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Half a Crown: A Story of a World that Could Have Been (Small Change) Paperback – September 3, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
In Walton's fine conclusion to her alternative-history trilogy (after Ha'penny), former Scotland Yarder Peter Carmichael, now head of the secret police organization known as the Watch, must prepare for a peace conference to be held in London two decades after Britain reached an accommodation with Hitler's Germany in the early 1940s. Carmichael also has to worry about his sexual relationship with his valet, Jack, and the covert unit within the Watch he's created to smuggle British Jews out of the country. Then his naïve 18-year-old ward, Elvira Royston, who's about to be presented to the queen, overhears a conversation that could compromise her protector. Elvira, who winds up in police custody after attending a political rally that turns violent, accepts her authoritarian society with a casualness that's truly chilling. Walton's understated prose and deft characterizations elevate this above similar works such as Fatherlandand SS-GB. Some readers, though, may feel let down by an optimistic ending that jars with the series' overall downbeat tone. (Oct.)
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“Haunting...Like meticulously nested Matroyshka dolls, both Farthing and Ha'Penny reveal complex arguments layered in their elegantly structured narratives.” ―Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times
“Walton's understated prose and deft characterizations elevate this above similar works such as Fatherland and SS-GB.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Stunningly powerful.... A standout. Mainstream readers should be enthralled as well.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Farthing
“If le Carré scares you, try Jo Walton.” ―Ursula K. LeGuin on Farthing
“A subversive, trenchant and simultaneously dark and light piece of speculative fiction. Can I get an amen? ...The parallels between her Britain and today's climate are never didactic and always effective. It's also a book about husbands and wives, and about class and sex. It is quite an achievement, brothers and sisters. Hallelujah.” ―Bookslut on Farthing
“A stiff-upper-lip whodunit boasting political intrigue and uncomfortable truths about anti-Semitism.” ―Entertainment Weekly on Farthing
“Walton realizes an all-too-convincing alternate world in which the Third Reich but not its spirit was stopped at the English Channel. The characters are highly plausible, and in every aspect from the petty snobbery hampering the inspector to the we-don't-do-that-here conclusion, the plot encourages warily reconsidering the daily news.” ―Booklist on Farthing
“Amazing... One of the most compelling and chilling books of the year.” ―RT Book Reviews on Farthing
“A beautifully-written alternate history thriller by World Fantasy Award-winner Jo Walton, Farthing is a smart, convincing tale of a country's slide into fascism that's sure to entertain casual and genre readers alike.” ―Cinescope on Farthing
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I bought volume two (Ha'penny) in 2012, but couldn't muster the courage to read it for two years. Compelling. Emotionally Exhausting. And no more than a butterfly's flap from being appallingly real.
Those books still fuel much of the tossing and turning in my predawn hours.
I delayed buying volume 3 (Half a Crown) until my summer vacation in 2016.
I expected that I would need the space. I did.
(I followed this volume with her story "Among Others." Wow!)
I appreciate that the final book of the trilogy ended optimistically; I just regret that I am not sure that optimistic endedin is plausible, considering the groundwork in the previous novels. I don't think that the whole direction of a country can change by accident, and by the occasional actions of a few random people. Technically plausible, yes- but as i see creeping fascism in my own country, I don't think any brilliant revelation would stop it. Nor would a series of such.
Now, I'm reading this several years after it was written. I've seen the way fascism is creeping into America, both from the right and the (arguable) left. Perhaps a few years ago I would have found the conclusion more plausible.
In any case: it's fine novel. I'm not sure how much it would make sense if one had not read the previous 2 books. I didn't much care for Elvira; for a reader and an aspiring scholar, she was very much a thoughtless airhead. Now, I understand being raised to be a thoughtless airhead- but she rebelled enough to get a slot at Oxford, and so I would have thought she had more thinking behind her than to shallowly consider a rally in which people threw stones at Jews to be "jolly patriotic fun". That was a sentiment more worthy of a Wodehouse heroine, maybe- not someone who was "deep" and into reading and going to Oxford rather than making a brilliant marriage. I just did not find her coherent, even though at 18, I suppose we're all a mass of contradictions.
carmichael was wonderful, as before. His passages made sense.
The plot was clever, but still stuck me as being a bit too miraculous at the end. Still, the end was mostly satisfying.
If you've read the other "Small change" books, you're going to want to finish this one. If not- I think it'd be a hard read, and pretty shocking (more so than it is for us who read the previous books).
In Half a Crown we continue with the same protagonist as the fist two books (the middle book being "Ha'penny"). England has gotten more and more Nazi-like. Persecution of "Jews & Communists" is getting more extreme, and now our protagonist is the unwilling head of "the Watch"- GB's version of the Gestapo.
This time it's more of a thriller than a mystery. But again Jo surprised me by the ending.
Walton plays with alternative history like a musician, bringing in elements from actual history with a slight skew. In Farthing it was the Cliveden Set, in Ha'penny, it was the Mitford sisters; here it is Burgess, minus Maclean, Philby, and Blunt, but elevated. The novel concludes with a twist, as surprising as it is welcome, delivered by a character singularly appropriate for the role.