Search This Blog

Monday, February 03, 2014

Dominion by C.J. Sansom


Notice the slight touch of red on the armband.  A British Bobby with that armband?  What a terrifying image.  

How strange that in all of the reading I've done over the years about WWII, both in fact and fiction, I've never considered what would have happened if Germany had won the war; if Britain, like France, had surrendered; if the U.S. had remained neutral.  The first pages of Dominion made me consider the possibility, and it appalled me.        

Sansom's alternate history presents a chilling picture.  What if Halifax, not Churchill, had succeeded Chamberlain?  It could so easily have happened; Churchill had many opponents and Halifax had many supporters.  The horrors of WWI were not that far behind the British and support of appeasement was still strong.  

Given what Great Britain suffered in WWI (only about 20 years behind them when another war threatened), one can understand that many were reluctant to take on Hitler's Germany.  It is fortunate that Churchill, despite his flaws and political adversaries, became Prime Minister and was able to build a war cabinet to meet the threat.

In Sansom's alternate version of events, Halifax does, albeit somewhat reluctantly, become Prime Minister, and after the disastrous defeat of the Allies in Norway and the fall of France (the U.S. was still neutral at the time), accepts Hitler's offer of peace.  Great Britain is subsequently occupied.  Lord Beaverbrook becomes Prime Minister in this version of events, and Sansom's alternate Great Britain becomes more and more fascist.   

Part of me protests at the British acceptance of this situation, but I suppose it is like the frog and boiling water metaphor...even big changes, if they are gradual enough, are likely to be tolerated.  It happened in Germany.  I suppose it could happen anywhere.  (i.e. The Wave by Todd Strausser and The Children's Story by James Clavell illustrate how easily this conversion can be managed; oh, and Milgram's experiments).

There is a Resistance, however, that operates much as the French Resistance did in real life.  David Fitzgerald is called on to get his University friend Frank out of the country.  Frank is a scientist and has learned something that the Gestapo wants.  David's spying and the attempt to rescue Frank put the entire cell in danger.  And David has a secret of his own.

I won't go into anymore of the plot, but I will add that this book was a kind of eye-opener. Germany's defeat has always seemed inevitable to me, an accomplished fact that I did not question; my imagination didn't take me any further.  Dominion envisions an alternate rendering of events that makes the blood run cold.  It is considering this possibility that makes the book so good.

Sansom takes real individuals like Beaverbrook and Oswald Mosely and many others and imagines their participation in his alternative government, adding verisimilitude to the premise.  His Biographical Note is full of excellent information about the social and political period from the 1930's to the 1950's.  He also includes his own Historical Note of his own opinions.  

For anyone with an interest in WWII, Dominion offers much to ponder.  I will be thinking about this novel for some time to come.


Alternate History.  Jan. 2014.  Print version:  640 pages.  


  1. This sounds marvellous - perhaps this alternate history works because there were points when an Allied victory might not have been assured. I shall definitely keep an eye out for this. Have you read Jo Walton's 'Farthing' - also set with this scenario.

  2. Vicki - I have not read Farthing, but I will now. In fact, I think I'll order it right now since I'm in the process of a couple of books that are not holding my interest!

  3. Oh, yay, read FARTHING!! (Love Jo Walton!!)

    Also, I really want this. I knew I would regret it when I let one of the other HT members get a copy when it was offered to us!

  4. Kelly - I ordered Farthing and What Makes This Book So Great!

  5. I have this one on my Kindle and am looking forward to reading it. I only skimmed your review as a result. Such a disturbing premise!

  6. I'll be reading this for a tour next month, and I can't wait. I can't remember reading an alternative history before, and this one just sounds so thought-provoking. Great review!

  7. Great review! I don't think I've read a book quite like this with an alternate history of events. Chilling but definitely would make for good discussion!

  8. Wendy - The details about Frank's knowledge being so valuable to the Nazi's are a little vague, but the concept of a great Britain becoming a fascist nation is fascinating. Hope you enjoy it!

    Anna - Dominion certainly provoked me to thought. What a different world this would be if all of Europe pretty much belonged to the Third Reich!

    Iliana - I've ordered Farthing (recommended by Vicki and Kailana) which follows the same premise. I'm eager to see what similarities and differences the two authors have imagined.