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Dominion Paperback – 12 Sep 2013
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‘C. J. Sansom takes a break from his Shardlake series to offer Dominion, an absorbing, thoughtful, spy-politico thriller set in the fog-ridden London of 1952. Not, however, the year as it is usually remembered. Sansom has attempted a difficult format ― the “what if?” novel. What if, in 1940, Lord Halifax became prime minister instead of Churchill? Britain would have made peace with Hitler, Sansom answers, and by 1952 become a totalitarian state, with Germany, acting as puppet-master rather than invader, setting the scene. Churchill, in hiding, is leader of a resistance movement, to which the hero of Dominion, David Fitzgerald, a civil servant hiding his Jewishness, belongs. Part adventure, part espionage, all encompassed by terrific atmosphere and a well-argued “it might have been”’ Marcel Berlins, The Times
‘An intriguing thriller set in an alternative Britain under the Nazis cunningly reanimates the post-war years as they might have been . . . What if the second world war had ended not in 1945, but in 1940? In this haunting, vividly imagined novel by C. J. Sansom, the hinge on which history turns is the resignation of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. . . As in the Shardlake novels, set in Tudor England, for which he is best known, Sansom is an admirably expansive and unhurried storyteller. His characters are all given personal histories and richly detailed pasts that serve to provide them with a depth more usually associated with literary fiction than the thriller. Their conversations do more than just drive forward the plot: they help to give substance and reality to the world they inhabit. The alternative Britain that Sansom constructs, a brilliant amalgam of the 1950s as they actually were and as they might have been, is entirely convincing. Throwaway details cleverly add verisimilitude to his portrait. The tale he sets within his parallel universe is at once exciting, sophisticated and moving. There will be few better historical novels published this year’ Sunday Times
‘This is a big novel with traces of a thriller, in which the good are good and the bad are very bad indeed . . . For readers who enjoy a grown-up adventure story Dominion is evocative, alarming and richly satisfying’ Daily Express
‘Masterly . . . sketched with hallucinatory clarity . . . Sansom, whose Tudor mysteries showed his feeling for the plight of good people in a brutal, treacherous society, builds his nightmare Britain from the sooty bricks of truth . . . From the thuggish "Auxies" who beat up protestors to the apolitical rebellion of the "Jive Boys", every note in Sansom's smoggy hell rings true . . .No bulldog defiance in 1940; no weary triumph in 1945; no dogged renewal with the post-war Welfare State: Dominion shows us what a truly broken Britain would look, and feel, like’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent
‘A thriller which is also, and perhaps primarily, a work of alternative or counter-factual history, set in 1952 . . . in the manner of Robert Harris’s Fatherland. There are fine things a-plenty here, and the plot unfolds compellingly and gallops along briskly. C. J. Sansom has brought off a nice double, writing a good thriller which invites you to ponder the different course history might have taken’ Allan Massie, Scotsman
‘C. J. Sansom is fascinated by the abuse of power, so it's not surprising that, hot on the heels of his splendid Shardlake series, comes a novel set in a post-war Britain dominated by Nazi ideology . . . There have been a number of other novels imagining this kind of alternate history – Robert Harris's Fatherland, Owen Sheers' Resistance, Len Deighton's SS-GB and, for children, Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon. All are outstanding in different ways but Sansom's Dominion is the most thoroughly imagined in all its ramifications. Like Harris, Sansom has woven a thriller with the tale of a man's growth into moral courage, but he has done it with the compassion and richness that many literary writers should emulate. Every detail of this nightmare Britain rings true . . . As in Sansom's Winter in Madrid, the clash between compassion and political conviction is dramatised. David's looks and talent make him as freakish in his way as frail, disabled Frank, and the friendship between someone who can survive institutions and someone who cannot is one of the most affecting aspects of the novel . . . Naturally, the weather is awful, and obliges with a choking, oily fog as our heroes battle against hideous odds to get to safety. But both as a historical novel and a thriller, Dominion is absorbing, mordant and written with a passionate persuasiveness . . . Bravo!’ Independent on Sunday
‘One of the thrills of Dominion is to see a writer whose previous talent has been for the captivating dramatisation of real history (in his five books about the Tudor sleuth, Matthew Shardlake, and the Spanish civil war novel Winter in Madrid) creating an invented mid-20th century Britain that has the intricate detail and delineation of JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth . . .A tremendous novel that shakes historical preconceptions while also sending shivers down the spine’ Mark Lawson, Guardian
‘The chase is exciting and the action thrilling, but the really absorbing part of this excellent book is the detailed creation of a society that could so easily have existed’ Literary Review
‘Fans of Robert Harris will love this’ Mail on Sunday
Dominion is terrific. And no, this isn't one of those publisher-sponsored blurbs. I just fell in love with it. Nice and long, too. (Stephen King)
The Great Smog. London. A dense, choking fog engulfs the city and beneath it, history is re-written . . .See all Product description
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This is a Britain where the war was ended shortly after Dunkirk. Churchill leads a clandestine resistance movement against a puppet government that is a, well, dominion of the Third Reich.
Sansom's masterstroke is that his vision of 1950s Britain under Nazi dominion, is very much that of 1950s Britain. The Nazis have been boiling a frog with the British people, gradually increasing restrictions on British Jews, and controlling the media, but everyday life appears to have carried on much as it ever did. The novel comes in at the point where Germany is finally coming for Britain's Jews, with the European population all but wiped out, and amid much paranoia about atomic weapons.
Dominion is a slow burn of a read that gradually accelerates into a breakneck adventure in its final third, as the London Smog descends (what is it with alternate histories and freak weather? I was reminded of the closing chapters of William Gibson's steampunk bible The Difference Engine). Sansom brings together a well-drawn cast of solid characters, each with their own fears and secrets. And when each of their worlds is torn apart, the book becomes a frequently uncomfortable read. We're used to seeing Indiana Jones beat up those comedy Nazi soldiers, but Sansom gives his readers the odd glimpse of some really nasty Gestapo torture and ruthlessness, and those are sequences that will stay with me for a very long time.
Dominion is not an easy read, but it is a compelling, exciting, sometimes harrowing, but always effortlessly gripping one.
The story is engrossing and so well described that you almost read it in flickering black and white, like an old film from the period. It would have to be a British film circa 1955 ish, full of ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives keeping stiff upper lips yet who somehow, crisis by crisis, are able to do the extraordinary for the benefit of others. If this makes it sound patriotic perhaps it unwittingly is, but that is not the feeling I was left with because it is more focused on the individual characters and the fast-paced storyline than on the "greater good". As such it is more of a fascinating psychological insight into how we may, or may not, respond to the conditions we thankfully have not found ourselves in. It is also a gripping thriller which I was glad was so long but wished could have gone on even longer just because it is so good!
I think it was a brave and original book to write, one which I imagine may have caused Sansom some nightmares as he allowed himself to consider all the details, large and smaller, which may in this alternative and regimented Britain, be so very different from the freedom we accept as normal today.
As a result of reading this book I'm now reading Robert Harris's "Fatherland", which is a good thriller which happens to be set in a Germany that won the war, but it is not the gripping immersion in Sansom's dominion of a ruling Nazi Germany that this brilliant book is.
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a must for Sansom fans