One summer weekend in 1949 - but not our 1949 - the well-connected "Farthing set", a group of upper-crust English families, enjoy a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years before. Despite her parents' evident disapproval, Lucy is married - happily - to a London Jew. It was therefore quite a surprise to Lucy when she and her husband, David, found themselves invited to the retreat. It's even more startling when, on the retreat's first night, a major politician of the Farthing set is found gruesomely murdered, with abundant signs that the killing was ritualistic.
It quickly becomes clear to Lucy that she and David were brought to the retreat in order to pin the murder on him. Major political machinations are at stake, including an initiative in Parliament, supported by the Farthing set, to limit the right to vote to university graduates. But whoever's behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn't reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts and looking beyond the obvious. As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out - a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.
What if: listen to more in the Small Change trilogy.
©2006 Jo Walton (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"If Le Carré scares you, try Jo Walton. Of course her brilliant story of a democracy selling itself out to fascism sixty years ago is just a mystery, just a thriller, just a fantasy--of course we know nothing like that could happen now. Don't we?" (Ursula K. Le Guin)
"Walton crosses genres without missing a beat with this stunningly powerful alternative history…. while the whodunit plot is compelling, it's the convincing portrait of a country's incremental slide into fascism that makes this novel a standout. Mainstream readers should be enthralled as well." (Publishers Weekly)
This book had a great premise, the alternate history was well thought out and the politics were believable without being too complicated to follow. The mystery aspect was interesting although not as mysterious as the author might like it to have been. I had two problems with the book. The first was how it was told part in first person and part in third person, it just didn't really work for me. More importantly, the book ended rather abruptly and left me really unfulfilled. I know that in real life everything doesn't wrap up all nice and tidy, but these are books. I took a peak at the review for the next book, and it doesn't seem to pick up on the same story. The ending was disappointing. Other than that it was great.
I listen to novels for distraction and entertainment and rate them on the experience, not literary merit. I prefer to read good literature.
Jo Walton must have had this alternate timeline series in mind when she wrote 'Farthing', which is ultimately a rather hackneyed English countryhouse murder mystery. The familiarity of the plot does indeed allow Walton to establish her alternate 1949 British history and new society as Nazi Allies for readers.
This new society is fascinating, beautifully crafted and explained. It is a Britain filled with intrigue, dissidence, fear and acquiescence in which the Aristocracy did actually manage to give their country to Hitler in order to maintain their birthright.
The story is not as well crafted. Several passages are almost lectures outlining Farthing's new society and at those times, the story seems a tedious vehicle for the alternate history.
I gave Farthing 4 stars because now, several days after finishing the book, I recall passages or points made and find myself seeing new facets to this alternate world I hadn't noticed while listening. That doesn't happen with many books. It is only today that I look forward to the next novel of the series, Ha'Penny.
Farthing kinda crept up on me.
I could tell this book was good when I found myself unable to sleep worrying about the fate of the characters.
What the author does so well is capitalize on our desire to believe in the inherent good of people. The same complacent hope/belief the characters cling to even as hope becomes a noose.
It's astounding to me that Jo Walton can write fantasy (Among Others), faux Victoriana (Tooth and Claw), and then turn around and write a country house murder/political thriller with the added twist of being set in an alternate Britain that made peace with Hitler. The ordinariness of the beginning adds to the scariness of creeping totalitarianism. And although the setting is the 1940's, the debate about restricting liberties to protect the country from terrorism is very relevant. Both narrators were very good, which I can't always say. I immediately started listening to the sequel.
