C.J. SANSOM REWRITES HISTORY IN A THRILLING NOVEL THAT DARES TO IMAGINE BRITAIN UNDER THE THUMB OF NAZI GERMANY. 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.
Have you ever wondered what might have happened if Britain had surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 rather than continue to fight? If so, C.J. Samson's latest novel, Dominion, just might be the book for you.
Dominion is set in Great Britain in 1952, but Samson's mid-20th century version of Britain is very different from the one we know from history. In 1940, faced with the likelihood of all out war with Germany, British politicians decided to give up the fight and entered into a peace treaty with Hitler. In the ensuing years British politics and society became increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic, with much of British policy being dictated by Berlin. Not everyone, however, supported the decision to appease Germany or appreciated the resulting German interference in British governance and, unsurprisingly, a resistance movement lead by Winston Churchill formed almost immediately. As Germany's hold over Britain tightens, word quietly spreads that Dr. Frank Muncaster, a scientist turned mental institution patient, may be in possession of a dangerous secret that the Germans would do anything to uncover and that Resistance forces vow to keep from Germany at any cost. In order to keep Frank out of German hands, Resistance spy and civil servant David Fitzgerald, an old school friend of Frank's, is called upon to perform his most dangerous mission yet: to rescue Frank from the mental hospital and get him safely out of the country. What follows is a perilous race against time, as David and his fellow Resistance fighters seek to accomplish their mission before the Germans, led by a relentless Gestapo agent, can get their hands on Frank.
Dominion is a well-written and skillfully imagined piece of alternate history. Samson does a good job of describing what Britain might have been like had Nazi Germany prevailed in 1940, and World War II never fully materialized. Through characters such as David Fitzgerald, who commits to the Resistance cause even though it means he has to keep secrets from his wife and betray those he works with, and Frank Muncaster, who recognizes that the secret he holds would have dangerous ramifications for the world if it got into the wrong hands, Samson illustrates the lengths that ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances will go to to fight for what they believe is right. Indeed, Samson's use of ordinary, everyday people as his principal characters is one of this novel's strengths, and I'm glad the focus of the book was on the mission of one small, low-level Resistance cell rather than on Resistance leadership.
While Dominion is billed as a novel of suspense, the narrative unfolds slowly rather than at the quick-pace normally expected from a suspense novel. Even though the book does contain some suspenseful scenes, especially towards the novel's end, other parts of the narrative are too drawn out making, at times, the book feel even longer than it's already 600 plus pages. Although I enjoyed the novel, I think I would have liked it even more had it been about 200 pages shorter.
Despite the fact that Dominion is a little too long, I think it is a good example of alternate history and, given I enjoyed Samson's writing style, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book to fans of the alternate history genre.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Dominion is currently on tour! Click here for the tour schedule.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Sansom is the bestselling author of the critically-acclaimed Matthew Sharlake series, as well as the runaway international bestseller Winter in Madrid. He lives in Sussex, England.
The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau UK Paperback Publication Date: February 13, 2014
Paperback, 432 pages
Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Two Genre: Historical Mystery
A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation. Follow young Joanna Stafford right into the dark heart of King Henry VIII’s court in this stunning Tudor thriller. England, 1538. The nation is reeling after the ruthless dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. Cast out of Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford – feisty, courageous, but scarred by her recent encounter with rebellion at court – is trying to live a quiet life with her five-year-old charge, Arthur. But family connections draw her dangerously close to a treasonous plot and, repelled by violence and the whispered conspiracies around her, Joanna seeks a life with a man who loves her. But, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny. She must make a choice between those she cares for most, and taking her part in a mysterious prophecy foretold by three compelling seers.
Joanna embarks upon a testing journey, and, as she deciphers the meaning at the core of the prophecy, she learns that the fate of a king and the freedom of a nation rest in her hands.
