CJ Sansom is best known for his amazing Matthew Shardlake mystery series set in Tudor times but apart from that he wrote another great and less known novel. Winter in Madrid was a historical novel set in the 1940s just after the events of Spanish Civil War and it was particularly good. So when Dominion was originally announced, I was seriously excited because the cover art was quite like Winter in Madrid cover art and the synopsis promised something very unexpected - alternative history story set in the 50s, in a time line where World War II ended in a bit different matter.
Dominion, which has just been re-released by Macmillan in paperback, delivers more than I expected. Sansom holds the PHD in history from the University of Birmingham so, as always, I expected historic bits to be top notch but what Dominion delivered was a proper alternate history spy tour-de-force together with interesting political and sociological implications of what might have happened if things turned out differently. To explain, Dominion is set after an important crux moment in history and it depicts the world where Axis forces won World War II. On 9th May 1940, a day before Churchill became PM, Britain surrendered to Germany, becoming effectively satellite state to Third Reich.
Now, in the 1952, Britain is under dark authoritarian rule and everything is state controlled. The oppressive atmosphere is tangible but Winston Churchill's Resistance movement is slowly gaining strength. Make do and mend spirit is still in force. Meanwhile, in Birmingham mental hospital one Frank Muncaster, a scientist held in captivity, hold the secret that could change the balance. Resistance organizes his escape through civil servant and a part time spy David Fitzgerald and suddenly we are found in the midst of the spy hunt across London where Frank and David are being pursued by Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth.
As you can imagine, Dominion originally came out to much furore and controversy because it depicted quite a few actual historical figures in a very different and unpleasant light. Some of the more notable figures from the era are made up to be Nazi Collaborators because as far as story is concerned they're living in a situation where the political scene is quite different from today.
Despite being rather good spy story, Dominion is also impressive on many levels. Samson creates breathing setting where every tiny detail is changed to reflect this bleak alternative history. All in all, gripping stuff from a master of historical novel!
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