By Alex Wallace
Sometimes, good things come in small packages. Such was The Eagle and the Bluebird, a story of only thirty-eight pages by Jordan H. J. Lloyd. I was exposed to it when the author posted about it in Alternate History Online (which, for full disclosure, I help run). I read it in a single sitting, as you often do with short stories, and was impressed with the golden egg that had been dropped in my lap.
The actual alternate history is admittedly nothing we devoted followers of the genre haven’t seen before; it’s a Nazi victory world where Britain is occupied. The plot itself is resistance shenanigans, as stories of this type tend to. What Lloyd does superbly is nail the mood of the piece; all great Nazi victory stories have to reckon with just how unspeakably awful such a scenario really is. Any world where they win is by definition bleak, where any hope of freedom in the Atlantic world is smothered with a jackboot. That is what Fatherland has and what In and Out of the Reich has and what The Good German has: that feeling of omnipresent dystopia where it feels like the sun never shines. To his great credit, Lloyd has captured that.
Related to that feeling is the setting he has chosen: the often-eulogized English countryside village. One is tempted to apply the word ‘quaint’ to it, but I have been told the inhabitants of such places do not like the term. In any case, this town, despite the presence of the German military, feels almost like the setting of the sort of cozy mystery my mother would read (and possibly have recipes in the back). It is this intimacy that brings you to your main character, Mabel Bleu, a secretary (common woman’s work in that period) with a past she endeavours to keep hidden. She lives with her disabled husband in a cottage outside of town.
It is this intimacy that gives the political conflict a flavor I have only seen in The Good German. Much attention is given to small acts of resistance, like irritating the German road inspector or avoiding black clothing to spite the collaborationist blackshirts. This is a story about “peasants, not kings” as Liam Connell has said (and has been quoted a great many times), and to its great credit it really gets you into the heads of ‘Little England’ as it chafes under a ruthless foreign occupation.
It is, however, not a story without some flaws. There’s a fair argument to be made that one of the major plot developments hinges on an implausible coincidence. The story also was in need of another round of editing; at times, the prose is in need of polish.
But those are ultimately small things. This is a story impressive in its economy and brutal in its depiction of a world we are lucky never came to pass. Its small scope brings fresh air to the most well-trod of allohistorical paths and provides intense focus onto the human dimension thereof. It’s not perfect, but it’s well worth your time.