Daily Archives: August 13, 2014

Review of Half a Crown – Book 3 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton

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This is the final book in this riveting alternate history series, and my strong recommendation is that if you pick up Half a Crown without reading the other two – don’t. Read my review of Farthing here and Ha’penny here. While Walton has structured each book so that it can be read as a standalone, you will lose a great deal in the narrative progression and some of the nuances Walton has woven into the storyline. She is a subtle writer, who assumes her readers are capable of drawing their own conclusions, without it being necessary for her to spell out every consequence of the scenario she has depicted. And I love the play on words with the title of this particular book – customary Walton sharp cleverness…

In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… It is the 1960s. Hitler and half a crownthe Duke of Windsor are among the global leaders who are convening in London to agree the final partition of the world. Inspector Carmichael is now commander of The Watch – Britain’s infamous police force. As endgame approaches, he is forced in a position where there is no going back. Whatever happens now, Carmichael is no longer able to keep up a façade of normality while the English are increasingly subjected to a despotic rule.

And that is – more or less – the blurb. So we have moved on some twelve years since the ending of Ha’penny. Elvira Royston, Inspector Carmichael’s adopted ward, is about to be presented at court as a debutante, so we have the same narrative structure that has worked so well in the previous two books – a dual narrative between Carmichael and his stiff reserve hiding another, forbidden lifestyle, and a younger female protagonist. Elvira does not have the poise and self assurance of either Viola or Lucy, but she is just as feisty. Walton has managed to pull off a tricky issue that could have tripped up a less skilled writer – each of her female protagonists featuring in the trilogy have their own quite separate voices, giving each book a different emotional tone.

It was interesting to note that in this final book, which ramps the climax up to the point of life and death – it starts far more quietly with a longer buildup than the previous two volunes. But as ever, once the action begins, Walton’s stylish, understated prose belies the tension that pings off the page. I was hooked. Despite needing to get up and get going – I was stapled to the book and going nowhere until I found out exactly what would happen next.

The other issue Walton has to consider with this, the third offering in the series, is a sense of predictability. But once it all starts to kick off, I couldn’t work out what would happen next and certainly didn’t see the denouement coming – particularly as Walton doesn’t necessarily have her stories end, ‘and they all lived happily ever after…’ However she produces a fitting and satisfactory conclusion to this fascinating and chilling alternate history series. If your taste runs to this sub-genre, don’t miss it – Walton is one of the most talented fantasy writers producing work today. Whether you agree with her take on this intriguing exploration of an alternate history, or not – I’ll guarantee that Walton’s world will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.
10/10