TBR Challenge: No RITA Connection

I had access to a very limited set of books while on holiday in Scotland, as my Kindle Paperwhite decided to become a Paperweight by forgetting all my books while I had no internet access to download the files again, and I didn’t take any print books with me. The iPad, fortunately, had a good chunk of my digital TBR — but mostly science fiction and fantasy, from the old Baen and Tor free book giveaways. So the book I chose doesn’t fit the monthly theme (current and former RITA award nominees. If anything, this book would have been a potential entry in the Novel with Romantic Elements category, which is being eliminated after this year. That saddens me, as those books ate often among my favorites, cross-genre reader that I am.

Farthing is the first book in Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy, published in 2006. It’s an alternate history series, set in England after a negotiated peace with Hitler has left most of mainland Europe in Nazi control. It’s a murder mystery, and the murder victim is the architect of the peace agreement. The two main point-of-view characters are the daughter of a powerful political family who has shocked everyone by marrying a Jewish man and the closeted gay detective assigned to the case — homosexuality is still a hanging offense, and the attitude towards Jews is worsening, at least in part because of the decision to leave Hitler in power and allow his persecutions to continue. There’s an underground movement to help European Jews escape (they go to Canada or Australia, as the USA doesn’t want them either). All in all, it’s not a pretty version of events. It’s chilling.

Walton is a fine writer, so this book gripped me from the outset, even though it isn’t upbeat. The atmosphere, of politics, discrimination and (of course) murder, is pretty grim at times, but many of the characters are quite likable and even heroic, standing up against the prevailing attitudes as best they can. The plot is compelling, the twists are good, and although the overall story is pretty bleak, I really enjoyed reading it. The later books deal with different sets of characters and some recurring ones, I gather from the descriptions; I want to read them despite their high ebook price tags (at least they are free of DRM), because I see hope that the grim situation may possibly get so much worse that good people will be compelled to take stronger action.

As in the other books of hers that I’ve read, Walton is a genius with flawed characters, human frailty, and the motivations of power, greed, survival, honor, and love. Plus she’s both an eloquent writer and a terrific storyteller, that most welcome combination. I highly recommend this book.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 07:13:15

    Being on holiday is a good problem to have 🙂

    This theme was kinda tough on a lot of participants – but I really enjoyed it. I think I’ll keep it for next year – but do some more legwork/Google-Fu on rounding up nominee lists from previous years…..


  2. Lynn S.
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 10:42:47

    Oh, this does sound really good! I love Jo Walton’s writing and I actually have Farthing but have put off starting the trilogy for some reason. Obviously I need to remedy that.


    • SonomaLass
      Jun 19, 2013 @ 20:51:58

      This is one of the oldest e-books I own, and I had forgotten about it until the Kindle copped out. I actually thought about buying it a while ago, after reading her fabulous Among Others, but the ebook price was so high that I didn’t. It was a great find; one of the things I love about digging throught the TBR once a month is finding books I really wanted to read but had forgotten I owned. I expect I’ll cave in and buy the other two books soon, despite the price tags. The sample chapters made me eager to move on in the trilogy.


  3. Amber (@buriedbybooks)
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 16:19:01

    I have never read Jo Walton, but I think I have a few books in the TBR. *whispers* They might be strips. Definitely someone to keep in mind when I reach romance burn out stage.


  4. Kathryn
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 20:36:22

    Oh what a bummer for your Kindle to misbehave on holiday, would hate that myself. I haven’t heard of Jo Walton either, but I am not a big murder/mystery raeder.


    • SonomaLass
      Jun 19, 2013 @ 20:56:51

      Walton writes speculative fiction; most of it isn’t mystery format, althought there’s a suspicious death at the start of the next book in the trilogy, too. She’s one of those authors whose work is admired by other authors and by a good following of readers, but she’s not well-known in wider circles.


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