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Half a Crown by Jo Walton
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Half a Crown

by Jo Walton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Small Change (3)

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4063226,236 (3.82)61
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    In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (AlanPoulter)
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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Drat. I don't think this book is as good as Farthing or Ha'penny. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't measure up to the other two.

This book has the same narrative structure as the first two, with chapters told from a female first-person POV alternating with those told from Carmichael's third-person POV. In this book, though, Elvira and Carmichael aren't strangers. Since now Carmichael is head of the Watch, he's not investigating cases as he was back in 1949. So Half a Crown goes off in a different direction by necessity. And for much of the book, this works well. Elvira is young enough to not remember Britain before the Farthing Peace. Living in a fascist society is normal for her, and thanks to her father and Carmichael being police officers, she's always had good experiences with the police. Her growing realization that the police and the government are harming and killing people—real people, not just stereotyped villains—is handled well.

Although Half a Crown was a page-turner, I missed having a substantial plot. Farthing had its murder mystery and Ha'penny had its political thriller to drive their plots along, but the main thrust of Half a Crown is Carmichael's attempts to rescue Elvira, and it didn't quite measure up. Elvira shines in the ending, but I found it disappointing otherwise. As others have commented, it's a deus ex machina ending (regina ex machina?), and felt contrived. But later, I realized that it also leaves too many questions unanswered. Carmichael and Elvira are safe, but what happened to Sir Alan and other characters? At the international level, Britain's change of heart isn't going to affect Nazi Germany or imperial Japan; how will a non-fascist Britain do in an essentially unchanged fascist-dominated world? I'm glad I read the book, because I did want a sense of closure after Ha'penny, and Half a Crown is a good read. Just not quite what I had hoped. ( )
  Silvernfire | May 31, 2017 |
A bit of a disappointment. The first book in this series had some great contrasts to set up: between the idyllic countryside and the sordid politics; between the refined manners and some awful, awful people; between the softness of the country house mystery and the hardness of the dilemmas fascism puts in people's way.

There were some very good models that Walton could work with and against in creating her alternative history.

But the dilemma faced by the main character--essentially, on what terms to collaborate with an enemy who hates everything he values--isn't one that can be maintained for long.

The second book perhaps took things as far as they could be taken at a level of plausibility we might call serious.

This novel really goes well beyond that. The scenarios and action recall the airport thriller. Not that there's nothing here of value, just that the comparisons I think to make have gone from Peter Dickinson and Eric Ambler to, say, Robert Goddard. Again, far from awful, just a letdown (and perhaps an inevitable one) from the heights of Farthing. ( )
  ehines | Oct 6, 2016 |
Half a Crown is the final instalment of Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy which is set in alternative history Great Britain in which England arranged itself with the Nazis, which led to Germany winning the Second World War and Britain starting a slow slide into fascism.

In 1960, when the novel is set, it has almost arrived there, with the opening of the first concentration camp on British soil being imminent. Russia has been destroyed by nuclear bombs, the USA have declined into insignificance and Germany, Japan and Britain are about to meet for a peace conference in London to give the new world order a lasting shape. Peter Carmichael, still holding his post as Commander of the Watch (the British version of the Gestapo) he was blackmailed into taking in Ha’penny, has been tasked with supervising security for the conference and also has to deal with an attempted coup by the Duke of Windsor which, if it was to succeed, would make things even worse than they are now.

As in the previous novels, Carmichael constitutes one point of view for Half a Crown, while the other, also as before, is provided by a young female first person narrator, this time Carmichael’s ward Elvira, a young debutante about to be presented to the Queen.

I liked both Farthing and Ha’penny a lot, Half a Crown… not quite as much; in fact it is the first novel by Jo Walton that I read which left me somewhat disappointed. This is mainly due to two reason: For one, Half a Crown completely jettisons the Cozy Mystery element of the other installments. One could argue that after eight years of fascism there is not much left in the way of Cozy, but the same could be said about Farthing, and Jo Walton did a brilliant job de-cozifying the Cozy Mystery in that novel. I think Half a Crown loses quite a bit of what made this trilogy special by becoming a “straight” alternate history novel – but that might just be a matter of personal preference.

And then, the alternate history of Half a Crown is not completely straightforward – but it is precisely here where the second, and I think much graver, problem lies. From the beginning of Farthing to almost the ending of Half a Crown, the Small Change trilogy has been a very bleak affair, with its main characters seeing things go ineluctably from bad to worse and, despite all of their attempts to stem themselves against the tide of evil, being swept away by it. Then, about twenty pages before the end of Half a Crown, Jo Walton plops a deus-ex-machina, fairy tale ending in front of readers and expects them to believe that everything is rosy again and the future full of hope.

