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on 23 June 2017
Imagine a world where the Nazis won... it's an incredibly over-used trope. Star Trek, Doctor Who, and just about every other science-fiction franchise have wheeled it out at some point in their long histories. And yet sometimes it can still be done incredibly well. Philip K Dick's "Man In The High Castle" remains probably the definitive American account of a German/Japanese New World Order, decades on. And C. J. Sansom's Dominion will take some beating as a much more recent, but still compelling account of history gone awry.

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.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 September 2017
This is an absolutely top notch thriller. It is set in a 1950s Britain which didn't win the war. Unlike books such as SSGB and Fatherland, Germany didn't win. In 1940, Halifax rather than Churchill became prime minister and reached a peace accord. However, having not lost the war, The UK is definitely losing the peace. With Beaverbrook now leading a government which includes Oswald Moseley and Enoch Powell, the country is increasingly falling under Teutonic influence, and morphing into a mirror image of the dominant European power. Meanwhile, an increasingly violent resistance movement lead by Churchill, Macmillan, Attlee and Bevan is making things difficult.

Germany has its own problems. Freed from fighting on the western front, it committed more resources to Russia, Stalin fell, but a murderous war continues deep in Asia. Meanwhile Hitler, suffering from Parkinson's is a remote and fragile figure, while the army and SS manoeuvre for position.

Within this alternate history, civil servant David has become a low level spy for the resistance, partially to escape the sadness of a lost child and a cooling marriage. He is thrown centre stage when a reclusive university friend is given a deadly secret by his brother working in America. The race is on to prevent the Nazis from learning that secret. However, David has a secret buried in his own past which may ruin him.

The book intertwines three stories. Whether David can and will save his marriage to Sarah. The struggle to keep the secret from the Germans, and the larger geopolitical machinations. These give it a very clear link to one of the themes of Sansom's Shardlake stories. The protaganists are swept up into their own deadly struggle, but against the bigger picture, their actions are inconsequential and have little impact on the ultimate outcome.

Just like the Shardlake novels, this book ends with an epilogue, and then with an authors view of his novel. In some ways the epilogue is the least satisfying part of the book, as Sansom allows his carefully lined up dominoes to fall over a little too easily. However, that is a minor grumble in what is a brilliantly imaged different world. I probably enjoyed this more than SS GB or Fatherland.

The author's note at the end is fascinating and a little sad. Written before the fateful referenda, Sansom is vitriolic about the rise of nationalism in Europe and has a real go at UKIP. However, as an Anglo-Scot, the real heat if his dark fire is aimed squarely at the SNP whom he sees, at best as having nothing to say or give beyond the nationalist agenda, at worst as proto-facist.
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on 19 September 2017

It is strange to read a book by CJ Sansom and not to find his traditional character Matthew Shardlake featuring. However as it is set almost 400 years in the future from Tudor England then perhaps it's not that surprising.

Sansom has written an alternative history. It is 1952 and Britain is indirectly controlled by Nazi Germany. Britain sued for peace following the evacuation from Dunkirk and whilst retaining its independence and Empire it is now in thrall to Hitler and the Third Reich. Beaverbrook is Prime Minister, Mosley is Home Secretary and the country is now an authoritarian state. Churchill is a wanted man as he leads the Resistance. Following Nazi pressure British Jews are now being rounded up.

David Fitzgerald is a Civil Servant trying to lead a normal life. However it is a double life as he also works for the Resistance. Not surprisingly he keeps that role a secret. He is contacted by a former friend from university who is seeking assistance. That friend has a secret and it is one that the Nazis are desperate to possess.

It falls to David and others within his resistance group to get his friend to safety. Pursued by a dogmatic Gestapo officer and a careerist British Special Branch Officer they face the full wrath of the state. Families, friends and strangers are sacrificed in the name of the greater good.

Sansom paints a bleak portrait of a period in history best recalled for its actual austerity. He highlights the drabness of an existence that in many ways contributes to a revolt from people of all classes. He highlights what could in all honesty have come to past and as such makes this a really compelling read.
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on 7 December 2017
Dominion is set in 1952, but in a world where Britain made peace with Germany after Dunkirk and has become a puppet state of the Third Reich. The British government is led by Beaverbrook and Moseley, but things are starting to unravel as there is unrest in the Empire, Hitler is close to death and Churchill leads a resistance movement from hiding.

The book ties real events - like the 1950s London smogs - with the fictional tale of a disillusioned civil servant turned spy, an inmate of a lunatic asylum who holds a deadly secret, and the Gestapo agent sent to track them down.

Unfortunately the pace, at least in the first half of the book, is pedestrian and the timeline is confusing as it uses flashbacks and jumps between characters taking you out of sync with other events. There are also odd spots where the action doesn't quite seem to make sense.

