Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: "The Afrika Reich" by Guy Saville


Review - The Afrika Reich


Reading The Afrika Reich is a a bit like watching a movie made from over-the-top elements of James Bond, Schindler's List, and Die Hard.

A shady businessman hires a crack team of mercenaries to assassinate the Governor General of the German Africa territories, SS man Walter E. Hochburg, and their leader Burton has a personal score to settle with the target. They apparently succeed in killing him, but from there on everything goes wrong for the group, and one by one, the members of the team are hunted down until only the old comrades Whaler and Burton remain, both veterans of the Foreign Legion. And now they have to slip out of thousands of square miles of SS-controlled Africa...

The Afrika Reich presents the reader with a steady stream of action in an alien and yet familiar world of a 1950s Africa where the Black population has almost completely vanished, shipped off to the so-called Muspel zone in the Sahara.

Before you ask: yes, I'm German, and no, I have no idea what Muspel is supposed to mean.

The enemy is evil, over the top evil in a mustache-twirling way befitting of that fine best spy of Her Majesty's secret service. In the same way, he truly is as gutwrenchingly, unflinchingly evil as he is in the character of Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. Walter E. Hochburg is Saville's Goeth. Nearly everything screams of psychotic megalomania.

The Germans themselves – except for Field Marshal von Arnim – are all ugly or brutish, and going by Saville's description, all the people in The Afrika Reich seem to eat are sausages, sauerkraut and strudel, the “holy trinity of German cuisine”. Considering the immense variety of German foods (and the actually limited number of dishes I know that contain either sausages or sauerkraut), that's like saying British cuisine consists of plum pudding and fish'n'chips, but really, that's an irritating yet minor point.

Quick excursus on German cuisine, because that's one clichee that just does not want to die: where I'm from, sauerkraut is usually served only in an old feastday menu, together with mashed potatoes and salted pork and mustard or horseradish sauce. The same basic menu in some variations (added white beans, liver dumplings) can be found across central west Germany. However, it's not something served everyday: it's an oldschool feastday menu, served, for example, at the parish fair. Sausage also really isn't that common (except you really broaden the definition of what you still consider a "sausage"), and strudel is a decidedly Bavarian and Austrian thing. Chances to see it everywhere in 1952, real history or The Afrika Reich: nil.

And then there's the Die Hard aspect: that of the hero(es) who, no matter the pain and injury inflicted, can get out of his cuffs and into the fight again, for what feels like a dozen times throughout the book.

Africa, 1952
Which is one or two times to many, in my opinion. During the beginning of the last third, the book drags considerably. Here, Saville could have cut 50 pages with no great loss to the integrity of the central plot itself, or better, used them to expand on the revelations of that very last part.

The alternate history aspect is well-employed, taken as a matter of fact of how the world works. I feel this worked to the novel's advantage; delving deeper into the coming about of such backgrounds only opens the gates wide for doubts (like: where's the manpower just to control everything there coming from, why did the British still lose India so fast, etc.).

Some of the more cartoonish aspects of The Afrika Reich can be put down to an extrapolation of Himmler's schemes and the relative independence of Hochburg's Africa, but on the whole one gets the impression that there's really no reason why any sane German - or European in general - would want to live in The Afrika Reich, not with the pervasive presence of jackbooting thugs liable to ruin your day just because they think they can.

Final Verdict: B. Despite some flaws, The Afrika Reich is an entertaining first novel, both for Saville and for his planned trilogy. It's not perfect, coming across in parts more like an airport thriller in the tradition of Matthew Reilly rather than an alternate history novel. It does not question its setup and rolls with the flow, presenting the reader with non-stop action of heroes possessing over-the-top endurance, and with villains that would put Ernst Stavro Blofeld of James Bond fame to shame. You can check out the website of The Afrika Reich here. I, for one, am looking forward to more from Mr. Saville.

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The War Blogger hails from his lair over at, unsurprisingly, The War Blog. He also runs a Blip.tv channel and has published his first alternate history novel Wolf Hunt in 2011.