Admittedly this ending was not a total surprise – right at the start, Walton hits readers over the head with the Cinderella motif and then keeps repeating it throughout the novel, to the point where I was wondering if maybe the novel was meant to be a regular mash-up between alternate history and fairy tale (like the previous had been between alternate history and cozy mystery). While it probably was, I do not think it was as successful – the fairy tale godmother waving her sparkly wand and making everything okay again just grated with everything that had gone before, and I did not think it was very plausible either. I was reminded of those American films where the day is saved if the hero only manages to tell some newspaper or TV station about the bad things going on, because of course everything will right itself if only people know what’s going on, except that, this being British, we get the Queen instead of the Press. I won’t say that the ending ruined the trilogy for me – for the simple reason that it did not, the first two novels are still excellent,and even this third is a good read – but it was a bit of a letdown.
  Larou | Sep 6, 2016 |
It's 1960, and fascism has settled comfortably over England – and much of the world, apparently – like a pea–souper. And – being a completist at times – I listened to this third book despite not being thrilled with the second one. Looking at my notes, I see a lot of capital letters. Not good. In fact, I hated this book with a passion that still simmers a little.

Oh, this is not a good narration … Terry Donnelly gives a very deliberate, measured, extraordinarily prissy performance for the Elvira portions of the book. I was so hoping there would be a brush of the Cockney now and then, but instead she sounds a very young teenager trying to be Maggie Smith. It's excruciating. (I've listened to samples of other books she's read – and they're fine. Lots of Irish–accented books, a couple of American, a couple of English, all listen–to–able. This…) The upper class is painful – the lower class is … *shudder* I also made note of one part in which someone is supposed to be shouting "Police!", which ought to have been an urgent, probably harsh call, as it was some members of a rioting crowd warning others. Instead, it was a languid, drawled sort of a word, more like Bertie Wooster hailing a cab, and in fact not deserving of the exclamation point. Nearly all audiobooks have moments where the narrator's intonation does not match the tone of the narrative – things like "Is he ever!" being read as "Is he ever?" But there seem to be more in this book, and some that were less understandable and … just odd. "Ogilvie realized this too", which should have had "Ogilvie" emphasized, came out as "Ogilvie realized this too".

Those Elvira portions of the book were altogether unpleasant. Even aside from the narration, I hated the character so much that she is largely responsible for my hatred of the book. Her mother left when she was six, and her father died when she was eight. Know how I know? BECAUSE I WAS TOLD SO, SEVERAL TIMES. In fact, if I wasn't told so in every Elvira chapter for the first two hours, it certainly felt like it. So that was exasperating. Then there was the simple fact that the girl herself was a nasty, ungrateful little wretch, and apparently completely self-centered. Her attitude toward Carmichael (and Jack), who took her in out of the goodness of his heart (and guilt) after her father was shot, was appalling. The fact that even though she lived with them in a less-than-palatial flat she had no idea the two of them were lovers was, I feel, more due to her egocentricity than the façade of clandestineness on the men's part. "Could they have any lives outside this room, the only place he ever saw them?" It was kind of hilarious when someone asked her, "You haven't observed anything that made you suspicious?" No, she hasn't, because she's an idiot eighteen-year-old girl. The Cinderella nonsense surrounding her wore thin very fast; at one point she complains about having to wear a polyester dress, in circumstances that rendered the whining offensively silly. Oh, good, I took down one quote regarding a coat, given her to cover the paper prison dress: "It was much too big in the shoulders, of course, and I'd never normally wear a beige coat, but the height was just right to be fashionable." My God.

The treatment she receives at the hands of the authorities loses any power to trouble me, because it simply isn't realistic that even a militant fascist state would suspect this bubbleheaded irritant of a girl of terrorism.

Carmichael was all right, I suppose; at least, I don't have any notes expressing hatred for him. Except for one note after he forgot to ask her about something vital ("Whatever else it was [Elvira] might have known, which he'd forgotten to ask her about" – OH MY GOD YOU MORON). But his lover/valet Jack was a paradox. Far be it from me to disbelief an autodidact – but I did. He came off as not very bright, but there were carefully added details about his extensive studies or whatever that made little sense. And he was used in one of the tropes which annoys me the most: I'm always disgusted by fictional spouses of cops (and doctors and other professionals who have wildly erratic hours) who become petulant over those erratic hours. Look – for the most part you knew what you were getting into; it's not the spouse's fault; shut up. In real life I'm sure it's extraordinarily difficult, and I sympathize. In fiction, it's intensely boring.

