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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

on September 27, 2016
As a connoisseur of both science fiction and suspense novels, I've come to love the writing of Jo Walton . _Ha' Penny_ is part of the author's_Small Change_ trilogy, whose two other books I would also recommend heartily, Taken as individual books or as a continuous narrative with repeating central characters, this novel, as all the others in the trilogy, is set in an alternate history in which England's separate peace with Hitler's Germany results in the slow, agonizing development of fascism in London. The main character, who anchors each book, including _Ha 'penny_ is a London detective. His world-weary attitude never obscures a sharp mind embroiled in solving different crimes which frame each novel. Walton has a fast-paced style, which nonetheless leaves room for well-crafted character development, imaginative, but very conceivable plot twists, and a lovely dichotomy between the perceived innocence of the southern English countryside and the bleak corruption of London, Walton shines in her all-too believable description of a post-war England whose choice to make peace with Hitler creates a frightening world in which anti-semitism, exaggerated class division, and the destruction of a constitutional monarch both repels and fascinates the reader.
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Alternate history is a curious branch of science fiction — or, perhaps more properly, of speculative fiction. Because the factor that limits the author’s imagination aren’t the boundaries of science but those of history itself: reality. To work, alternate history must be believable in the context of what we know of our past. In Ha’penny, the second volume of her Farthing Trilogy, accomplished British science fiction and fantasy writer Jo Walton has achieved that, and more. She has written a gripping, suspenseful novel that illuminates the past with her artful imagination.

In Farthing (reviewed here) the first book of the trilogy, Nazi Germany and England had signed a peace treaty in 1941, leaving Hitler dominant on the Continent — before the seminal events that drew the US and the USSR into the war. The “Farthing Set,” the group of right-wing aristocrats credited with ending the war, is poised on the brink of power eight years later. Farthing — combining alternate fiction with a murder mystery — tells the story of the violence that facilitated their ascent to power.

How could this have happened in the seat of democracy? It’s not so far-fetched. “England is like a country of sleepwalkers, walking over the edge of a cliff,” Walton writes, “and has been these last eight years. You’re prosperous, you’re content, and you don’t care what’s going on the other side of the Channel as long as you can keep on having boat races and horse shows and coming up to London to see a show . . .” Is this description so far from today’s reality, when the Conservative Party, which has stubbornly kept Britain in recession for five years, has just been returned to office with its biggest victory in thirty years?

Ha’penny picks up the story shortly after the Farthing Set has settled into 10 Downing Street. The scene shifts from the country home in the village of Farthing where the first book was set to London’s theater district. There, Viola Lark, one of the six notorious Larkin sisters, has achieved stardom on the stage and is set to begin production of a production of Hamlet, with herself in the title role in the theatrical fashion of the age. Viola cares only about the theater. She’s less than indifferent to politics. But the novel tells the fascinating tale of her gradual immersion in a plot to put an end to the fascist Farthing regime that has recently risen to power.

At the center of the story are the aristocratic Larkin sisters. They’re closely modeled on the real-life Mitford sisters, whose divergent paths through life in the 1930s, 40s, and beyond kept the English people variously entertained and enraged. The noted journalist and author Ben McIntyre describes them as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur.” In truth, two of the sisters (Diana and Unity) were close to Hitler; Diana married Sir Oswald Mosley, the head of the British fascist party. Nancy and Jessica, both accomplished writers (Jessica wrote the widely acclaimed The American Way of Death pillorying the funeral industry), were also both left-leaning. Jessica, who moved to the US early in life, was a member of the American Communist Party until 1958. [I’m proud to say that I knew Jessica Mitford — she was better known as Decca — for a few years in the 1970s. She had long since settled in Berkeley with her second husband, a leftist attorney. Decca was a brilliant social critic with a wicked, non-stop sense of humor.] With such stranger-than-fiction models for her characters, Jo Walton could hardly be faulted for a too-vivid imagination in writing Ha-penny.

