A very interesting novel, embellished by an extremely good audiobook performance.
The Amazon miniseries, and my interest in alternative-history fiction, inspired me to download this title for a long holiday road trip. The genre is most effective when the premise is treated as background rather than the primary focus; “what happened?” and “how is this world different?” aren’t as interesting questions as “how are people in this world different?” and “what does this world say about our own?” Fortunately this novel doesn’t provide a detailed explanation of how the Allies lose the Second World War, leaving Germany in possession of the eastern United States, Japan ruling the west, with the Rockies forming a buffer between the two occupying empires (sorry, Britain and Russia, you get scant mention in this very American-centric novel).
What we have instead is a compelling portrait of California under Japanese rule. Asian culture is everywhere, affecting even the speech patterns of the conquered Americans. Yet American art and creativity fascinate the Japanese, a fascination not shared by the Germans to their east; a merger of American and Japanese culture seems to be forming, and helps lead to a conflict between the two remaining world powers. In this world, America’s military has failed, but its culture has come to its rescue; this imaginary world provides an interesting insight into the influence of American culture in our own world.
The Brilliance Audio performance by Jeff Cummings is first-rate. Cummings provides a distinct voice for each of the American, Japanese, German, and Italian characters, and even does well with the female characters. The quality of this reading makes the novel even more engaging.