Vivid alternative history puts Nazis in Britain
Robert Oldham asks "What if?" in his novel Saving the King. What if Germany had won the Battle of Britain in 1940? Like Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, Saving the King is an alternative history of World War II, but unlike Dick's treatment, set in 1962, Saving the King takes us right into the action, beginning in 1938.
The novel opens with a rousing scene of singing fascists, goose-stepping through the streets of Munich. It covers the 1940 Battle of Britain where, in this version of the era's events, the Germans win and force Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson to assume the roles of king and queen of fascist New Britain. Our heroes Major John Stafford and Captain Felicity Le Meseurier save the day, falling in love in the process.
The book is aimed at a young adult audience, but that's no excuse for the strong tendency to over-write. In fact, the whole thing could probably be pared down by a quarter, simply by removing the redundancies and superfluous descriptions. Colors, for example, are assigned to almost everything - Oldham feels compelled to tell us when silencers are black, when skies are blue, and when naval uniforms are blue and white.
Although the descriptions often interfere, there are plenty of passages where they work well to paint a clear scene for the reader. The writing is vivid, and the characters are, for the most part, believable, although there are some patches of dialogue that are not conversational at all.
Still, it's an engaging story, and it moves along smartly during the battle and espionage scenes. Towards the end, however, it speeds up as if the writer's deadline was non-negotiable.
The love story culminates in a kind of altered state of consciousness, where the couple shares an auditory hallucination. Perhaps the author needed them to connect and, considering a youthful audience, used this device in place of a sex scene. It's a bit jarring, however, and doesn't add to the story.
Aside from the metaphysics, there's a lot in the story that's believable. Part of the believability is Oldham's attention to historic detail. The book includes a glossary that will help the reader distinguish the Brownshirts from the Brownings.
Oh sure, if I wanted to be picky, I'd point out that BMW is Bayerische Motoren Werke, not "Bayern Motoren Werke" as it's listed in the glossary. But the meaty historical descriptions of the major players seem accurate, as do the descriptions of various weapons and aircraft.
If you're a picky reader, the plot might not be enough to propel you through this novel. If, however, you can put writing mechanics aside and read for the pleasure of the story, you'll enjoy the book. In short, it's a good concept that falls a bit short on the execution.
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