The 'what if the Nazis won the war' idea is always interesting but books like Robert Harris' Fatherland and Len Deighton's SS-GB have done it much better than this.
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on 20 January 2018
This has an intriguing start point, and whilst the "what if the Nazis won the war" trope has been done before, I thought that Sansom would take this in an interesting direction given that I love his Shardlake books, but it was sadly disappointing. It was curiously old-fashioned and whilst that might have been a function of the author trying to conjure up the period, this, combined with what seemed cut and paste characters and a series of scenarios that felt forced, including an anti-climactic denouement added to my frustration.
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on 27 October 2013
The story starts with a meeting that genuinely took place; Chamberlain had decided to resign as Prime Minister after the fall of Norway to the Nazis, he wanted Halifax to succeed him, but knew Churchill was the alternative successor. No-one knows what was said in that meeting, but Chamberlain emerged to advise the King to invite Churchill to form a government. In this alternative history Churchill agrees to serve under Halifax. After Dunkirk and the fall of France, Halifax sues for "an honourable peace" with Hitler, setting the story in a 1952 Britain allied with Nazi Germany. Sansom generates a tremendous atmosphere with real characters and details of life in 1950's Britain that I remember from my childhood; even the London smogs, which are hugely evocative of the time as well as being a (sometimes too) convenient component of the plot. As the British government under Beaverbrook, with Oswald Mosely as Home Secretary, suppresses democracy and the opposition, while adopting ever more extreme measures, including discrimination against and persecution of Jews, Britain's Resistance movement under an ageing Churchill has become well-organised and active. Then a fluke event results in the need to get a troubled scientist out of the country to America. The plot maintains an excellent pace and there's plenty of human drama alongside the action. There are one or two places where credibility is pushed to the limit, but the book is good enough to be given a little poetic licence here and there. Not the greatest book I've read, but a highly enjoyable page-turner.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 March 2014
What if Winston Churchill had not become British Prime Minister in 1940? His appointment turned on a small number of face to face conversations involving a handful of people. That makes it an eminently plausible jumping-off point for an alternative history in which Halifax becomes PM instead, and subsequently signs a peace treaty with Germany.

C.J. Sansom's spy thriller set in 1952 starts then with a decent premise for its alternative history setting, yet later has problems of plausibility. Choosing my words carefully so as not to give away any spoilers, the big secret which the British resistance to the country's pro-Nazi regime battles to protect is itself plausible, but the method chosen to protect it - a highly convoluted set of events when one simple death would also have done the trick - isn't.

(Some other reviewers have questioned how well the secret itself works, but given that in real life there were people who did know, people who didn't know it and people who didn't but later did know it, I think it's fair to judge by the secret's impact in real life that it is a plausible one to treat as being vital in the book too. I suspect those criticising the secret under-estimate just how important its parallel was in real life. The problem, however, is the way the secret is handled.)

The other question mark hanging over the book is its very slow pace. In itself, that's not a problem, especially if you know enough about real events and locations to be able to savour the imaginary details such as Herbert Morrison's career as Labour Party leader, what Enoch Powell got up to with India and how Senate House became the Nazi embassy in London. However, much of exposition is done via lengthy, clunky dialogue between the characters.

Yet none of that stopped me reading all the way through, especially savouring the dilemmas individuals face when their government is becoming increasingly authoritarian. At what point do you say 'enough' - and what do you then do?

That makes me recommend the book - especially if you know enough about the real historical figures to be able to enjoy the subtle twists C.J. Sansom makes to their fictional careers.

As Sansom himself says in the book, "Robert Harris's Fatherland [is] for me the best alternative history novel ever written". But even close to as enjoyable as that is still a might achievement.
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on 8 September 2017
Though very different from the Shardlake novels by the same author, this is equally as good. Full of tension and with a sense of danger hanging over all of the main characters throughout. The fact that almost all of the characters were treated with a sympathy which meant that you really cared about them - even the less than pleasant ones - meant that you did worry about them, their families and their fate.
Highly recommended - if you like your novels full of action but thought provoking. The view of a dystopian Britain rang very true to me. We are only ever a small step away from disaster in the world of politics and prejudice. This made the novel all the more gripping for me.Ignore those reviewers who gave this poor ratings. They obviously did not understand the premise behind this work and the depth of analysis that had gone into it.
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on 6 November 2013
I have to say that I loved this book. It is superbly researched and highly plausible as an alternative history. The basis of all good alternative history is a plausible "what if..." In this case the book starts with the famous meeting of Chamberlain, Lord Halifax and Churchill after the Norway defeat and explores what would have happened if Neville Chamberlain had said that Churchill lacked the support to become a plausible Prime Minister. The conclusion is that the war would have come to a swift conclusion with Britain surrendering after Dunkirk and suing for a peace that would leave the United Kingdom dominated politically and economically by Germany.

In this future, the USA remains isolationist and never enters the war. The war in the Soviet Union has ground on for 12 years of bloody stalemate and Germany dominates everything in Europe west of the Urals.

The most fascinating part of the book is the social issues. Just how easily people would have justified ending the war swiftly and justified Germany's desire for just redress after the peace of Versailles and how the territorial concessions would have been easily seen as simply Germany's right and that they should never have been opposed in the first place. Anti-semetism, rigged elections and the rapid erosion of civil rights would have been a logical next step.

Readers might speculate just how likely it would be that after a hypothetical election in 1950 saw the opposition to the pro-German government, far from making sweeping gains at the polls, as anticipated, rather being wiped out and replaced by the British Union of Fascists, that an ailing Winston Churchill would lead an armed resistance to the regime.

There is action, betrayals, chases, tension, a mysterious super-weapon and terrifying Gestapo brutality. The book is tense right up to the finish. It is compulsive reading. It is just such a shame that the end is so pathetically weak.

Heroes escape - more or less (it's not quite that simple), coinciding with the death of Hitler. OK so far.

We then have the supposition that the army (who want to end the war with the Soviet Union) and the SS (who want to continue it) enter a brutal civil war that leads to the rapid collapse of not just Nazi Germany, but also its satellite regimes and the British government going cap in hand to Churchill to sue for peace on his terms. Maybe the author wanted a happy ending, but it really did not work for me and I was tempted to take away as many as two stars for the last two pages.

I think that the book would have been so much better without that dreadfully contrived epilogue, but that should not take away from a wonderful and frequently very disturbing story of what might have been had things been just slightly different on that day in 1940.
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on 8 August 2014
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.
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