PRAISE FOR THE CHALICE
“Expect treason, treachery, martyrs and more.” — Choice magazine
“A time in which no one at all can be trusted and everyday life is laced with horror. Bilyeau paints this picture very, very well.” — Reviewing the Evidence
“Bilyeau creates the atmosphere of 1530s London superbly.” — Catholic Herald
“Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna Stafford’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page. — Historical Novel Society
“Joanna Stafford is a young novice caught up in power struggles familiar to readers of Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom, but with elements of magic that echo the historical thrillers of Kate Mosse.” — S.J. Parris, author of ‘Heresy,’ ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Sacrilege’
“Second in this compelling and highly readable Tudor thriller series following the 16th century adventures of (now cast out) nun Joanna Stafford. Treason, conspiracies and a dangerous prophecy draw Joanna back from the quiet life she had made for herself after being cast out of Dartford Priory – but she isn’t prepared for the gravity of the situation she finds herself in or the responsibility she now holds. Nancy Bilyeau has followed up her impressive debut with an accomplished historical thriller perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom, Philippa Gregory and S. J. Parris.” — Lovereading UK
“Sharply observed, cleverly paced and sympathetically written, this book more than fulfils the promise of THE CROWN, itself named as last year’s most impressive debut novel by the CWA Ellis Peters judges. If Joanna Stafford is to return to see out the final years of Henry’s tempestuous reign and the accession of his Catholic daughter Mary, I am sure I will not be alone in waiting eagerly for her.” — crimereview.co.uk
“A stunning debut. One of the best historical novels I have ever read — ALISON WEIR THE CHALICE offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England’s most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don’t let you go even after the last exciting page” — KAREN HARPER, bestselling author of MISTRESS OF MOURNING
“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” — C.W. GORTNER, author of THE QUEEN’S VOW
“Bilyeau paints a moving portrait of Catholicism during the Reformation and of reclusive, spiritual people adjusting to the world outside the cloister. This intriguing and suspenseful historical novel pairs well with C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution (2003) and has the insightful feminine perspective of Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s The Heretic’s Wife (2010).” — BOOKLIST
“As in The Crown, Bilyeau’s writing style means that the story reads almost flawlessly. The narrative really makes the reader throw themselves into the story, and makes it so the book is really difficult to put down. I was really very impressed with Bilyeau’s writing (As I was in The Crown), and honestly can’t recommend this book highly enough.” — LOYALTY BINDS ME
“THE CHALICE is a compelling and pacey time machine to the 16th Century. And when you’re returned to the present, you’ll have enjoyed an adventure and gained a new perspective on a past you’d wrongly thought to be a done deal.” — Andrew Pyper, author of THE DEMONOLOGIST
“The Chalice is a gripping, tightly-plotted mystery, with a beguiling heroine at its heart, that vividly conjures up the complex dangers of Reformation England. Bilyeau’s deftness of touch and complete control over her complex material make for a truly exciting and compelling read.”— ELIZABETH FREMANTLE author of QUEEN’S GAMBIT
“THE CHALICE is brimming with sinister portents, twisted allegiances, religious superstition and political intrigue. It’s a darkly fascinating Tudor brew that leaves you thirsting for more.” — PATRICIA BRACEWELL, author of SHADOW ON THE CROWN
Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013.
Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy’s ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough’s founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.
