Book Tour Review: Dominion by C.J. Sansom

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Title: Dominion
Author: C.J. Sansom
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 629 (hardcover edition)
Published: January 2014
Source: received for review from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany. The global economy strains against the weight of the long German war against Russia still raging in the east. The British people find themselves under increasingly authoritarian rule--the press, radio, and television tightly controlled, the British Jews facing ever greater constraints.

But Churchill's Resistance soldiers on. As defiance grows, whispers circulate of a secret that could forever alter the balance of the global struggle. The keeper of that secret? Scientist Frank Muncaster, who languishes in a Birmingham mental hospital.

Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, a spy for the Resistance and University friend of Frank's, is given the mission to rescue Frank and get him out of the country. Hard on his heels is Gestapo agent Gunther Hoth, a brilliant, implacable hunter of men, who soon has Frank and David's innocent wife, Sarah, directly in his sights.

C.J. Sansom's literary thriller Winter in Madrid earned Sansom comparisons to Graham Greene, Sebastian Faulks, and Ernest Hemingway. Now, in his first alternative history epic, Sansom doesn't just recreate the past--he reinvents it. In a spellbinding tale of suspense, oppression and poignant love, DOMINION dares to explore how, in moments of crisis, history can turn on the decisions of a few brave men and women--the secrets they choose to keep and the bonds they share.

An alternate history of the world showing what could have been after a different end of WWII, Sansom's sprawling epic is by turns unputdownable, fascinating, and frightening, but it is never forgettable or boring. Though it starts out with a slow burn, by the end of Dominion the pages turned with alacrity. It's a novel that sneaks up on you, catches you in a web just as easily as it does David and his circle. 

With purposeful prose and methodical plotting, Sansom effectively captures a version of Britain that is recognizable but almost wholly subverted and just wrong to modern readers. This is a Britain that never stood up to Hitler, that never survived the Blitz---it's a nation of German allies and Nazi supporters, with small, persecuted pockets of resistance. Though the book explicitly states that anything after 5pm on May 9 1940 was "pure imagination" it's hard not to believe in the authenticity of the world Sansom presents. 

A masterful novel, one ambitious and creative but still subtle, Dominion is frightening for its plausibility. This world is one where Nazi atrocities are whispers of rumors rather than known fact, where regular Britons endorse eugenics and appeasement in Europe, where anti-Semitism is not only accepted, but expected. I raced through this, but it's not a book you actively enjoy. You experience Dominion as its characters do, and that makes for an exciting but painful experience.

Sansom takes a question that historians have tossed around for decades and explores it carefully, and in almost minute detail. With a largish cast, but especially with David, Sansom shows the audience what this almost-was version of history very well could have looked like. It can be a sobering read, but Dominion is the work of a master storyteller at the height of his craft. Though I left the novel without a real "feel" or any of the characters, they affected me. Their stories were captured so vividly, it's impossible to not care about at least some of them.

Dominion is a beast of a historical novel. It's long, it's intense and told on a grand, epic scale. Sansom left no stone unturned while plotting how this version of history could have played out, and that meticulousness shows clearly in the final product. It can be an unsettling read, but it is more than rewarding and worth the time and effort.


  1. Thanks, lady! The husband added this to his Ammy list. He can't get enough WWII alternate history. Great review.

  2. This sounds fantastic. I've had another one of this authors books on my TBR for a while, going to have to try to find one of them because you make it sound so good. :D


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