85 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative
This is a "what might have been" novel - what might have happened had Churchill not gained power at a critical moment and the government continued a policy of appeasement. It is set in 1952, 12 years after a treaty is made with Germany. In the intervening years Britain has become an authoritarian state which increasingly collaborates with the German Nazi government. There...
Published 24 months ago by Bron
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Dreary Alternate History 'Thriller'
C. J. Sansom promises much and delivers little in 'Dominion,' a bloated alternate history thriller. He combines the usual failings of such genre fair - shaky characterisation, limited emotional or thematic depth and an improbable plot - with his characteristically turgid prose, and yet fails to generate much in the way of narrative drive or excitement to hold the reader's...
Published 1 month ago by Richard Bagshaw
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Utter piffle!,
How amazing that someone who can write such brilliant books as the Shardlake historical novels can come up with such drivel. Totally unbelievable plot with silly characters. The story rambles on for nearly 700 pages, which could have been told in 100.
1.0 out of 5 stars Without the padding and back story, you have a short story without a decent plot.,
This review is from: Dominion (Kindle Edition)
I like Shardlake, which is why I stick with C J Sansom. The Shardlake books are all characteristic of the way Mr Sansom writes, using long expositions of plot and back story conveyed in stilted conversation, or just written out. Professional writers call this, telling rather than showing, and Mr Sansom does it a lot. The plot is what drives Mr Sansom’s books. In Shardlake the plotting has become steadily more preposterous as the books progressed. But I like Shardlake, the character, and all the back storying has been revealed over a series of books.
Dominion is the same yet different. The plot isn’t entirely preposterous, except for one central point; it is ridiculously improbable. Other reviews have explained that the book is set in a post surrender Britain of 1950 something. One central character, a veritable oddball and significantly useless has, in the most unlikely of circumstances, become possessed of a secret. That atom bombs can be made from a manageable amount of uranium if you process it right. The people who already know the secret, the Americans, seem to urgently want him pulled out of the country. OK, but the world knows about the bomb. The Americans put it in the newsreels. It’s not much of a secret.
The British resistance movement are encouraged to rescue our oddball. He was in a mental hospital having been driven mad by the mundane events that caused him to learn “the secret”. Give me a break; His security risk brother, who works on the bomb project, was allowed to come to a German allied state (Britain) for his mother's funeral and in a drunken argument reveals "the secret". Our character goes mad at the knowledge (perhaps he didn't get the newsreels) and throws his brother out of a window - sigh.
The Germans know that our idiot savant has a nuclear secret and want him. Why, in a totalitarian state, the forces in charge simply didn’t pick him up heaven only knows. Instead a number of heroic resistance fighters risk all, quite a few being killed, and a very useful spy network in government circles collapses, all to get this relatively useless individual out of the country and to America. I mean for pities sake, the resistance would simply kill him, if they could be bothered. The American’s don’t need him and the resistance are losing good useful fighters like ninepins to keep him alive, for a secret that isn't really secret.
In other news, the back story exposition of the main characters lives is wearing. As much as the whole Shardlake series in one book. The characters are made of oak and I just couldn’t get interested in them. The only character I found I had any sympathetic interest in is Natalia, a highly placed resistance member of Eastern European origin. It’s never explained what she does/did at the time the story begins, but that doesn’t matter; you just know she’s hot. But so was Betty Boop and she had better lines
Overall it just isn’t worth the effort.
5.0 out of 5 stars Alternate history as alegory,
This review is from: Dominion (Hardcover)
I have just read this excellent book. One of the most striking parts, indeed it seems his reason for writing it, is fictional alternate world as allegory. This book airs its authors worries about the cancer of nationalism creeping once again over Europe by re-imagining what would have happened if we had surrendered, as so many wanted to, in 1940. If, then, one views this work in part as a warning for the present and future then of course one can understand why the author has to both labouriously recreate for the reader the domestic and geopolitical climate of the times but also add further meat to the story by fleshing out historical characters and demonstrating conceivably how people, who some will know from their general knowledge or history (though for instance how many contemporary everyman/woman know who Nye Bevin, Beaverbroke, Atlee were?) could have acted as they did in this book.
