Book Reviews

Farthing by Jo Walton

Farthing by Jo Walton is a little bit of a different read for me. I went into it not knowing anything about it; I never even bothered to read the summary. Turns out Farthing is alternate history, which as a rule I usually don't read, but it's also a murder mystery with strong political overtones. The events that unfold in Farthing continue eight years later in Ha'pennyand conclude with Half a Crown.

So what's Farthing about?

It's alternate history and takes place in the 1940's. In this version of history, the United States never enters the war against Nazi Germany (there's no mention of the Japanese, so I guess the reader is left to assume that the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor never happened). As a result, England is left to fend alone against Hitler. But Hitler isn't interested in England. Turns out he's more interested in making peace with the British so he can turn the fullness of his attention on Russia. This is what happens. The story begins at a country estate where the orchestrator of this peace accord, Sir James Thirkie, is found in his room, murdered. What follows is a Scotland Yard investigation led by Inspector Carmichael where everyone—servant and noble alike—is considered a suspect.

Farthing garnered a lot of excellent reviews on Amazon. It's written well and has a style that is easy to read while holding the reader's attention, but ultimately I just didn't find enough going on here. The pacing is rather slow at times, with lots of tea and lunches and not enough intrigue or suspense for my taste. What Farthing really amounts to is a peek into a sort of Marvel Comics What If? scenario where Nazi Germany's influence (in particular their bias against Jews and homosexuals) begins to influence seemingly benign countries like England where such hatred becomes a convenient excuse for certain parties to impose their will upon their nations. It's a scary possibility, but scary only inasmuch as one thinks alternate history is scary. It didn't happen, so I, for one, am not particular scared.

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