Alongside “What if the South had won the Civil War?” one of the great tropes of Alternate History is, “What if the Nazis had won World War II?” While some might say that the question has been analyzed to death, Guy Saville gives a fresh look at the age-old question in his debut thriller novel The Afrika Reich.
Rather than a heavy-handed discussion of historical facts and what-if figures, The Afrika Reich is a thriller using Alternate History to create its rich setting. In 1952 in the Africa of another world, Burton Cole, a former French Foreign Legionnaire, is on a final mercenary mission to provide for his family and settle an old score. The action is fast-paced and intense, laced with explosions and real takes on the brutality of commando warfare. Cole is no infallible “good guy” hero; he’s a tough man who as caught on the wrong side of a war and now trying his best to move on even though his life has known little but fighting.
While the story alone carries the work, Saville’s deep research creates a fascinating world. World War II ends early when the German army attacks in full force at Dunkirk, rather than letting the British largely retire across the Channel in 1940. Britain quits the war, France has already fallen to its Vichy puppet-government, and the Germans are able to finish off the Soviets by 1942. With Britain out of the war, there is no Lend-Lease program in Washington, and the U.S. stays out of the war. Germany secures its domination of Europe and then moves to Africa to establish its empire there. Large areas are depopulated of native Africans, who are sent to be relocated to the Sahara, just as Jews are dispatched to camps in isolated Madagascar. Seeing the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe with over six million dead spread to a whole new continent gives the reader a chill to think of what horrors Nazism could yet have created.
Although Alternate History purists might want an essay outlining the butterflies of a catastrophic Dunkirk, using Alternate History as the setting rather than the by-and-large plot is refreshing. Saville’s story could have happened in our own world, yet it is heightened by the tweaks of what we can see in this parallel Afrika. Information about the differences in timelines is given at a need-to-know basis rather than an information-dump, and the characters themselves fill gaps through dialogue and action. Americans, in this world, are offhandedly referred to as cowards rather than world leaders in the Pax Americana. These tidbits hint at a vast field of discussion of society, always leaving the reader wanting more.
More than simply the Eurocentric history readers might be most familiar with, Saville gives a view of African culture, geography, and its own history. Cole’s fighting style is dambe, West African boxing. References are made to African proverbs and the lifestyle of a legionnaire in the Sahara. It goes the extra step that more alternate histories should: exploring the marginalized of these newly imagined worlds.
For those looking for more in their Alternate History than speculative essays, The Afrika Reich delivers an exciting story set in a fascinating what-if.