On a literary level I found the book compelling, it sets a plausible scene and fleshes out the characters well and allows us to understand their motivations, in depth. Natalia is painted a bit lite but other main characters are credible and the dialogue is seldom clunky or amateur. Where, for me, this book falls down slightly is in its denouement, emotions and sympathies are revealed in a rushed and not all together credible way. Mitigating this however is the context in which the book was written, the author admits in the note at the back to have completed the book while undergoing treatment for cancer and so bringing it to an end a trifle hastily can be entirely understood. be in no doubt though this is a good book, maybe even an excellent book and a thought provoking read. The author is to be commended for stepping out of his comfort zone, writing it and what is more arguing its case eloquently at the end. Read the authors note at teh end of the book once you have finished reading it. It is well worth it.
2.0 out of 5 stars If this is a British thriller, no wonder they don't make many of them into films,
I read this recently while on holiday so had the time to get through what is, by any reckoning, a very long book, and by the time I finished it was a true test of endurance. A very interesting premise rapidly (the only thing in the book that is rapid) turns into a tedious, unengaging narrative that, ultimately, goes nowhere. True thrills and excitement are few and far between, the author instead turning this into the most tedious parade of stiff upper lip nonsense I've read in a long while. If you're into a gripping wartime/post-war thriller, this is not for you; if you want a story about a bunch of pretty dull characters wandering about, punctuated by the occassional cup of tea, then this will be right up your street. All the characters are from the British Book of Cliches (long suffering button-down wife, repressed husband, university chum, eccentric scientist, hot-blooded Scot, aggressive Cockney, mysterious foreigner, the list goes on). In an attempt to introduce some sparkle, the author makes one of the characters secretly Jewish but then feels the need to remind the reader of this every single chapter, in case we'd forgotten, which rapiidly gets tiresome. The true tragedy is that the author has included a post-script which is actually very interesting - this only serves to highlight how dull the actual book is. Definitely one to avoid. The only reason I haven't given this one star is because I at least managed to finish it (the last book I gave one star I not only stopped reading but threw in the bin in disgust).
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternate history makes for an enjoyable thriller,
This review is from: Dominion (Kindle Edition)
There are a lot of reviewers who have taken issue with some of author Sansom's historical revisionism in Dominion, as well as the bit of political diatribe in his historical notes included after the book. Fortunately, for me at least, I'm no expert on British politics in the early twentieth century, nor do I care much about Mr. Sansom's present-day politics. All I was interested in, when I bought this book, was reading a good thriller based on an alternate version of what happened during World War II, and this is what I got: The story takes place in 1952, twelve years after Britain made an early peace with Germany, which then conquered all of Europe until it got bogged down in Russia.
The story harks back to many 1960s Cold War thrillers: a scientist has to be spirited away from the enemy before they can use his knowledge to help them conquer the world. In this case, the scientist is British and, after a mental breakdown, he is in an asylum. The Germans want to get him out but have to struggle with, among other things, the British bureaucracy, in order to get to him without making a major incident about it. The Americans don't want the Germans to get their hands on the scientist, so they use the British Resistance to try and spirit him to a submarine waiting off the English coast. Most of the characters are well-drawn and interesting, and there is lots of historical detail, both real and alternate, to create a fully-realized universe for the characters to inhabit. The story starts slowly and threatens to get bogged down in certain parts, but mostly it builds toward a riveting ending, making for an over-all really good read.
2.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas, bad execution,
The premise for this novel sounds very interesting, but sadly it never really lived up to this promise. The basic plot is that after the retreat from Dunkirk Great Britain decides to surrender to Nazi Germany. While the British Empire is allowed to exist it becomes increasingly more fascist in its views and becomes almost a satellite state for Germany, with Gestapo officers operating with near impunity on the streets of London. The main character is a mild mannered civil servant who works for the resistance, slipping classified information to the network of anti-fascists trying to loosen the Reichs grip on Britain. When one of his University friends learns a great secret that could change the course of the war he must risk everything to protect him.