Within weeks letters would be burned, pages torn. Promises would be broken and hearts betrayed. But for now the countryside languished, golden and fading…
Cecily Chadwick is idling away the long, hot summer of 1911 when a mysterious countess moves into the large, deserted country house on the edge of her sleepy English village. Rumors abound about the countess’s many husbands and lovers, her opulent wealth, and the tragedies that have marked her life. As Cecily gets to know her, she becomes fascinated by the remarkable woman—riveted by her tales of life on the Continent, and of the famous people she once knew. But the countess is clearly troubled by her memories, and by ruinous secrets that haunt her…
Staying with the countess is a successful novelist and dear friend who has been summoned to write the countess’s memoirs. For aspiring writer Cecily, the novelist’s presence only adds to the intrigue of the house. But it is the countess’s grandson, Jack, who draws Cecily further into the tangled web of the countess's past, and sweeps her into an uncertain future…
Judith Kinghorn’s latest release, The Memory of Lost Senses, is an evocative tale about the power of memory. The year is 1911, and mysterious Countess Cora has returned to England from the continent in order to spend time with her grandson, Jack. With Cora is her longtime friend Sylvia, a novelist who plans to write Cora’s memoirs. Intrigued by what she’s heard of the Countess’ life, villager Cecily Chadwick, an aspiring novelist herself and friend of Jack’s, gets to know Cora, becoming increasingly fascinated by her remarkable tales. As Cecily’s relationship with Jack deepens, so does her interest in Cora’s life. But the Countess’ past is not necessarily as it seems, and Cecily comes to realize that there is much more to the Countess’ life than Cora is willing to impart.
One of the things I like best about this novel is the way in which the story is told. Rather than unfolding in chronological order, the narrative moves back and forth in time and is told from multiple viewpoints. The truth of Cora’s life is revealed only in bits and pieces, and the reader is never sure which of her memories are facts and which are fiction, thus ensuring the reader remains fully engaged in the story until the very end. Kinghorn’s prose is lovely, lavishly describing both the characters and the setting, which leaves the reader with a strong sense of time and place. The characters themselves are engaging and well-developed. Fans of the Kinghorn’s remarkable debut novel, The Last Summer, will surely be pleased with this second effort. For readers yet to discover Kinghorn’s novels, this book is sure to create a whole new legion of fans. Note: This review first appeared in the Historical Novel Review (Issue 67, February 2014) Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Once she was a child of hunger, but now Norah McCabe is a woman with courage, passion, and reckless dreams. Her story is one of survival, intrigue, and love. This Irish immigrant woman cannot be narrowly defined! She dons Paris fashion and opens a used-clothing store, is attacked by a vicious police commissioner, joins a movement to free Ireland, and attends a National Women's Rights Convention. And love comes to her slowly one night on a dark street, ensnared by the great Mr. Murray, essayist and gang leader extraordinaire. Norah is the story of a woman who confronts prejudice, violence, and greed in a city that mystifies and helps to mold her into becoming an Irish-American woman.
Fireship Press | February 1st, 2014 | 296 pages
Cynthia G. Neale's latest novel, Norah, is set in the heart of mid-19th century New York City. At the core of the story is young Norah McCabe, an Irish immigrant who survived the potato famine and is now striving to find her place in her adopted city. Determined not to share the same fate of living in poverty that so many of her fellow Irish countrymen find themselves in, Norah opens up a used-clothing store to support herself and help her family. While Norah enjoys her work, she still yearns for more. When newspaperman Jack Harrigan offers her a position at his paper, the Irish American, Norah eagerly accepts. Even though her new job isn't all she'd hoped it would be, her friendship with Harrigan results in her crossing paths with some of New York's most influential Irishmen, including Mr. Murray. Norah finds love with Murray, but through him she also gets caught up in the sometimes dangerous movement to free Ireland from British rule.
Norah is a feisty, headstrong and very determined young woman. While I initially found little to like about her, Norah grew on me as the novel progressed, especially in the instances where she had to draw on her inner strength to overcome and move on from difficult situations. I also enjoyed her interactions with her parents, especially her father whom she adored. Even though Norah is ostensibly the star of this novel, it is the book's setting that proves to be the most compelling aspect of the narrative. Through Norah, the reader comes to learn of the hardships and prejudice faced by Irish immigrants to NYC, of the rampant corruption in politics and on the police force, of the Irish gangs that roamed the notorious Five Points neighbourhood in which Norah and her family lived, and of the people and places that made up Norah's world. I've read very little set in 19th century New York City, but Norah has inspired me to look into more fiction set in this time and place.
