Review: Farthing

Jo Walton’s Farthing is a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, and I finally picked it up after seeing Walton at this year’s Boskone.  I’m truly sorry I waited this long, it’s an amazing book.

The best description of it probably comes from Walton’s introduction in the Boskone program guide, it’s a dark cozy.  At first glance the novel reads as a very typical British, upper class, mystery.  A member of the house of lords is killed on his family’s estate following a dinner party and the scene is staged to implicate one of the house guests.  

The twist is the setting.  The book is an alternate history (which I don’t normally enjoy this much) in which Brittain signs a peace treaty with Nazi Germany, which then succeeds in overrunning Europe up to the Russian border.  The murdered man is one of those who helped bring about the treaty, and the man implicated in the crime is the jewish husband of the black sheep in the family.

The mystery might be at the fore of the novel, but it’s not the driving force of the story.  Instead Walton has written a tour de force showing how easily an entire nation can abandon its freedoms and its morals.  The book is devastating and relevant, while still maintaining its appeal to a more casual mystery reader.  Well done.

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