Half A Crown (Small Change)

Half A Crown (Small Change) - Jo Walton This is a book I want to say too much about. I'll try to restrain myself as good as I can.

Where [b:Farthing|183740|Farthing (Small Change, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1442714837s/183740.jpg|1884104] was an WWII AU dressed as a cozy mystery, and [b:Ha'penny|433716|Ha'penny (Small Change, #2)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1391143310s/433716.jpg|422656] an attempt at suspense, Half a Crown is a full-blown political thriller – one where the personal stakes for our heroes run very high. Of course, all of them are also cautionary tales.
The trilogy grows considerably bleaker from book to book, and part #3 is by far the most unpleasant one to read. It's also my favourite of the three.

Walton sticks to her proven structure, once again alternating between a female first person narrator - Carmichael's ward Elvira this time - and Carmichael's third person POV.
More than ten years after the events in Ha'penny, the political situation in Britain has turned even more dire. Britain's building her own concentration camps, and everyone lives under the watchful eyes of... well, the Watch, a Gestapo-like secret police. Carmichael himself has been forced to become Watch Commander, betraying the very justice he so fiercely wants to believe in. He accepted to save his loved ones – and to try to do a little good at least, to save at least some innocents. The essentially good man being forced to do essentially bad things is one of my favourite character tropes, and Walton certainly knows how to play it.

Then there's Elvira. From all of Walton's not-so-very-likeable female narrators, she's the most unlikeable one. It's not entirely her fault: she's an 18-year-old snobby deb, risen far beyond her working-class status and hyper-aware of it; she's also the very picture of a generation raised by fascism. Educated to be a mostly apolitical trophy-wife, she's trained not to question fascism, and to rat on anybody who might be up to anything “seditious and criminal”. Her chapters were hard to read for me, exactly because Walton pinned such a believable character here.

It was also quite interesting to see Carmichael through the eyes of this little wannabe fascist. He isn't without fault, either. He can't help being a child of his time, with his deeply ingrained misogyny and homophobia, although being queer himself. There's a particular unpleasant scene at an underground gay nightclub, and Carmichael's resentment towards other gay men, especially effeminate men, was almost unreadable for me. I could just marvel at his partner Jack; I don't know how Jack put up with it all, with Carmichael's work, his hours, with basically being his kept man. It must have been love, I guess.
Some of Carmichael's decisions - well, a lot of his decisions come back to bite. His efforts to keep Elvira innocent and ignorant follow best intentions, but set events in motion that will break havoc on both their lives. After reading Ha'penny, I complained about a lack of tension and emotional investment. Well, I got enough of that here to last me till the end of the year (yeah, be careful what you wish for).

Some reviewers have complained about the ending being too rushed, too hopeful, too improbable. I'm inclined to agree; it is kind of a Hollywood ending. After all the bleakness, all the grief, it seems a bit unlikely, too convenient. But not everything gets resolved, not all questions are answered. There are a few lose ends left, just like in real life. The end offers a tentative silver-lining, and I was grateful for it. Call me naïve, but I just refuse to believe that we can't change this world for the better.
Last but not least, it's so rare for a book to engage me emotionally, to get me really invested in the characters; every author who manages has my utmost respect and admiration. And a book like this deserves five stars.