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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Resistance

Really good alternate history does more than simply speculate about one or two of the limitless “what if” possibilities offered by the past. In the best writing of this type those “what ifs” are just starting points for stories that go well beyond the big picture to consider what the historical changes would mean to ordinary people caught up in their wake. Resistance, Owen Sheens’ debut novel, does exactly that, and does it remarkably well.

What if the allied invasion of France had been repelled by a German army fully prepared to meet the invaders on the beaches of Normandy? What if that failed invasion resulted in such a devastating defeat for the Allies that Germany was almost immediately able to land her soldiers on England’s southern coast and begin a march to London?

The women of the isolated Olchon Valley of Wales did not even have time to wonder “what if” before they woke up one morning to find that every one of their husbands and sons had vanished, leaving behind nothing to indicate where they had gone or when they might return. But Maggie, oldest of the women, knew in her heart that the men would be gone for a long time when she saw that her husband William had left their cows un-milked, something he had never done in all their years together. She was able to convince the rest of the women that their husbands had joined the resistance, something they hardly dare speak of even among themselves, and that it is their duty to work the farms on their own while their men were away.

And that is exactly what they try to do until a small German patrol suddenly appears in the valley on a mission of its own. Despite the women’s efforts to disguise the absence of the valley’s men, Captain Albrecht Wolfram quickly reaches the correct conclusion that the women are alone and that their husbands are involved in fighting the German invasion. Albrecht knows that he should report the situation to his superiors but he realizes that, if he does so, everyone in the valley will be killed as an example of what will happen to the families of others who join the underground resistance. Albrecht has already seen the worst that war has to offer and he does not have the stomach to cause the deaths of these innocent women. He, in fact, realizes that his patrol has dropped through the cracks of the German command and decides to keep his men safely in the valley long after their initial mission has been completed.

When harsh winter weather sets in, making it impossible for the soldiers to leave the valley even if they want to, both the women and the soldiers come to realize that they must depend on each other for survival. The women grudgingly reach the conclusion that their resistance is no longer possible. Out of necessity the two groups learn to accommodate each other and over the long winter months personal relationships change to the point that both sides almost forget that they are at war with each other. What they have in common is more important than their differences.

But seasons change, and winter is always followed by spring. Warmer weather opens the valley to the outside world again and the realities of life under a ruthless occupying force. Are the women in more danger from German reprisal or from their neighbors who see them as collaborators? Should they have done more to resist the valley’s invaders? What will their husbands think of them? Those are just some of the questions that readers will ponder long after they turn the last page of Resistance.

This one is not to be missed.

Rated at: 5.0
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