Dominion by CJ Sansom – A Review

This is a guest post by Ryan Webster. He has a blog focusing on Military History, you can check it out here. He’s been reading a wide variety of fiction lately and has very kindly agreed to write up some reviews for you lovely people. 

Dominion by CJ Sansom, Macmillan, 608pp

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I have been familiar with CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series for some time now, so I was surprised at the direction this novel took. It’s essentially an alternative history spy thriller which is set in Nazi controlled London in the 1950s.

The Second World War did not happen as we know it, and portrays how events might have unfolded if the Third Reich was appeased. The book starts in 1940, with Neville Chamberlain acknowledging his position as Prime Minister is untenable, and a choice has to be made as to who will replace him. The popular candidates are Winston Churchill, a firm believer in Empire and the opposition of Nazi aggression, and the appeaser Lord Halifax. In this story, Churchill grudgingly agrees to work under Halifax in the new cabinet. Fast forward 10 years, and Britain is under an authoritarian government lead by newspaper magnate and Nazi sympathiser Lord Beaverbrook, and Churchill is forced underground as the leader of the Resistance. The Jews are beginning to be deported, there is violence on the streets and there are no elections.

David is a civil servant who is carefully guarding the fact that he’s half-jewish from everyone, including his wife. After the death of their son, David gradually gets involved with the Resistance movement and becomes increasingly angered by the Nazi control. His main task is to rescue his old university friend, Dr Frank Muncaster from a mental asylum. Frank has a dark secret about the American nuclear weapons programme which cannot fall into Nazi hands. David and a small cell of the Resistance are tasked with aiding his escape whilst also being pursued by the Gestapo and the British Special Branch.

Sansom brings each character to life vividly through well developed back stories and his historical imagination is extremely interesting. I’ve read a few comments criticising his ‘historical events’ for being unrealistic, but as a work of fiction, I find this a little harsh. I think this will put a few history purists off, but for me it made it a highly enjoyable spy story.

Regardless of the plausibility of the historical events, the book does have a fundamental and true message. It not only argues that the appeasers in the 1940s were fundamentally wrong to allow such a regime to continue, but also exposes the danger of extremist nationalism. The book has instances of British people turning against their Jewish neighbours due to propaganda from the far right, an idea which I found very uncomfortable. This is what makes the book so powerful, and so readable.

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