Farthing seems at first to be a comfortable English country house mystery. It quickly becomes unusually candid about toxic relationships, however. Our heroine, Lucy, heiress to all the money of a very large and historic English estate, hates her mother, and it becomes apparent that she is right to do so. She also has married a Jew, and this in an England twisted out of the shape it has in our world by an early peace settlement in 1941. The war did not last five years and Hitler was not defeated. Instead, the Rudolf Hess flight to Scotland in May 1941, widely believed by many to this day, including me, to have been a separate peace offer from Hitler (it is, after all, what Hess claimed at the time!) was in that alternative reality taken up by a clique called the "Farthing set" which out-maneuvered Winston Churchill, who intended to fight on and would have squelched the initiative and jailed Hess as a madman as in our reality. The best alternative histories have that one tiny change that is plausible: England ended the war early, in 1941, with the Farthing slogan "Peace With Honor" after a short negotiation with Hitler. The resonances with the earlier real-time appeasement by Chamberlain in Munich are obvious, and add to the plausibility.
The war continues in Russia for many years and Jews are persecuted all over central and eastern Europe, and are losing ground in England, which had a substantial Fascist constituency before WWII and does again, since that was never defeated. An apparent murder at Farthing by Jews and a terrorist attack on Farthing by Bolsheviks puts Lucy's husband David right in the crosshairs, where he is intended to be. Can they escape? The chapters alternate between Lucy's narration and that of Inspector Carmichael, and so the producers have used two readers, a woman and a man. The woman reader uses the sad, falling-voice technique that I felt was a problem in the reading of Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," too. After all, much of the life of Thomas Cromwell went very well. And Lucy Kahn is a more resolute than sad heroine. The male reader is excellent and the female one is quite good except for that one habit. This novel is sexually complex, but there is no explicit sexual description whatsoever; it's mainly characterization. I think this novel would be very suitable for late teens and any age after that.
Lucy Eversley married David Kahn partly as adolescent rebellion at the stultified, restricted life she leads in the ultra-upper-class: even she realizes there is a component of rebellion. However, it's a real marriage: they fill out each other's lacks and they are extremely supportive of each other. She wants children and believes she is pregnant and is very happy about that. Therefore, the reader is both aghast and amused at the surprise she gets in the end: Lucy is definitely going to be paying her dues now and having an interesting life.
I recommend Farthing strongly and plan to listen to the other two "Small Change" novels in the series.
"Farthing" starts like a tea cozy. As it continues, World political influences come into play as Hitler, fear of Jews and Bolsheviks play out on the British upper class potentates. As it ends, Farthing becomes a commentary on all of us, on morality, on the tradeoffs we make- while still retaining the book's character as a period mystery. It is so much more. And so beautifully transitioned
I love espionage, legal, and detective thrillers but listen to most genres. Very frequent reviews. No plot spoilers! Please excuse my typos!
In this alternate history in 1940 Britain seeks "peace with honor" with Hitler. Hitler does require some changes in Great Britain in his agreement not to invade and occupy the British Isles. War is ended.
This book is set in 1949 with Hitler still in power in Germany and most of continental Europe. The setting is in an England that is rabidly anti-Jew. Farthing is Book 1 in the 3 novel Small Change series. In the book the Jewish husband of an young English lady is framed, likely by her parents, for a murder. The ending, to the extent there is an ending, is sudden with nothing resolved as is often the case in a serialized series. I shall pass on the next two books in the Small Change trilogy. DEFINITELY NOT RECOMMENDED!
I really enjoyed this book and found it easy to finish. The alternative history found throughout would not be as interesting to those not familiar with WW1 and WW2.
I would say this book is an interesting piece of speculative historical fiction.
A very interesting world in which the U.S. didn't enter the Second War and Great Britain fought alone to a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany. The thing is, the alternative history side of this doesn't really make a difference to the murder-mystery plot: It's just atmosphere. Such a shame to create a fascinating world that is simply scenery. There is also a dual narrator structure that affords the reader two views of the events and gives us two protagonists. But it seemed a little frivolous and unnecessary.
I am an Australian woman who enjoys reading many different styles of books, from history to sci fi and mystery to poetry.
This genre has been done to death: What if Germany had won the war? This time with a bit of crime mystery added. The mystery was not, it was so predictable. The premise is old and again so predictable. The writing was good but I was not driven to buy the rest of the series. But I didn't return the book either, so didn't hate it, but I didn't like it.
The narrators made the story more bearable.
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