7 comments:

  1. Sounds good, though I would love more details about the world it takes place in.

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  2. As would I. Saville really doesn't give more than the most basic information, since most of it isn't of any importance to the adventure of his protagonists. I didn't hold that against him for that precise reason: for the story as it is, it really doesn't have an impact. However, since matters seem to move away from the Afrika Reich in the sequel - at least temporarily - I expect we'll get a better picture then.

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  3. I hope so, I'm a sucker for good world building

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  4. Hello

    Google alerts let me know about your review.

    Before I begin, thanks for buying the book and taking the effort to write a review: much appreciated. I thought it was a very interesting critique and I’ll address some of your points.

    First thing I should say is that although I’ve obviously ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Die Hard’ they weren’t particular influences on the book. It’s always curious to see how other people find things in your book you never intended. Regarding Bond, I have to admit never being that big a fan.

    As for German food, I’m rather partial to it and have sampled lots while travelling in Germany (particular favourites include Maultasche, Fleischklosse and Laskaus). The ‘holy trinity’ line was actually meant as a joke, satirising the cliché that sausages and sauerkraut are the only staples of German cooking… but clearly it didn’t work for you! Sorry.

    Your comment about the heroes being able to survive lots of injuries etc is one that other readers have raised. Unfortunately, I never thought people would take the action quite so literally; it’s been a constant surprise to me. This is something I’m thinking of changing for the next book.

    Having read your blog (and seen your posting on the alt history discussion boards) I know you’re a fan of alternate history. In some circles I’ve been criticised for not putting in enough of this history. My response is that I was primarily writing a thriller/adventure story – rather than a work of pure alternate history. I was pleased to read that you felt this worked to the book’s advantage.

    Finally, I really like your observation about no sane person wanting to live in the Afrika Reich – it made me chuckle.

    Thanks again for your review. I’m currently writing Book 2 which is rather different in tone and style to ‘Afrika Reich’. I’ll be interested to see what you make of that when it’s published.

    Very best wishes

    Guy

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  5. Thank you alot for this comprehensive answer, Guy.

    "Your comment about the heroes being able to survive lots of injuries etc is one that other readers have raised. Unfortunately, I never thought people would take the action quite so literally; it’s been a constant surprise to me. This is something I’m thinking of changing for the next book."

    I wouldn't. Yes, it tasks the reader's suspension of disbelief a bit - as it did with me -, but you've written a tension-filled action thriller, and heroes more or less are genre-typically given a bit of leeway there. It would probably work better if the plot wasn't so condensed; spread out over several weeks, the kind of punishment Whaler and Burton took (as the heroes) would work better.

    "I’m currently writing Book 2 which is rather different in tone and style to ‘Afrika Reich’. I’ll be interested to see what you make of that when it’s published."

    I'll read and review it. The Afrika Reich left me wanting more.

    -- War Blogger

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  6. Thanks for checking out Alternate History Weekly Update, Guy. Would you be interested in doing an interview for the site? Email me at ahwupdate@gmail.com and we can talk more about it.

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  7. Just got a reader message explaing what Muspel actually means!

    "The US version of wikipedia lists a Muspellsheimr, derived from Norse mythology,a realm of fire. The author Gene Wolfe uses Muspel as a place name in his books. In Saville's timeline for May 1945:

    " German Africa divided into six spheres: Deutsch Kongo, Deutsch Ost-Afrika
    (DOA), Deutsch Sud-West-Afrika (DSWA), Aquatoriana, Kameruns and Deutsch West Afrika (DWA, incorporating the Sahara), colloquially known as ‘Muspel’.
    Sporadic deportations of black Africans to Muspel." For June 1949:
    "June
    Windhuk Conference (DSWA) chaired by Himmler and Hochburg to discuss ‘the racial security of German Africa’.
    As a result of its decree, all black Africans to be sent to work in the industrial complexes of Muspel"

    Hence, Muspel the site of tropical heat, desert heat, and industrial heat."

    Always great to see that someone will have an answer.

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