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Ha'penny: A Story of a World that Could Have Been (Small Change) Paperback – May 14, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
This provocative sequel to acclaimed alternate history Farthing (2006) delves deeper into the intrigue and paranoia of 1940s fascist Great Britain. Denied help from the United States, England negotiated the Farthing Peace with the Nazis to end WWII, surrendering freedom for a narrow kind of safety. Eight years later, Scotland Yard investigators like Inspector Carmichael spend as much time monitoring the activities of gays, Jews and foreigners as they do hunting criminals. Carmichael, outed to his superiors as a homosexual and blackmailed into keeping deadly political secrets, plans to retire after his current case, a bombing at the country house of respected actress Lauria Gilmore. Meanwhile, Viola Lark is preparing for the role of her life as a female Hamlet when she's coerced into a plot to kill the prime minister and Hitler on opening night. World Fantasy Award–winner Walton masterfully illustrates how fear can overwhelm common sense, while leaving hope for a resurgence of popular bravery and an end to dictatorial rule. (Oct.)
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“Stellar… Horrifying and all-too-possible.” ―RT Book Reviews, Top Pick! on Ha'penny
“Walton's use of a common genre template--this time the race-against-time thriller--allows her to develop the eerily contemporary underpinnings of her alternate history…. Gives us much to think about regarding her world and our own.” ―Sarah Weinman, The Los Angeles Times on Ha'penny
“[Farthing and Ha'penny] are compulsively readable for their characters and plots. But it's [Walton's] observations about power that make them hard to put down.” ―Baltimore City Paper
“Masterful work…. This is political suspense at its best and brightest.” ―Bookslut.com
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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.
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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The main theme of the books is the theme of trading principals for security and...Read more