Book Review: Dominion by C. J. Sansom

Posted on November 30, 2012


first published at

CJ Ranson




1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organization is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle for ever.


Alternative history is one of those subgenres of the fantastic that are periodically explored by various authors. The most intriguing, in my opinion, 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.

With Dominion, Sansom takes one such single point to then extrapolate a potential storyline that greatly differs from the reality of history. That turning point was the meeting in May 1940 between then-Prime Minister of Britain, Chamberlain, with his potential successors, Halifax and Churchill. Chamberlain was being forced to stand down as Prime Minister in order to allow his minority government to continue in power. Churchill left the actual meeting having assumed the leadership and vigorously pursued a policy of complete and continuing opposition to Adolph Hitler’s Germany. Sansom has instead postulated what if Halifix, part of the then-strong movement desiring appeasement of Hitler and ending of the war, had left that meeting as Prime Minister?

In this novel, Sansom has created a very believable social system that may well have resulted 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 significant political powers. Those opposing the continuing appeasement of Hitler could easily have become an exiled movement, going into hiding and becoming a Resistance. The country would have become quite 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.

While I found the final resolution of the story to be a little too cut and dried (and costing Sansom one star from my rating), albeit with a degree of sadness regarding the fate of a primary character, what really grabbed me by the throat was the degree of believability of the social system Sansom has postulated as the outcome of Halifax assuming the Prime Ministership rather than Churchill. At times I had to remind myself that this was a novel, a work of alternative history. For a work of fiction to have that degree of impact on me, then my sense of disbelief was not just suspended, it was scrunched up like a piece of waste paper and tossed out into the rubbish bin to be forgotten. That is indeed a rare occurrence for me. I was also attracted by the repeated underlying question (intended or otherwise) of what the consequences of nationalistic jingoism may be.

I found this to be an intriguing and thought-provoking work but above all, as a work of alternative history, it really works. Oh wow.

Definitely worth reading.

Posted in: Review