Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

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

Review of Making History by Stephen Fry

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This is the first time I’ve picked up a Stephen Fry novel, and it was an enjoyable, if slightly uneven, experience. Thumbing through the opening pages, I noticed that this book was first published in 1996, which begins to make sense when considering some of the faultlines running through this alternate history offering.

Michael Young is convinced his brilliant history thesis will win him a doctorate, a pleasant academic post, a venerable academic publisher and his beloved girlfriend Jane. A historian should know better than to imagine that he can predict the future.

making historyLeo Zuckerman is an ageing physicist obsessed with the darkest period in human history, utterly driven by his fanatical hatred of one man. A lover’s childish revenge and the breaking of a rotten clasp cause the two men to meet in a blizzard of swirling pages. Pages of history. When they come together nothing – past, present or future – will ever be the same again.

And there you have the blurb. The book contains an intriguing premise – two men decide, for very different reasons, to tamper with history by ensuring the one man responsible for the rise of Nazi Germany is never born. However, the result isn’t what they bargained for… As a former history student, I thoroughly enjoyed Fry’s thorough approach to the historical content and had no problem with the leisurely start. And the conclusion that Fry comes to is certainly thought provoking – I’ve been thinking a lot about the book since I put it down.

Fry successfully establishes Michael’s character as a wunderkind bedevilled with increasing insecurities as his peers are rapidly catching up, if not overhauling his precocious giftedness. Inevitably, given the sub-genre, the narrative timeline is speckled with flashbacks which are ably handled. And it goes without saying that the writing is excellent – actually, that shouldn’t go without saying. Excellent writing should always be acknowledged and I’d be selling Fry short if I just gave a nod in that direction because we all know that the man has an intellect the size of Greece’s overdraft.

So far, so good. The protagonist has been well established, with plenty of depth. We have met with Leo and there’s been a couple of interesting plot twists – and then the novel prose comes to abrupt end and I was confronted with a film script. The action immediately speeded up as I witnessed a major emotional confrontation spool through in this script mode – feeling completely unconnected to the characters. Later in the novel, there is another, longer film script interlude, which also had the effect of alienating me from the action – a real shame as I’d really enjoyed the book up to this point.

I am aware that my extreme aversion to this literary device is subjective – probably connected to the fact that books are my first and major love, while films are okay, I suppose…. However, I did find the film script sections really spoilt the book for me. Having said that, up to the point it all went Courier I found the depiction of the alternate world engrossing and chilling in equal measure. Fry is good at writing minor characters memorably and the flashes of humour helped alleviate what could have been a grim read, given the subject matter.

All in all, it’s an interesting book with a fascinating premise and if you enjoy alternate histories, I highly recommend it. Who knows – you may even enjoy the scripted sections…
8/10