to another man. Isabelle and Joshua, who had grown apart during the war, draw closer as she helps him cope with his guilt. Most of the survivors also become close as they help each other cope with their frightening situation. They work together to survive and find a place to hide in case the Japanese land on the island, all the while attending to each other’s emotional needs.

While this story demonstrates all the horrors of war, it is also a lush, romantic tale about the healing power of love. The characters are compelling, the plot suspenseful, and the romance breathtaking. Shors is also the author of Beneath a Marble Sky, which I enjoyed tremendously. He is a wonderful storyteller, and I’m looking forward to his next book.