Dominion, C.J. Sansom

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dominion-c-j-sansom/1113914877?ean=9780316254946
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I'm not a huge fan of alternative history. For me, the highlight of the novel was how thoroughly the details of its world had been researched and re-imagined. I was interested in descriptions not only of 1950s Britain as a police state, but the impact of a 1940 surrender on the Empire. There is a Historical Note at the end of my edition in which Sansom lays out his case for his alternate history, and for me that "straight-up" section was the most fascinating part of the book.

There is a spy/thriller plot holding the narrative together, which didn't work for me, and more characters than I could care about. Or perhaps it was simply that I didn't care for the characters that were introduced. I'm not sure why this is, but I struggled to connect. The closest I came was the beleaguered Frank Muncaster, who reminded me of Turing in "Imitation Game," and at least seemed very kind. Mostly I did not like David and Sarah, which I think Sansom expected me to.

I found the multiplicity of perspectives burdensome, which surprised me. I think it weakened the story by interruption, defused emotional identification, and resulted in retreading ground. The example that comes to mind is of Gunther and Syme searching an apartment which has already been searched by David & co. and turned up nothing. I particularly thought the world through the principle antagonist's eyes was extraneous. There were many humanizing touches (Gunther misses his son, etc.), but then he thinks and behaves in such bigoted, merciless ways that he loses humanity. Perhaps if the entire novel had been told from his point of view--? Then the focus would have been something other than the alternate history, I suppose.

The strength of the novel--it's research and historical grounding--is also it's flaw, in my mind. Every character, major, minor, had a fleshed out backstory, and a compelling need to share it, even though part of the plot involves undercover secrecy and falsified identities. Friendly characters pitched each other softball open-ended lines: Where are you from? Are your parents still living? What made you join the Resistance? etc., which, after I noticed it, felt increasingly artificial. Reviews on Goodreads cite Sansom's earlier Tudor-era "Shardlake," mysteries as being superior in style and construction.