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The Afrika Reich: A Novel Hardcover – February 12, 2013
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Saville’s debut novel makes an energetic leap into alternate history. Britain’s 1940 Dunkirk evacuation fails, and Lord Halifax and Hitler negotiate a peace that includes German control of a vast swath of Africa, from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. Fast-forward to 1952, and Walter Hochburg, the psychopathic governor-general of Kongo, is building autobahns through the jungle paved with the ground-up corpses of Nazi soldiers (to plant Nazi spirit in Africa’s very soil). A small team of mercenaries led by Burton Cole, who has a personal score to settle with Hochburg, is hired to assassinate the governor-general, but the mercs are betrayed and pursued relentlessly by Hochburg and hordes of fanatical SS, providing Saville more opportunities for gun battles, carnage, and barbarity than most Hollywood action films. His alternate history is imaginative and superficially plausible; an author’s note cites actual Nazi interest in Africa and its resources. Many readers who study WWII and the Nazis might question this scenario, but, if they can suspend disbelief, they’ll enjoy the wild, running battle against contemporary history’s greatest villains. --Thomas Gaughan
“What Guy Saville knows is violence: violence against animals, children, and those seeking change through the political process. He's spent a career facing it on the journalistic front lines and–admirably–raising public awareness against it, and now he's combined it with heavy research to breathe life into history's greatest villains.” ―Kirkus
“Saville gets everything right--providing suspenseful action sequences, logical but enthralling plot twists, a fully thought through imaginary world, and characters with depth.” ―PW
“A skin-of-the-teeth escape at the end foreshadows a series.” ―Kirkus
“Saville's debut novel makes an energetic leap into alternate history….they'll enjoy the wild, running battle against contemporary history's greatest villains.” ―Thomas Gaughan, Booklist
“an imaginative and entertaining journey” ―The Forward
“The Afrika Reich has been meticulously researched, which raises it a significant cut above the average airport thriller.” ―BookBrowse
“[The] plot is clever, imaginative and, in its finale, wholly unexpected. In a crowded field, The Afrika Reich stands out as a rich and unusual thriller, politically sophisticated and hard to forget.” ―The Economist, Books of the Year 2011
“Set in a world in which Britain made peace with Hitler after 1940, this account of a mercenary mission to Africa makes for an engrossing and convincing debut.” ―Sunday Express, Books of the Year 2011
“Fatherland for an action movie age” ―Daily Telegraph
“An horrific reimaging of the Dark Continent” ―The Times
“A thoroughly enjoyable and compelling read” ―The Sun
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Top Customer Reviews
Instead, it's just essentially an action movie script set incidentally in an Africa that's been colonized by the Germans after an alternate WWII outcome. I felt like I was reading the Expendables 3. The political and historical intrigue don't even take a back seat to the cliched action sequences here, they were left behind at a rest stop. You get maybe three or four pages of exposition in the whole book explaining how things turned out differently, and you get several hundred of bullets, explosions and last-minute escapes.
Just for kicks, let me try to count off here the eye-rolling action movie cliches Saville employs here:
- cartoon Nazis. These are almost uncountable. It's not even important that they're Nazis, they could just as well be imperial storm troopers on the Death Star, the Legion of Doom, or extras from the Indiana Jones franchise. I kept expecting one of them to say, "Not so quick, Mr. Jones!" But that didn't happen because there's no one named Jones in this book. The author even goes so far as to have one of them build an Aryan flesh-infused road. Hey, I don't like that, it's evil! It's super easy for the author and the reader, because you don't have to worry about any of the bad guys having even the slightest depth of character, but it's a missed opportunity for nuance in a novel.
- it's a good thing there's tons of faceless Nazis, because most of them are the anonymous "guards" who get picked off by the heroes in any number of narrow escapes. They all die immediately. But of course, when a good guy dies, there's just enough breath left for some thoughtful last words.
- the Nazis are also, naturally, terrible shots. Probably 10,000 bullets miss our heroes here. (The protagonists, of course, can take out pilots sitting in the cockpit of a helicopter hovering hundreds of feet in the air.) Actually, that's not entirely accurate. A few hit them. But luck of luck! It's just a flesh wound. Carry on!
- on that note, as noted by another reviewer, practically every chapter ends with a skin-of-the-teeth escape. Ha! You thought he was going to get shot, but no!, he's saved by his friend who escaped just as the bad guy was going to pull the trigger. By the 10th or 11th time this happens, it gets a little tired. No actually, it was tired by the 2nd time.
- the heroes never get tired. Yes, despite the fact they are shot, wounded, tortured, hacked at, on the run through the jungle for countless days, and on top of that, old, they're always ready for the next scene of hand-to-hand combat. Yes, this is a staple of every action movie, but of a historical novel?
- escape in a sewer? Yep, we got that one too.
- chased across rooftops? Couldn't leave that out. Guess what? They survive only with an improbable leap. Didn't see that one coming.
- monologue by the chief antagonist at the end, explaining the whole nasty plot? Here, you get a bonus, there's two!
- and yeah, the whole thing is "one last job" so the hero can go back and live in peace with his beautiful, peaceful, much younger lover
Oh yeah, and it's of course the white guys that Africans needs to save them. The few black characters are of the noble savage type. Just in case you were worried you'd have to do *any* thinking during the book.
I guess this will make a decent Jerry Bruckheimer movie some day (or maybe Quentin Tarantino) but as a historical novel, it was a huge missed opportunity.
That the author has lived in Africa really shines through in his descriptions of how the air tastes and feels, the flora, even the grit and dirt - the setting comes alive as a character in its own right.
The world building is excellent. I loved the exploration of colonialism and the 'what would have happened if Germany became a great colonial power' in this book. Some of this is drawn from historical documents and extrapolations of what might have come to be if Germany had dominated the world after WWII; others are natural evolutions of this from the author's imagination. There weren't really a lot of intrusive info dumps to build the world, which I found very satisfying. I HATE Robert Jordan-type, bloated info dumps and self-indulgent description.
Characters & characterisation: as this is a series, I wasn't expecting a huge arc for the main character. I was very satisfied with the slow unveiling of Burton Cole and his past. Some of this is done as flashbacks, which I did find clunky at first, but then these became less obtrusive as the book went on. The characters' motivations are clear and believable and I WILL be reading the next book as I like Burton and find the antagonist, Hochberg, fascinating. There is a minor romance plot which leaves you wanting more.
The book is written from multiple POVs, with Cole the main carrier of the bulk of the chapters. It works really well, but then that's what you expect from this genre.
Plot: Fast, page turning, with cliff hangers at the end of many chapters. Lots of get-out-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth and hurt-me-bad action, and a few big, satisfying explosions.
What I didn't like: the rationale for then entire mission was weak. I won't give it away, but Guy Saville could have beefed this up a lot more and done a darnside more foreshadowing. This was a let down... the ending certainly wasn't.