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Literature / Small Change

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The "Small Change" trilogy by Jo Walton — consisting of Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half a Crown — is a series of detective novels set in an Alternate History where World War II ended with Hitler still alive and in possession of most of continental Europe.

Farthing starts out as a classic English country-house murder mystery, investigated by Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard, but becomes darker and more complicated as Carmichael begins tripping over the political threads that run through the case. Things go downhill from there, for Carmichael personally and for England as a whole.

The short story "Escape to Other Worlds With Science Fiction" is set in the United States in the same timeline, with different characters.

This series provides examples of:

  • Allohistorical Allusion: An unnamed handsome singer from Liverpool at the British Power rally in Half a Crown is almost certainly Paul McCartney. Several references are made to a science fiction novel titled 1974.
  • Alternate History: The main departure point is the US not entering World War II (and not supplying the Allies through the Lend-Lease Act). The US has a non-interventionist administration led by president Lindbergh, and appparently Pearl Harbor hasn't happened and the US and Japan are on friendly terms.
  • The Atoner: Carmichael, especially towards those who are Killed to Uphold the Masquerade in Farthing, and the driving force behind the Inner Watch.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: Carmichael in the latter part of the series.
  • A Bloody Mess: In Farthing the murder victim's body has been arranged with a knife sticking out of his chest and a large red stain on his shirt, which is at first assumed to be blood but is soon discovered to be lipstick.
  • Concert Climax: in Ha'penny
  • Cryptic Background Reference: In Half a Crown, it's never stated what happened to cause the large amount of unrest and crackdowns in 1955.
  • Day of the Jackboot: England in this timeline.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Guy Braithwaite is a British national who became a Soviet sleeper agent. His task was to infiltrate the growing British right-wing and then wait for further instruction. From within in the Foreign Office, he contributes to the Ha'Penny assassination attempt on Hitler in 1949. But by 1960, the Soviet Union has fallen to the Axis and Braithwaite is left as an agent with no country.
  • Depraved Homosexual: When the police investigation in Farthing reveals that Normanby was arrested for having sex with a male prostitute, but used his influence to make the charges "disappear", the reaction of at least some of the police is to view him as this. They make certain not to mention this in public, though.
  • Evil Cripple: Mark Normanby after the events of Ha'Penny.
  • Family Theme Naming: The Larkin sisters in Ha'penny are all named after Shakespeare characters.
  • False Flag Operation: The entire Thirkie murder plot in Farthing. By blaming a Jew and an Irish socialist for Thirkie's death, the remaining members of the "Farthing Set" sweep into power on a wave of sympathy and officially establish a fascist government in Britain.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Carmichael has the threat of being exposed as gay and his partner Jack's safety constantly hanging over his head.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The series effectively extends this into the 1950s, with Britain only participating in World War II from 1939-41.
  • Great Off Screen War: Germany continues fighting on the Eastern Front past 1949; Japan has conquered most of China but continues to fight "insurgents" there.
  • Greedy Jew: Subverted in Farthing. David Kahn is in fact a moneylender who specializes in helping the poor start small businesses.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: Events from Ha'Penny get a Call-Back in Half a Crown with the fallacious saying going around amongst the debutantes: "Viola Larkin asked a man to dance with her at a ball, and look where she ended up!"
  • Homage: David and Lucy Kahn's story owes quite a bit to Brideshead Revisited, albeit with a happier ending for their relationship- up until the events of Farthing, that is.
  • Honorary Uncle: Carmichael to Elvira in Half a Crown
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In Farthing, the police keep Thirkie's true cause of death a secret. A particularly damning piece of evidence against one of the murderers is that she mentions how he was killed in a conversation.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Alan Brown, Agnes Timms, and potentially Lady Thirke (the book doesn't mention if she survives or not) in Farthing are killed to suppress evidence.
  • Nazi Nobleman- Several appear among the Farthing Set and the Larkin family (especially as they are based on the Mitfords). The British Power movement in Half a Crown is not quite the Hitler Youth, but they come close.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Being a generally good person and a good policeman, Carmichael saves some people in Ha'Penny. Unfortunately he saves Hitler and fascist Prime Minister Normanby. He soon realizes things would have been better off if he hadn't done anything.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed:
    • The eccentric upper-class Larkin sisters central to Ha'Penny are clearly based on the real Mitford sisters, right down to some becoming fascists and one becoming a communist. Unity Mitford is mentioned in Half a Crown, so they still exist.
    • Guy Braithwaite is a Soviet sleeper agent, who is so well-intrenched in fascist British politics he's become Foreign Secretary by the events of Half a Crown in 1960. He is modeled on Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, real-life British Soviet spies in the Foreign Office. After the USSR was defeated by the Axis, Braithwaite remarks that maybe Stalin wasn't the answer any more than Hitler was, and he winds up Prime Minister after Normanby is arrested for James Thirkie's murder.
  • Noodle Incident: Royston refers to "that man with the stockings" as one of their old cases. He's never mentioned again.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Carmichael is blackmailed into effectively becoming leader of a British gestapo.
  • Rage Within the Machine: Carmichael, Jacobson, and the rest of the "Inner Watch", who secretly use the power and resources of their State Sec jobs to operate an extensive underground railroad.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Jo Walton described "The Tiffany Problem" with examples of how readers of this series thought some historical facts were inventions of her alternate history.
    One review of Farthing said that as part of the changes in the alternate world, homosexuality was made illegal, and you can't respond to a review saying "1969! Homosexuality between adults wasn't legalized in Britain until 1969!"
    In Half a Crown, a number of my test readers had problems with things in the British constitution that are, I'm sorry, in the British constitution to this very day.
  • Rich Bitch: Most of the women in the Farthing Set.
  • Settled for Gay: Poor Daphne Normanby - or, rather, her family. After her scandalous affair with a married man when she was 17, her family quickly marries her off to the first suitable candidate. Never mind that his only interest in women is to maintain a respectable facade as a married man.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: The Larkin sisters, all named after Shakespeare characters.
  • Stage Name: Ha'Penny has Viola Larkin, who goes by Viola Lark on the stage to distance herself from her famous and influential Blue Blood family.
  • State Sec: The Watch in Half a Crown.
  • Suicide Pill: In Half a Crown, everyone who's aware of the "Inner Watch" is fitted with a poison tooth as a matter of course. Jack opts to use his when he is brought in by the police. Carmichael's tooth is forcibly removed before he can get a chance to break it.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: subverted in Farthing, which is set up as a classic country house Genteel Interbellum Setting murder mystery, then turns out to be a political conspiracy.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Invoked by Jacobson in Half a Crown, the token Jewish member of the Watch. He's perceived as a Collaborator Figurehead by most of the remaining British Jewish community, who naturally don't know he's part of the Inner Watch's Rage Within the Machine.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Each of the novels is structured with alternating chapters from the point of view of Inspector Carmichael (3rd person), and a young woman writing in the 1st person: Lucy Kahn in Farthing, Viola Larkin in Ha'Penny, and Elvira Royston in Half a Crown.
  • Underground Railroad: The Inner Watch works to help victims of the political oppression escape the country.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Scottites and their IRA connections in Ha'Penny.