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Dominion

Source: Review copy from Mulholland Books
Rating: ★★★★☆

Jim spoke then: “In the trenches, at night, sometimes it could get really quiet.  People don’t realize that.  Then the big guns would start up over on the German side, somewhere down the line.  And I used to sit there, wondering if the sound would get closer, if the shells would maybe land on us.  I used to think, there’s some young fellow just like me over there, sweating to load one big shell after another.  Just a young chap like me.  It was nights like that which made me understand that war is totally wrong.  Not in the heat of battle, but during the quiet moments when you had a chance to think.”

(from Dominion, page 93)

In Dominion, C.J. Sansom reimagines the events of World War II after 5 p.m. on May 9, 1940.  Imagine a world where Lord Halifax became prime minister instead of Winston Churchill, a world where people feared a repeat of the bloodshed of World War I, so much so that World War II never happened, with the Nazi invasion of Norway and the retreat of the British troops putting a stop to the fighting.  This is a world where Britain signed a peace treaty with Germany, under which Britain would keep its Empire, Hitler would take the rest of Europe, and Churchill, correct in the assumption that the treaty would lead to German dominion over Britain, goes underground to stir up resistance.

The novel is set in 1952, with Germany still at war with Russia and Britain suffering from rampant unemployment and poverty.  The novel focuses on four characters: David Fitzgerald, a veteran of the 1939-40 war and a civil servant in the Dominions Office who hides his mother’s Jewish ancestry and works as a spy for Churchill’s Resistance; Sarah, David’s wife, who is unaware of her husband’s Resistance ties and thinks he is having an affair, as the accidental death of their toddler son has taken a toll on their marriage; Frank Muncaster, a geologist at Birmingham University and an old friend of David’s who was sent to a mental hospital after an altercation with his brother; and Gunther Hoth, a Gestapo agent known for his success in tracking down hidden Jews who feels worn out and hopes a new assignment will give him the opportunity to do something important with his life.

Gunther is tasked with finding out what Frank knows about his brother’s work in America on the atomic bomb — intelligence that the SS wants in order to further its nuclear program and ultimately win the war against Russia.  David, however, has been given the task of rescuing Frank, which puts both him and his wife on Gunther’s radar.  Meanwhile, Sarah, the daughter of a WWI veteran and staunch pacifist, witnesses violence in the streets and the relocation of London’s Jews, forcing her to question her beliefs.

At more than 600 pages, Dominion is a novel that takes a bit of effort to get through.  It was hard to push all that I’ve learned about WWII over the years out of my mind and suspend disbelief, but it really is a novel where you have to go with the flow.  I had some trouble following all the politics and understanding how this alternate world came about, but Sansom doles out plenty of details as you go along.  Because so many details have to be given in order for readers to buy into this version of events, the story starts off slow, and in the end, is probably longer than it needs to be.

However, there were a lot of things I liked about this novel.  Sansom does a great job developing his characters.  I felt like I really understood them and their motivations.  There are many references to the London fog, or the Great Smog of 1952, which helps evoke a dreary atmosphere that is perfect for a dark, suspenseful novel.

Overall, I enjoyed Dominion for provoking much thought about what could have happened had Hitler’s Reich lasted longer than it did.  I appreciated the author’s notes at the end, where Sansom explains his ideas for the book and the vast amount of research that went into its creation.  Ultimately, it’s a novel that is a bit scary in contemplating how many more lives could have been lost but also hopeful in realizing that, regardless of the scenario, there always will be courageous men and women willing to resist and fight back.

Thanks to Amy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for Dominion.  Click the image below for more information about the book and to follow the tour.

Dominion_Tour Banner

war challenge with a twist

Book 7 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

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Book 9 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 3 for the European Reading Challenge (United Kingdom)

Disclosure: I received Dominion from Mulholland Books for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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