While the book is very well researched and packed with neat little historical titbits it falls down when it comes to the story itself. The protagonist is tremendously boring, and Frank Muncaster (the MacGuffin that sets the story in motion) is equally so, which is hard to fathom considering he is partially insane. Muncaster's frequent flashbacks to his youth being incredibly uninteresting and barely contribute anything to the actual plot. While there are some slightly more interesting supporting characters, particularly the other resistance members who join the protagonist, they're all still quite one dimensional and are pretty much to a man (or woman) driven by some tragedy in their past (my brother was killed, my parents disowned me for being gay, my son died in an accident etc.)
I think the single worst aspect of the novel though was the fact that the entire alternate history conceit was entirely unnecessary. The story could have been easily moved to occupied France with only a few tweaks to the story, aside from the author working the Great Smog of 1952 into the novel the alternate history aspect really had no impact.
2.0 out of 5 stars Great concept, anodyne in the execution.,
Dominion - C J Sansom (Published by Mantle 2012)
This is going to be a difficult review to get right because C J Sansom is both big and local (he lives somewhere in leafy Sussex) and in many respects I am, frankly, just not worthy. I loved the idea of this book and I had wanted to read it for a long time. And I still love the idea of the book, but like a long-planned but ill-researched holiday, the reality didn't quite match up to my expectations. Think excitedly Robert Harris, Fatherland, or George Orwell, 1984 and then think, oh dear, not like them at all actually.
The idea is great, juicy, clever and requires the kind of diligent attention-to-detail that Sansom is renowned for in his Sheldrake series. Set in 1952 in an alternate history version of London after the disaster of Dunkirk, the UKs made an uncomfortable peace with the Nazi regime. Churchill never became Prime Minister and things have gone all hell in a handcarty. Britain is part of a Pax Germania, under the German Dominion so able to govern itself, but with a bucket of oily Nazi influence behind the scenes. In this version of our history Beaverbrook is the PM, Churchill is the resistance leader on the run and Bernard Oswald Moseley (he of blackshirt and Nazi sympathies) is the Home Secretary. So far, so good, and as you can see, very historically juicy.
Our hero is a nondescript British civil servant who's mother was a Jew. David is as dull and repressed as many a British hero in fiction down the ages. Strong resonances here with much of our fictional heritage, we're after all told to write things that are either refreshingly different or homely and familiar! This was as familiar and homely as Penelope Wilton in her best cardigan. There's tragedy in David life, he and his wife Sarah lost their little boy in a tragic accident in their home and this has led to their marriage becoming little more than house-sharing. Into this deep frozen relationship the fires of rebellion are kindled in David as his natural antipathy to the way the country is falling under the influence of the Nazi apologists links with knowledge of what the Nazis have done to the Jews. David lives in fear of being outed as a Jew and rounded up with other British Jews into concentration camps (this process of liquidation is just under way as the story opens). So David becomes a spy for the resistance, his job as a civil servant giving him access to top secret papers in the Dominion Office that will be of help to the rebels. And, without giving away any spoilers (I'll never do that in my reviews) the plot follows the twists and turns of David's work as a spy and the mission he's given trying smuggle an old school friend who has sensitive information out to the Americans.
The diligence and attention-to-detail of this historical narrative is, well, diligent and details are indeed very well attended to. Everything has been thought through and CJ has had so much fun spinning the fine web of alternate history, imagining what might have happened to who, when, what and how. It all seems eminently plausible and the smog-ridden London of 1952 is brilliantly evoked. The background is impeccably detailed, the film set as it were, waiting for the drama personae and the plot to come exploding out into the beautifully constructed surroundings. And this is where I had trouble, the characters were extremely familiar, comforting for many readers, but way to samey for me. And whilst this alternative history is certainly politically and philosophically interesting, it felt way too samey as well. Read a surfeit of thriller fiction set in the 1950s and it would be the same. The words slipped in easily enough and so did the story, so good job CJ but it so much more Daily Mail than Guardian in terms of the complexity of the story sitting above such a beautifully constructed conceit.
