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Farthing by Jo Walton

March 23, 2008


The Easter Sunday Brunch eat ‘til you drop marathon is over. After a long drive home I have removed the waist cinching dress pants, climbed into velvet loungewear and exhaled, and now will stick to the promise of one book review a day for the next seven days.

I came upon this book by a rather circuitous route. I am presently in search of representation – any budding writer can tell you what a long and painful process this can be. When I read a blithe note from some young thing stating that they “wrote tons of query letters, and only found an agent after the 6th letter went out,” I want to smack someone. Sorry, off subject. So, I find an agent who happens to live in my very own hometown, and he has a wonderful reputation, and I think what the heck this is certainly worth the price of an email. I am going to digress again, so let me get this over with in one fell swoop. He says, as they all have said, “very nice, but not for me. Good luck in finding someone who is and should be excited about representing your work.” Okay, I have it all out of my system now; I can get back to the review.

This particular agent represents Jo Walton, of whom I had never heard. Walton is a Welsh writer, who moved to Montreal, Canada in 2000. Her first three books, which I think I will give a try, were fantasy. Her next novel, Farthing, is science fiction. It’s a kind of science fiction I had never thought about or took notice of before: alternate history. Well, I suppose there is lots of alternate history/science fiction out there, but this one picks up right where history leaves off, shortly after WWII. At the same time, Farthing is a ‘British-country-house-cozy-murder-mystery.’ This Britain of 1949 has been at peace with Hitler for eight years, letting him take the Continent in exchange for leaving Britain a nominal independence. Jews are barely tolerated in Britain, but on the continent where the Nazi’s are in control, Jews (those who are left) must still wear yellow stars.

The story is told in alternate chapters, first through the eyes of Lucy Kahn, a weekend visitor to her wealthy family’s estate with her Jewish husband, and then over the shoulder of Inspector Carmichael, who has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of one of the other guests. Of course, Lucy’s husband is being framed for the murder.

Cozy turns downright nasty and the second half of the books climbs in intensity until the disheartening, surprise ending. Don’t let the cute first chapter deter you (as it almost did me) from reading this book. I’ll be out to pick up the next in the series, Ha’Penny, this week.

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