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Beneath Gray Skies by Hugh Ashton
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Beneath Gray Skies

by Hugh Ashton

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Imagine that the Civil War never occurred and that there exist both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. Prejudice and segregation still exist in the North, but the South is stuck in the mid-19th century, economically and culturally backward, still run by a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis, and his lackeys, and still practicing slavery. It is about 1930, Hitler is preaching anti-Semitism in Germany and looking for a partner to expand his dominion and access necessary raw materials. The Confederacy, which has no legitimacy, no diplomatic relationship with any respectable nation, sees an opportunity for an alliance. Hugh Ashton creates an interesting ensemble cast of Confederates, Americans, Brits and Germans. The story is pretty predictable with espionage, an inter-racial love story, some violence, a little soul searching and a lot of Confederates and Germans willing to commit treason (and murder), in pursuit of the greater good. It is interesting to imagine something like this: to think of the US as a fraction of its size and influence, instead of a world super-power. The author introduces and builds up a number of characters, such as the lovers, Christopher and Virginia, and Miss Justin and then just drops them. I kept wishing they would reappear and their stories developed. At times the dialogue is inconsistent: in one sentence a Southerner’s words reflect ignorance and a lack of education; in the next, he is quite eloquent. But all in all, a very pleasant distraction. ( )
  shearon | Feb 7, 2012 |
Beneath Gray Skies is an enjoyable trip to an alternate past. Starting off slow with somewhat disjointed and unnecessary flashbacks in history, it unfolds to become a good read! Overall, a decent read – I recommend it for alternate history fans.

Positives: Quick pace; fun action sequences and twists; nice layout of the zeppelin Bismarck

Negatives: I’m a map lover, so a map of North America would have been a nice addition; slow start with unnecessary flashbacks

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Member Giveaways. ( )
  sjolly75 | Jul 23, 2011 |
I love alternate history books and this one was no exception. Well-written with a brilliant story, Ashton weaves real historical characters with a past that never happened, making a brilliant and captivating story that is hard to put down. A great read! ( )
  eheinlen | Jul 7, 2011 |
A remarkable alternate history novel, my husband and I both enjoyed the way the storyline unfolded, and some clever twists in the plot. Most of the post Civil War novels in this genre operate on the premise that the South won the war. In this, Lincoln is too ill to be interested in fighting, so he just basically shoos the South away to mind their own business.

There is some good dialog and interesting tweaks in the historical timelines. I really liked Hugh's section, for instance, about the Wright Brothers, who never worked in North Carolina, but instead took their business and their experiments to Ireland!

The inter-connectivity between the Nazis and the South is somewhat alarming and was quite realistic to me. The battle to keep these two world powers separate and disconnected is the crux of the story.

Liked the details about the blimps (zeppelins)and what I perceived to be an undercurrent to modern times - - - "unholy alliances" between evil powers based purely on the availability of resources, whether they be money or helium!

The writing could have been a little tighter, and the characters perhaps could have been more finely tuned, but it was an enjoyable read that promoted some good conversation!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book from Member Giveaways on LibraryThing, and this review is posted both on LibraryThing and Amazon. ( )
1 vote Readerwoman | Jun 16, 2011 |
An interesting variation in the 'what if' genre. Because of Lincoln's incapacity due to illness after his inauguration, it was decided to let the Confederacy go its own way due to the expectation that it would soon collapse of its own weight. However this did not occur and by the 1920s it was still a slave-holding international parish seeking recognition and money for which it would exchange its agricultural and undeveloped natural resources. To President Jefferson Davis III, a man named Hitler could provide this in exchange for Confederate assistance in his attempt to take over Germany.

The resulting adventure is exciting and the ending satisfying albeit unforeseen by the Confederates or Germans. The only weak point was the occasional initial identification of the heroes by their 'slavery is evil and no one I know supports it' statements rather than just letting their actions speak for themselves. ( )
1 vote surly | Jun 14, 2011 |
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David Slater, a conscript in the 1920s Army of the Confederacy, faces a dilemma. When he and his regiment were shipped to Germany to help stage a coup there, his Limey fellow-soldier Brian was acting strangely. David now has the choice of reporting his best friend to his commanding officers, or keeping quiet and just doing his job: preparing for the arrival of Bismarck, the giant Zeppelin flying Hitler and his Nazi cohorts to meet their new allies, the Confederates. Beneath Gray Skies follows the adventures of David and those around him in a past that never happened-where the Civil War never took place, and the Confederacy survived as a pariah slave-holding nation into the 20th century. Confederates, Unionists, British and Germans plot and counterplot in a tightly woven tale of espionage, treachery and romance. The cast of Beneath Gray Skies includes rogue British agent "Bloody Brian" Finch-Malloy, hard-drinking Henry Dowling, and Christopher Pole, a slave who escapes from the hell of the Confederacy-living against a backdrop that includes real historical characters. Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and Dr. Hugo Eckener, the brilliant anti-Nazi Zeppelin captain, all live again in this "extraordinarily well-written piece of mind candy that becomes more and more difficult to put down" (Christopher Belton). Almost without realizing what has happened, David finds himself part of a conspiracy within the Confederacy that includes "Bloody Brian", which is working to prevent the airship's arrival in Georgia, to seize the mysterious priceless treasure on board the Bismarck, and to halt the spread of slavery to Europe. As David Slater and his President, Jefferson Davis III, confront each other on the doomed dirigible, David must ask himself once again where his loyalty lies: to his country, or to a higher morality. Beneath Gray Skies is the first published novel by Hugh Ashton, a British-born writer and journalist currently living in Kamakura, Japan.… (more)

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