Jo Walton has written a total of eleven novels, one of which, a fantasy titled Among Others, won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel in 2011 and 2012. Farthing, Ha’penny, and Half a Crown form the Farthing Trilogy. They were published in 2006-2008.
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on May 4, 2015
Jo Walton is a master of alternative history - in this case the premise of World War 2 being ended by a peace made between Great Britain and Germany in 1943. Ha'penny is set a few years after the peace, and narrated alternately by a first person actress from a titled family (loosely based on the Mitford family) and the third person story of a police inspector investigating an accidental detonation of a bomb intended to kill Hitler and overthrow the fascist government of Great Britain. The main characters are beautifully drawn, and the oppressive nature of a Britain that could have been is masterfully, subtly and believably created. This is the second book in a trilogy - I'm now reading the third.
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on October 22, 2007
I read Farthing last year and thought it was brilliant; Ha'Penny is just as good. Farthing's plot was a country-house mystery; I would call Ha'Penny more of a suspense thriller, and full of suspense it is, right up to the explosive ending.

It follows on quite shortly after Farthing: Inspector Carmichael has just come off the Farthing case and has been assigned to a bombing which killed leading actress Lauria Gilmore. Viola Lark has been chosen to act Hamlet in a gender-switching production of the play, in which Gilmore had also been cast until her untimely death. As Carmichael investigates the bombing and ponders retirement from the police force, Viola is drawn into a plot to kill Hitler at the opening night of the play, along with Prime Minister Mark Normanby, the lead figure in the increasingly fascistic government.

As in Farthing, Walton alternates voices chapter by chapter, between Viola's first person and Carmichael's third, and both are equally absorbing; I especially liked the reflections of Viola's mental state in her role as Hamlet, as she wavers about her involvement in the plot and treads the edge of sanity. As England slides further and further into fascism, Walton's alternate history, always convincing, becomes more and more frightening.
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on October 17, 2017
Fantastic alt-history book about how quickly fascism can overtake a country. Extremely well written.
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on April 19, 2014
I really enjoyed the three books in this series. Jo Walton manages to make every book interesting and fresh, using different characters, and one recurring one that we come to care a great deal about over the course of the three books. I especially appreciate her ability to tell a story in a reasonable amount of pages as opposed to the 800-1000 page fantasies that fill todays bookshelves. Her alternate universe is plausible and subtly chilling,then mixed with traditional British mystery and thriller genre. Best books I've read in a long time!
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on October 27, 2007
Jo Walton's latest alternative history novel (the middle volume in a trilogy that will be completed next year) continues in the world of *Farthing* (and is set shortly after that novel). Where the first novel was, at its core, a country-house murder mystery, *Ha'penny* is a thriller, with its motivating engine being a race between Inspector Carmichael (who featured in *Farthing* as well) and anti-fascist plotters.

The novel alternates between two viewpoint characters, Carmichael and Viola Lark (née Larkin) an actress and daughter of an aristocratic family modelled on, but not identical to, the Mitfords.

This novel gripped me from the moment I started reading. Walton knows how to spin a story, and she manages, with a few deft touches, to give us a real sense of what this alternative world is like. I'm looking forward to the final volume, *Half a Crown*. I just wish I didn't have to wait a year.
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on September 9, 2014
This is part of a trilogy. To be honest, I forgot which book in the trilogy this is.

The main theme of the books is the theme of trading principals for security and status quo. In this alternate history the UK makes their own peace with Hitler. Watching fascism creeping deeper and deeper into the fabric of the UK is terrifying.

The first book in the series struck me as the scariest of all, even though things are out in the open by the last book.
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on October 16, 2015
One of the best books, let alone mysteries, I've read. Jo Walton show more plot and character development in 370 pages than some better known (and less deserving of popularity) do in their bloated works.
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on December 24, 2013
Spending an additional novel's-time in Walton's alternative history, with Carmichael and Roylston, was a pleasure. Walton's tale of intrigue, with Britain's opposition forces (such as they are) trying to get a toe hold against the country's leader and his alliance with Hitler, was paced just right and populated my interesting characters that grew as a result of their experiences. I'm looking forward to the third book in the trio of stories.
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