At less than 300 pages, Norah is a fairly quick read. While the novel is short, there is a lot packed into the narrative. At times, however, I felt some aspects of the story deserved more attention. This is most pronounced when it comes to Norah's relationship with Murray, the early stages of which are not detailed at all. While the story includes Norah's introduction to Murray, the next time he appears Norah has been seeing him for what seems to be several months. Some insight into what drew Norah to Murray and to the Free Ireland movement he was so passionate about would have helped me understand the foundations of their relationship.
Overall, Norah is an intriguing novel. While Norah is not always easy to like, she is always entertaining. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to readers interested in historical fiction set in the 19th century.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of a Fireship Press' virtual tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Norah is currently on tour. Click here to check out the tour schedule.
The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.
With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.
Tyndale House | August 16, 2013 | 448 pages | ISBN: 9781414375557
Born of Persuasion, Jessica Dotta’s debut novel and the first in a planned trilogy, is set in mid-19th century England. When young Julia Elliston’s mother passes away and leaves her an orphan, she comes under the care of a mysterious guardian, one who plans to send her to Scotland to work as a servant. But Julia has a plan of her own to escape this fate, and only a few months to achieve it. When her plan falls apart, Julia joins forces with an eccentric dowager who places her in the direct path of a reclusive, but wealthy, gentleman. This gentleman takes an immediate interest in Julia, and she is quickly charmed by him. But there is much more to this gentleman than meets the eye, and Julia soon finds herself caught up in intrigues well beyond her control.
Born of Persuasion is full of secrets and deceptions, some of which are not fully revealed even by the novel’s end. The narrative unfolds slowly, leaving the reader eagerly turning the pages in the hope of uncovering truths and seeing treachery exposed. While Julia is portrayed as a little too meek for my liking, Dotta does a good job of conveying the uncertainty Julia feels as she tries to make sense of events and determine who to trust. Through Julia, Dotta effectively illustrates the powerlessness of 19th-century women, who had few legal rights. Desperate to avoid a life in servitude, Julia agrees to certain things without due consideration to their consequences. When she realizes she’s made mistakes, there is little she can do to change her situation.
An overall engaging novel, Born of Persuasion is sure to appeal to readers who like a heavy dose of intrigue in their fiction. I’m looking forward to reading the second installment in the trilogy.
Note: This review first appeared in the Historical Novel Review (Issue 67, February 2014) Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
1643. The armies of King Charles I and Parliament clash in the streets and fields of England, threatening to tear the country apart, as winter closes in around the parliamentary stronghold of Nantwich. The royalists have pillaged the town before, and now, they are returning. But even with weeks to prepare before the Civil War is once more at its gates, that doesn’t mean the people of Nantwich are safe. While the garrison of soldiers commanded by Colonel George Booth stand guard, the town’s residents wait, eyeing the outside world with unease, unaware that they face a deadly threat from within. Townspeople are being murdered – the red sashes of the royalists left on the bodies marking them as traitors to the parliamentary cause. When the first dead man is found, his skull caved in with a rock, fingers start being pointed, and old hatreds rise to the surface. It falls to Constable Daniel Cheswis to contain the bloodshed, deputising his friend, Alexander Clowes, to help him in his investigations, carried out with the eyes of both armies on his back. And they are not the only ones watching him. He is surrounded by enemies, and between preparing for the imminent battle, watching over his family, being reunited with his long-lost sweetheart, and trying, somehow, to stay in business, he barely has time to solve a murder. With few clues and the constant distraction of war, can Cheswis protect the people of Nantwich? And which among them need protecting? Whether they are old friends or troubled family, in these treacherous times, everyone’s a traitor, in war, law, or love. When the Winter Siege is through, who will be among the bodies?
Electric Reads | October 1st, 2013 | 488 pages
D.W. Bradbridge's debut novel, The Winter Siege, is set in the pro-Parliament town of Nantwich at the height of the English Civil War. When one of the townsfolk is found dead with a red sash, symbol of the royalist cause, draped around his body, constable Daniel Cheswis is called upon to investigate. But Daniel has barely started into his investigation when another murder involving a victim draped in a red sash is committed. With few clues to go on, and more murders taking place, Daniel must race against time to solve the murders before it becomes too difficult to do so, for Nantwich is in the direct path of the Royalist forces who are bent on bringing the town to its knees.