I wanted visceral and real, what I got was familiar and actually, a little hackneyed, even down to the Whoops-Mr-Rothschild-where's-your-apples-and-pears cockney accent of the working class Londoners encountered in the story. So, I read it to the end, but it became a chore as David was so anodyne as to not really be of interest and even the supposed love interest with a spicy Eastern European hardened femme fatale was well, pretty uninteresting actually. Suitable for the kind of stiff-shirted folk who like their fiction to observe class boundaries and play it safe which is such a shame considering the scope CJ's diligent research provided in terms of the potential of this story idea. The characters were two dimensional pastiches walking around in a rich, three dimensional world. The massive complexifest of the historical backdrop was, I felt, totally wasted by a very pedestrian and unoriginal spy-flick plot-line. Yawn!
(** Two stars)
Sorry CJ, I am, of course, not worthy and my opinion doesn't really matter a hill of beans to a writer who has done so very well. Story-telling for the best-selling white-bread, sell them high and cheap market from such promising seeds. But good luck to you Sir, you clearly know your onions as do your publishers as you sell so many books.
3.0 out of 5 stars Having enjoyed Winter in Madrid a few years ago,
This review is from: Dominion (Kindle Edition)
Having enjoyed Winter in Madrid a few years ago, I came to this novel with high expectations, and, to be honest, I was rather disappointed. It's a perfectly decent thriller, which trots along at a good pace with plenty of dramatic tension. My main problem is that Sansom seems preoccupied with the alternative history aspect rather than character development or description. For example, some of the dialogue does not ring true, as certain characters fill in detail about the alternative history, or have political discussions when they should be terrified. It is almost as if they are talking to the reader rather that to each other, saying "Look how plausible this is".
And it is plausible, of course, Sansom has done his research, although others have noted that Enoch Powell, racist though he was, was anti-appeasement, and I'm still not convinced about Churchill using Chartwell as what seems to be a Resistance fortified camp right under fascist noses, just because his son is being used as a stooge in the Fascist government. Also, at the end, would the SS really organise an ambush of 6 people using just 6 people? As a naive layman, you would want 2:1 odds, surely?
The characters seem distant, and although the plot moves along I felt it hard to identify with any character, and by the end I did not care much. The best bit was the description and justification of Sansom's alternative history at the end, and I felt he wanted to expand and discuss this rather that to layer a thriller on top.
3.0 out of 5 stars Alternate history lecture slow on pace,
It's always fascinating to speculate (from the comfortable distance of the 21st century) what Britain would have been like if Hitler had won the war. Sansom gives us a detailed picture of one possible outcome. Aspects like the (historical) rivalry between the German army and the SS state, and between communist and conservative resistance groups are nicely touched upon. The problem is that the story often seems to play second fiddle to the alternate history presented here. Whole chunks of text read like Wikipedia articles. The characters sometimes seem to exist only to illustrate particular viewpoints; the main character just happens to be a Jew, his wife a pacifist, her brother-in-law a Blackshirt sympathiser. As other reviewers have noted, key elements of the plot feel implausible; to quote just one example, the SS, convinced of the world-shattering importance of our heroes, send just six men to apprehend them. And so on.
Possibly the most damning criticism of DOMINION is that it has all been done before, thirty years earlier, by Len Deighton in his superior SS-GB. The central plot McGuffin is the same, the main characters all find parallels in the earlier work (the crippled scientist, the exotic love interest, the sinister Establishment figure who initiates our hero into the world of the Resistance), even the names of the SS men dispatched to England are suspiciously similar (Huth/Hoth). It's as if Sansom was subconsciously channelling Deighton when writing this book. But whereas SS-GB weighs in at a trim 334 pages, DOMINION counts a flabby 690. The first half of the book just drags. The second, as the Great Smog descends on London, is much better but never comes close to matching the thrilling pace of Deighton's novel. For an informative AND exciting look at a Nazi Britain hotfoot it over to the SS-GB page.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written and doesn't engage the reader,
My goodness this book irritated me. It's rare that I have to force myself to finish a book, but I did so with this one. The writing is not particularly good, with overly long descriptive passages and a lazy "cod Scottish" accent employed to no good effect for one principal character. The story itself takes an age to develop.
A story about Britain under Nazi occupation inevitably begs comparison with Len Deighton's SS-GB. This isn't half as well-written, nor anywhere near as believable. Avoid this one and buy Deighton's book instead.
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Dominion by C. J. Sansom