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Stella Matutina
books and stories and musings, oh my!
108. Ha'Penny by Jo Walton 
21st-Jul-2010 09:44 pm
Author: Jo Walton
Series: book two of Small Change
Publisher: Tor
Publication Year: 2007
Pages: 336
Status: keeper

LibraryThing Info

An actress becomes involved in a plot to assassinate both the recently-elected Prime Minister of England and Adolf Hitler.


I liked FARTHING a lot, but HA’PENNY takes things to a whole new level. While it’s still a politically-infused crime novel, it’s less of a mystery and more of a thriller. Viola, the actress, isn’t in on every aspect of the plot, but she knows enough that the reader is far from in the dark. There’s no guess-along element; we know what’s set to go down and who’s involved. It’s a different dynamic, but it’s no less effective.

Viola also gives us a fascinating glimpse at theatrical life. Y’all know I love me some theatre, and many of Viola’s scenes sent me straight over the moon. She’s not a hardcore revolutionary; in fact, she doesn’t care about politics either way. She’s an unwilling participant in the plot, which hinges on her role in a new production of Hamlet, and she prefers to focus on her career whenever possible. Walton gives us plenty of wonderful rehearsal scenes, tinged with the sort of detail that shows she’s done her research. I always appreciate fiction that captures the feel of being on stage, and Walton nails it.

Viola isn’t alone as a POV character, though. Carmichael, the Scotland Yard investigator from the first book, has also been assigned to this case. Since we’re in on the secret and already know more or less what he’s going to uncover, his investigation isn’t really the point. It adds some tension to Viola’s side of things, true, but for the most part his segments serve to further our understanding of this disturbing society. We get a closer look at what it means to be queer in this alternate England, and we see how fascism wears away at one basically decent man’s principles. It’s chilling, and brilliantly done.

I highly recommend this, but think you should read FARTHING first. Even though the books tell separate stories, the societal issues are cumulative.

4 stars

Strange Asides:

I’m normally quite good at suspending my disbelief, but Walton introduces one little detail that threw me off: the ID cards. In FARTHING, we learn that the new government wants to make every citizen carry a card with their full details on it; sort of like a driver’s license, but with your religion thrown in so you’ll be easier to persecute. In HA’PENNY, everyone’s got these cards and is ready to produce them at a moment’s notice. Since ID cards take forever and a day to issue, I initially assumed it had been several months since the end of FARTHING. I was dead wrong: HA’PENNY takes place two weeks later.

It’s such a stupid little thing, but it took me right out of the story. There’s no way in hell a country could institute a new ID system and get every citizen hooked in in the space of two weeks. Not even a fascist society. You might manage to pull it off if you’d spent a few months pre-entering everyone’s information, but we’re talking about a brand new government here. A brand new late-40’s government, at that, which means no computers.

They couldn’t do it. Not in two weeks.


Challenge Stuff:

GLBT Reading – another for #teamboyskissing. Alas, but no girls kiss in this one. (Not where we can see them, at any rate).

Age Breakdown:

Everyone's older than me! Horray!

Other Reviews:

Conversations With Dead People
Outside of a Dog: Kate Nepveu's Book Log
Strategist's Personal Library
Zeno's Library

Did I miss yours? Please let me know so I can add it to my list.
21st-Jul-2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
I just realized (while packing books) that I actually own Farthing! It's on my to-read list now.
22nd-Jul-2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
Yay! I hope you enjoy it.
21st-Jul-2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
Are they photo IDs? Without photos they'd be easier to organize, and you would need to suspend your disbelief slightly less. Also, perhaps if the action takes place in London (does it?), it's just all the Londoners who have gotten ID cards.
22nd-Jul-2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
Hmm. It IS mostly in London, but I got the impression they were already nation-wide, 'cause they talked about using them at hotels.
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