While much of the The Winter Siege is concerned with solving the murders, this novel is much more than just an historical mystery. Set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, the narrative showcases life in a Parliamentary town at a time when it was threatened with attack by Royalist forces. Although Nantwich itself is decidedly pro-Parliament, Bradbridge shows that many of the town's most prominent citizens were, in fact, staunch supporters of the monarchy but smart enough not to flaunt their true loyalties. While it appears that the book's protagonist, Daniel Cheswis, supports the aims of Parliament, I liked that Bradbridge never explicitly states the views of his principal character. Given the tensions between pro-parliamentarians and pro-royalists, to be effective in his work as a town constable Daniel must be seen to be unbiased no matter his personal views.
There is much to like about The Winter Siege, chief of which is the novel's protagonist, Daniel Cheswis, who is characterized as intelligent, bold and committed to uncovering the truth. I genuinely liked Daniel and wanted him to succeed. Several of the novel's secondary characters also made a positive impression on me, especially Daniel's housekeeper Mrs. Padgett, whose constant, well-meaning meddling in Daniel's life was endearing. The mystery at the heart of the novel is a good one, and leaves the reader guessing as to the identity of the perpetrator right up until the very end. While I enjoyed the novel and would read more from D.W. Bradbridge, I had a few issues with the story that ultimately brought my rating down. My principal issue concerns the novel's length. I don't mind lengthy books so long each aspect of the narrative is important to the advancement of the story or helps to create a sense of time and place, but, for me at least, The Winter Siege contained too much extraneous detail. This detail slowed the story down in places and interrupted its flow. While I really liked the fact that there was much more to this novel than just the mystery component, at times I felt there were too many things going on, and that these goings on detracted from rather than enhanced the main storyline. I must, however, give Bradbridge credit for effectively linking all the novel's seemingly unrelated events up by the story's end.
Prior to picking up The Winter Siege I'd only read a few novels set during the English Civil War. As such, I was a little lost as to the importance of certain people, places and events associated with the time period mentioned in the book. As a result, the novel has reinforced my desire to learn more about this time period and the people and places who played a pivotal role in it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of D.W. Bradbridge's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Winter Siege is currently on tour! Click here to check out the tour schedule -- you'll find links to other reviews, as well giveaways, author guest posts and interviews.
About the Author
D.W. Bradbridge was born in 1960 and grew up in Bolton. He has lived in Crewe, Cheshire since 2000, where he and his wife run a small magazine publishing business for the automotive industry.
“The inspiration for The Winter Siege came from a long-standing interest in genealogy and local history. My research led me to the realisation that the experience endured by the people of Nantwich during December and January 1643-44 was a story worth telling. I also realised that the closed, tension-filled environment of the month-long siege provided the ideal setting for a crime novel."
“History is a fascinating tool for the novelist. It consists only of what is remembered and written down, and contemporary accounts are often written by those who have their own stories to tell. But what about those stories which were forgotten and became lost in the mists of time?"
“In writing The Winter Siege, my aim was to take the framework of real history and fill in the gaps with a story of what could, or might have happened. Is it history or fiction? It’s for the reader to decide.”
For more information please visit D.W. Bradbridge’s website. You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
Happy February! Hard to believe we are already in the second month of 2014. Given the arctic-like temperatures we've been experiencing here lately, January was a great month to spend curled up with a good book. Here's what I read (click on the title, where applicable, to read my review):
Brock's Agent by Tom Taylor (Historical Fiction - review to come);
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (Contemporary Fiction/Magical Realism); and
The Winter Siege by D.W. Bradbridge (Historical Fiction - review to come).
I also took part in my first ever Bloggiesta event in January. Even though I started off small, I did successfully manage to accomplish both of my goals. Click here to read my wrap-up post. This is an event I definitely plan to take part in again in future.