The alternate universe – in which AXIS won WWII – was not badly done; there's talk of airships instead of airplanes, and "Britain and Japan should divide America between them" (Oy. You try it, mate.) However, shouldn't Edward VIII have been a little higher up or something, cozy as he and Mrs. Simpson were with the Reich? And, as with the preceding books, there simply wasn't enough attention given to the differences between this world and that. It would at least have been a distraction from despising Elvira if I'd been kept off-kilter by the alien reality of a fascist, Hitler-led England. (My fingers ache just typing that.)

However.

Attention all British authors, past, present, and future, who try their hand at American characters: We do NOT all sound like Foghorn bleeding Leghorn. (I'm looking at you too, Conan Doyle.) We do NOT say "mighty" in every other sentence, and it's astonishingly irritating – and offensive – in a character whose American accent and dialect was formed at Princeton. Which is in New Jersey. Which is not a place you would hear "The countryside is mighty pretty…and London sure is entertaining." I was born and raised in Connecticut. I have never in my life heard anyone who was not pretending to be a cowboy say "mighty". And then there was "In his American accent". So… in almost 94 thousand square miles, the UK has more accents than I can count, but in America's THREE POINT EIGHT MILLION square miles we supposedly have … one? Get a clue. Now. ( )
1 vote Stewartry | Aug 23, 2016 |
In 1941, a small subgroup of the English government negotiated peace with Hitler. Now it's the 1960s. Japan has dropped atomic bombs on the Soviet Union, the US is isolationalist and utterly unconnected to world affairs, and the UK has been shipping undesirables overseas to German concentration camps for nearly two decades. It's a fascinating alternate history, and one that is made particularly chilling by how solidly Walton crafts it.

Carmichal was a mere Inspector from Scotland Yard in the first book of this trilogy, but he has progressed to head of the Watch (the British secret police, focused particularly on Jews and political dissidents). A thoughtful man of principles and deep loyalties, he has nevertheless made a series of compromises and betrayals over the years. While outwardly he is the most threatening man in Britain, in private he is focused on three things: keeping his lover, Jack, safe; creating a genteel life for his ward, Elivra Royston; and smuggling Jews out of the country to safety. But he cannot juggle all three at once forever. When Elivra is accidentally embroiled in a plot to depose the Prime Minister, she and Carmichal will be forced to sacrifice much that they held dear.

In each book of the Small Change series, the tone has darkened; by this, the final book in the trilogy, matters are grim enough that greeting someone with "So I hear you're a fascist" is not an insult, but a complimentary bit of small talk. An entire generation has been raised with horrific values: even Elvira, a kind girl with intentions toward Oxford, thinks nothing of throwing rotten fruit at Jews. Walton does such an excellent job of slowly but surely tightening the noose that when relief does come, it feels a bit unearned. As much as I wanted to, I simply could not believe the ending of this trilogy. This is a series that deserves four stars at least, for its impeccable, thoughtful worlbuilding, nuanced character portraits, and chilling plots. But I can't help but feel a bit let down by the end. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jo Waltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lachmann, Norasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
s.BENešCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. -- Benjamin Franklin (1759)
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932)
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This is for Patrick Nielson Hayden, for keeping the faith.
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A week before she was due to bring me out, I overheard Mrs. Maynard saying I was "not quite…"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765316218, Hardcover)

In 1941 the European war ended in the Farthing Peace, a rapprochement between Britain and Nazi Germany. The balls and banquets of Britain’s upper class never faltered, while British ships ferried “undesirables” across the Channel to board the cattle cars headed east.

Peter Carmichael is commander of the Watch, Britain’s distinctly British secret police. It’s his job to warn the Prime Minister of treason, to arrest plotters, and to discover Jews. The midnight knock of a Watchman is the most dreaded sound in the realm.

Now, in 1960, a global peace conference is convening in London, where Britain, Germany, and Japan will oversee the final partition of the world. Hitler is once again on British soil. So is the long exiled Duke of Windsor—and the rising gangs of “British Power” streetfighters, who consider the Government “soft,” may be the former king’s bid to stage a coup d’état.

Amidst all this, two of the most unlikely persons in the realm will join forces to oppose the fascists: a debutante whose greatest worry until now has been where to find the right string of pearls, and the Watch Commander himself.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:41 -0400)

In this alternative history sequel to Ha'penny, two of the most unlikely persons in the realm will join forces to oppose the fascists: a debutante whose greatest worry until now has been where to find the right string of pearls, and the commander of Britain's distinctly British secret police, the Watch.… (more)

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