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Book Note: Jo Walton, Farthing

I read this book about 17-May-2004. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2004. This note was last modified Tuesday, 06-May-2014 13:05:19 PDT.

This is book 1 of the "Small Change" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Read in manuscript. I don't currently know when it's coming out, or even from what publisher. [Edited to add: first published by Tor books, August 2006] The version I read is likely to differ from the version eventually published. And, because I've read a very early version, I won't go nearly as deep into spoiler territory as I do when the urge strikes me for a book already widely available. With some help from the wonders of technology, I finished reading it the day after Jo finished writing it.

This is an alternate history mystery. It feels to me very different from the run-of-the-mill alternate history; it seems to me that the purpose of this book isn't primarily to examine the differences between the alternate history and real history. Instead, the alternate history was devised as the best background to tell the story in.

The story is set in England, in 1949, in a timeline where England made peace with Germany in 1943. Germany is still fighting Russia, but seems to hold most of the rest of Europe. I believe I remember fighting was still going on in China, suggesting Japan was in the war, but I don't remember any reference to Pearl Harbor happening, and the US never got into the war.

This is not an idyllic setting; far from it. There's a high level of anti-semitism in England, and of course the Reich is proceeding with their final solution in the lands they hold. It's reasonably widely known they're doing it, and it's not producing the sort of reaction it did in our timeline; instead it seems to be tolerated, and all the historical problems getting countries to accept Jewish refugees remain.

The two viewpoint characters, Lucy and Carmichael, are very different from each other in class, education, sex, profession, and political views. Lucy's story is told in the first person, Carmichael's is not. The alternating viewpoints work very well both to move the story along and to present a number of views of what's going on. I find the main characters and also the surrounding circles of supporting characters to be very interesting and well drawn.

I understood the basic story to be about how a nation slides into fascism, with intended reference to our current situation. It's rather chilling when read in that light.

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David Dyer-Bennet