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The Bellinghman

#294 Jo Walton: Half A Crown

Jo Walton: Half A Crown

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Books (1 Sep 2008)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0765316218
ISBN-13: 978-0765316219
Category(ies): Alternate History/Political Thriller

The final part of the Small Change trilogy, and it's now 1960. Although Prime Minister Normanby was crippled, almost killed, in the events of Ha'Penny, he is still solidly in control of the country. And in charge of his version of the Gestapo - named the Watch - is Commander Peter Carmichael, who accepted the post at the end of the previous book for two reasons: firstly, he dared not refuse, and secondly, he believed he might be able to use the position to secretly help the very people the organisation was being set up to persecute. And so he attempts to ride the tiger of power, to varied levels of success. As Commander, he has enough power to be able to lean affairs in the direction he would have them go, but at the same time, he has to worry about those subordinates not part of his Inner Watch conspiracy, he has to worry about the Metropolitan Police (he's on their turf, and they'd like nothing more than to break him), and he has to worry whether Normanby will turn on him and destroy him.

The first person female view in this book is young Elvira Royston. She's 18, naive, and she's the adopted niece of Carmichael, being the daughter of the Sergeant Royston who always accompanied Carmichael until being shot down on a raid. She may be of poor stock, but she's been raised well, with Swiss finishing school now behind her, and is now a débutante shortly to be presented to the Queen. But she and her friend get invited to accompany someone along to a torchlight fascist parade, and that's when things turn bad. There's an unexpected riot, and as the police gather people in, she's caught in the net.

A lot happens here. This book is about power, both wielding it and being broken under its pressure, but in the end, it is about how bravery can bring redemption. The end is upbeat, it's an awakening from a bad dream, but the message is too. In the trilogy, quite a few characters are taken in for questioning, and the assumption is that once someone has been taken, they will be broken fairly quickly. But that someone is broken doesn't mean they cannot become useful again, cannot achieve greatness even.

Also, there are few writers who'd have a major character take the grey line that Carmichael does. Usually, you have to be white - stand up and oppose wrongness, even if you accomplish nothing - or black - accede to authority and be damned. Walton allows her hero to try to work from the inside, and he is her Schindler. But she also shows how nobody is so powerful that they cannot be brought down by legal means.

It's probably time for me to mention that it's been a disconcerting read for me, due to a very familiar name continually jumping out at me. Yes, I live in a small town named Royston, so to have a major character with that as a surname does mean it keeps catching my eye.

Recommended, again.
Tags: books, books by friends, books that tuckerize me, reviews

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