Phil's Reviews > Farthing

Farthing by Jo Walton
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's review
Jun 09, 2010

really liked it
Read in June, 2010

Twenty-five years or so ago I read a series of books called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. These books were my initial exposure to the concept of the antihero, a protagonist so unlikeable as to cause disgust or revulsion in the reader. I loved those stories at the same time I was repulsed by them. Today, in reading Farthing, though no such character exists, I found myself experiencing those same emotions as in my youth.

The story starts innocently enough, with the murder of a member of the English aristocracy, but slowly, in bits and pieces, we discover this is not the England of Agatha Christie or Dick Francis, and not the England whose history we know today. Instead, the author has chosen an alternate path, setting the tale in an England produced by a different outcome to World War II; an England that bargained with, rather than fought against, Hitler's Third Reich. As with Thomas Covenant, this world was both the feature of the story and the part we're made to hate.

While the details of the history unfolded, and as I learned the thoughts and biases of the characters, I felt sickened by the callousness and bigotry displayed. In telling what amounts to an average detective tale, Jo Walton has put together a nice work of social commentary that leaves me uncomfortable and questioning. Nicely done, that.

I look forward to reading the next in this series, if for nothing more than to revisit the sense of revulsion I felt in the first. It may make me twitch, but it keeps me aware of the dangers of letting others do my thinking for me.

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