by C. J. Sansom



450pp/£18.99/October 2012


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Many  ideas are repeated in novel after novel, but the right approach can achieve freshness.  One of these is the idea that the Nazis were victorious over Europe in World War II.  Although numerous authors have founds ways to give Hitler’s forces free reign from the North Atlantic to the Urals, many of them wind up rehashing ideas which have already been doen to death.  In Dominion, C. J. Sansom achieves a new way of looking at the situation by presenting a world in which Great Britain and France refuse to get involved in the war against Germany , instead becoming satellite states while Germany turns its full attention towards defeating the Soviet Union .

In 1952, as Germany is preparing to celebrate twenty years of Hitler’s leadership, David Fitzgerald, a civil servant for the British Office of the Dominion, finds himself recruited by his old college friend, Geoffrey Drax, to help spy for the Resistance, led by an almost unseen Winston Churchill.  Although Fitzgerald dislikes hiding his activities from his wife, he realizes he must in order to protect her.  At the same time, one of his old college friends, Frank Muncaster, finds himself in an asylum after attacking his brother.  Without anyone to turn to, he contacts Fitzgerald for assistance and the Resistance decides that Fitzgerald should attempt to remove Muncaster from the country.

Sansom incorporates many clichés of the field, including the couple torn apart over the death of their son and the individual living under a Nazi-influenced state who discovers he’s part Jewish to name two of them, however, he manages to incorporate them into his dystopian saga well, focusing on the individuals tried to live under an oppressive regime.  Their relationships are at the core of the novel, with Sansom not only looking at Fitzgerald’s attempts to make contact with Muncaster and his relationship with his wife, but also at the very real character of Gunther Hoth, the SS agent who has been assigned to keep an eye on Muncaster and whose brutality is tempered by his understanding of the individuals involved, which serves to make the character even more chilling. Hoth is not an unmitigated monster, although any examination of his character makes the cruelty he is capable of and his adherence to the tenets of Nazism show the true horror that underlines his humanity.

Even more chilling than the portrayal of Hoth and his sycophantic British Sidekick, Symes, is the overall depiction of a Fascist Britain.  Parents and children keep secrets from each other, people are careful about what they say and where they go, when witnessing injustice, the inclination is to turn a blind eye, mostly because the ramifications of standing up are demonstrably horrific. The bleak society Sansom portrays is all too likely an occurrence, as can be seen in so many recent and current societies.

The world of casual brutality Sansom has created in Dominion is not one in which anyone would want to find themselves living, his band of Resistance fighters, are depicted as ordinary people who are doing what little they can to fight tyranny and imagine a more free world.  These characters generally are ones which the reader does not mind spending time with for the duration of the novel.  Despite the atrocities that happen throughout the novel, Sansom’s work is not unremittingly pessimistic, allowing for the spark of hope that the world can be made a better place.

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