Dominion by C.J. Sansom

Publisher: Mantle
Pages: 450
Year: 2012, Pb 2013
Buy: Hardback, Kindle, Paperback
Source: Bought copy

Dominion by CJ SansomReview
The year is 1952 and a fog hangs heavy, dense and toxic over Britain. In C.J. Sansom’s alternate history, Beaverbrook not Churchill became Prime Minister. Instead, Churchill is the hunted leader of the Resistance. The government is a union of Nazi sympathisers, controlling the new and unhappy Queen, welcoming the Gestapo onto the island’s shores where they make their own dark plans in the fortress that was once the University of London’s Senate House. The Second World War never happened. Instead there was a brief conflict in 1939-1940 known either as the Dunkirk Campaign or the Jews’ War. The veterans of the Great War are respected and honoured by the German and British people who are determined that no such war will occur again between the two nations – just as long as Hitler and his SS are free to continue their ‘work’ on the continent. But, as the novel begins, 12 years after the signing of the peace treaty, there are the stirrings of a more active involvement by the Nazis in British domestic and imperial affairs, especially on racial matters.

Dominion follows the story of David Fitzgerald, a young civil servant who also spies for the Resistance. When his old school friend Frank Muncaster rises to the top of the Nazi’s Most Wanted list, thanks to secrets confided in him by his brother settled in America, Fitzgerald is the natural choice to rescue Muncaster, a deeply troubled scientist who cowers in a mental hospital, and keep whatever Muncaster hides safe from the Nazis. At the same time, though, the Germans send over from Berlin one of their top officers, the fiercely intelligent and ruthless Gunther Hoth, to seek Muncaster in person.

On one level, Dominion is an adventure story, with the air of a cold war spy thriller about it, although the circumstances are far more deadly. The cat and mouse chase keeps up a pace throughout the novel. There are other threads here, though. Big themes are explored – love, friendship and courage. The relationships between brothers, between man and wife, between lovers, between colleagues, between a government and its subjects distract the characters and readers alike as each questions the limits to which one would go to do the right thing. Not just for one’s fellow countrymen, including Jews and the mentally ill or physically disabled, but also for one’s wife or husband. On the other hand, though, how far would others go to further a career? Even Hoth has his thought processes revealed. And all is concealed and obscured by this horrendous fog.

Sansom is best known, of course, for his famous Tudor investigator Shardlake, although he has explored more recent history before in Winter of Madrid. One can see the similarities between the Tudor and alternate history presented in Dominion. In the post-Dissolution years, England was most probably a frightened and confused place, with centuries of belief smashed around its people. I can see why a fascist Britain would interest Sansom.

Anyone who’s read the Shardlake novels, especially, in my opinion, the first two, knows how well Sansom writes. He achieves an air of authority while still exploring the weaknesses (and strengths) of men and women living in troubled times. Sansom achieves something of the same in Dominion. Arguably, though, this air of authority does have its disadvantages here. In the first couple of hundred pages in particular there is a lot of Info Dumping, so much so that I was irritated on occasion. Admittedly, I did have flu at the time and this may have been a contributing factor. But this and some of the dubious political world building is offset by the brilliance of Dominion‘s atmosphere. Looking back on it, I remember the the fog, the anger, the chill and the rumours. Knowing as we do what went on in Nazi Germany – some of which the protagonists can only suspect – adds a real sense of urgency to the story.

There is a coldness in Dominion, which isn’t surprising considering some of the people in it and its mood of secrets, but I must mention Frank Muncaster, a character I warmed to deeply.

I won’t be the first to mention it but comparisons with Robert Harris’ alternate history Fatherland are inevitable and should there be a contest between the two I’m not sure that Dominion would be the victor. Intriguingly, though, Sansom does not take the easy course here with his new history – George VI stays on the throne and there is no German invasion. This adds a much more interesting dimension to the motives and positions of the key characters.

All in all, Dominion is a very good alternate history of an extremely unpleasant Britain. A sinister and oppressive atmosphere hangs over this tale of domination and resistance and it’s that you’ll remember it for.

8 thoughts on “Dominion by C.J. Sansom

  1. Teresa

    I like the sound of this but I’d need to be the right frame of mind for it. It’s interesting that he has set it during the great smog of 1952 – this period fascinates me as my parents lived in London at the time and I remember them telling me stories about what it was like. Will add to the wishlist.

  2. Wegason

    Have you read Winter in Madrid? I loved that book and would highly recommend it. I only came across it because I was looking for similar fiction to another of my favourites, ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruis Zafon.

  3. Wegason

    I think I will need to read Dominion, it has been sitting on my to read shelf for too long. Since Christmas 2011 I think, i’ve been put off by its big hardback size but I’ll get round to it.

    I’m currently reading Dark Eden based on your strong recommendation, as well as purchasing five more books you recommended from your 2013 review that I didn’t have on my TBR pile at the time. So a big thank you to you.

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      That is wonderful! Thank you so much for letting me know. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

      I am so glad you’re reading Dark Eden. It’s one of those books that I think about regularly and I hear there’s to be a follow up this year. Great news! I hope you enjoy Dominion too. It is a big book but it’s rather an attractive one.

      Thank you so much for commenting πŸ™‚

  4. George

    In case you were wondering the books your reviews convinced me to use my Waterstones gift card on were: Wool, Final Days, Blue Remembered Earth, and The Darwin Elevator.

    I’ve never heard of Gary Gibson or Jason Hough but the books sounded interesting (and the covers are great). I’ve read Reynolds, his Revelation Space series is great though as you’ve not read Redemption Ark or Absolution Gap I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on them if you get round to reading them.

    I’ll get round to them soon but as I said above I have Dominion to read, as well as Great North Road and a couple of other brick books.

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      I was wondering, so thanks! Wonderful books! I’ve just finished today Gary Gibson’s first novel, Angel Stations. I do hope you like him. I have the rest of the Reynolds Revelation Space series. I’ll be reading them this year. Great North Read is fabulous! Great books!


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