The WW2 is such a pivotal event in human history that impacted generations have inevitably speculated about what might have happened had the momentum swung marginally another way. Modifications on Hitler's defeat by the allies have become a recurrent strain in the genre of counter-factual or alternative-history fiction.
Alternative history is one of those subgenres of the amazing that are periodically explored by various authors. The most stimulating, in my viewpoint, are those that focus on an otherwise small event which directs things in a different way than actually happened in order to develop a complete storyline.
“Dominion,” by C.J Sansoms, is an identical, alternate history. The novel starts the day in our reality where Churchill ascended to the Premiership, only in the reality of “Dominion,” Churchill never becomes Prime Minister. What follows is a series of political decisions that differ from the decisions made in our own reality, and result in a 1960s setting in which the UK is a satellite state for the successful Third Reich.
The year is 1952 and a fog hangs heavy, dense and toxic over Britain. 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 strategies 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 honored and respected 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. However, 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 issues, particularly on racial matters. With a scenario like this, there is a lot of scope for a fascinating novel. As the novel opens we learn that Winston Churchill, now in his 80s is leading a resistance movement comprising communists, trade-unionists, liberals of all persuasions and large numbers of people who are embarrassed with that the government has done.
The book focuses on David and his wife Sarah who live a fairly comfortable life in North London. David works as a Civil Servant in the Dominion Office and deals with those Australia, Canada, South Africa and other Empire nations. He has an awful secret however - his mother was Jewish, meaning that he himself is a Jew. His father however went out of his way to suppress this fact but it only seems a matter of time before the truth of his origins will come out.
A side-effect of second world war counter-history, as Sansom acknowledges in an afterword, is that depictions of a German victory contain fingering historical British figures as Nazi collaborators. Mainly because they are dead, defamation is no legal risk, but there may still be moral jeopardy.
Beyond the possible unhappiness of the descendants of Lord Beaverbrook and Enoch Powell at their actions in this book, feminist and Scottish readers correspondingly may gasp at the suggestion that Marie Stopes is advising the Ministry of Health on eugenic sterilisation and that the Scots Nats have graciously signed up to the Hitler agenda.
In this book, Sansom has created a very believable social system that may well have lead from the Halifax situation, set some twelve years after that 1940 meeting. Britain, while not actually conquered, could have become little more than a puppet state of Germany. Facists and their sympathisers, including Mosley and his Blackshirts who were arrested in reality, could have believably become considerable political forces. Those opposing the continuing appeasement of Hitler could easily have turn out to be an deported movement, going into hiding and becoming a Resistance. The country would have become extremely polarised in opinion, particularly without things like the Blitz of 1940-41 to help bind them together along with the iconic images of Churchill’s V for Victory and his ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech. There is a frigidness in “Dominion,” which isn’t surprising considering some of the people in it and its mood of secrets, but I must point out Frank Muncaster, a character I warmed to deeply.
In short, “Dominion” is an excellent alternate history of an incredibly uncomfortable Britain. A sinister and oppressive atmosphere hangs over this tale of domination and resistance and it’s that you’ll remember it for. Moreover, it is confident enough of itself to be published without a swastika on the cover. Don’t miss it.
Jane Doe writes from the American South East.
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