June Thomas of Slate reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
The most basic division at a bookstore or library is between fiction and nonfiction. Two interesting new novels blur that distinction.
"Dominion," by C.J. Sansom, out now from Little Brown, is set in the London of 1952, but in this alternative universe, World War II ended in surrender in 1940, and Britain is a gray and depressing outpost of the Third Reich. Two mid-level civil servants who are part of the small but committed Resistance risk everything to save an old college friend from the Gestapo.
Sansom, who is best known for a series of mysteries set in Tudor England, invents an all-too-credible dystopian universe, but he's not so good on interpersonal matters. The characters exist in their own little worlds, rarely connecting, and his prose style can seem like an explosion of minute details, not all of which are entirely relevant to the story.
Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue is best known for her dazzling 2010 thriller, "Room," but if readers come to her new novel expecting more of the same, they might be disappointed. "Frog Music," out April 1 from Little Brown, is an engrossing read, but it's a slighter book than "Room." It starts with fact – in this case, an unsolved murder that happened in the sweltering summer of 1876, when San Francisco was in the middle of a smallpox epidemic – and it ends with a fictional resolution.
Like Sansom, Donoghue gets a little too mired in the details, but along the way, she paints a colorful picture of a bustling city full of newly arrived immigrants, burlesque dancers and plucky cross-dressers.
Look for reviews of more new releases on the Slate Book Review at slate.com/books.