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This is the third volume in Jo Walton's Small Change series and presents us with the world shaped by Britain making peace with Germany in 1940 and all of the subsequent changes from the world we know now. All of the three volumes are placed in the UK and there is almost no mention of the world outside of the UK except for occasional references to Hitler's Europe, the Japanese and the US which, since it was never involved in a world-wide conflict, is not a major power. As with the previous volumes this story is presented through two voices, one is Peter Carmichael, now the head of The Watch, which is the British version of The Gestapo, and the other his "niece" who is actually his ward and the daughter of a police sergeant who was killed on duty years earlier.
The tone of this book, as with the previous books in this series, is one of increasing dread as the story progresses. Step by step we feel the threads of danger constantly creeping up and ensnaring the characters until it becomes clear that terrible things are going to happen and, as with the previous books, the background evil of the existing fascist British government is presented in such a matter-of-fact and banal manner that it is much worse than if it were dwelled upon. The book is superb in the way it presents the world to us and draws us in to the transpiring events and, in doing so, mimics the first two books which had exactly the same quality. In fact I put off reading this book for many months, not because I did not want to read it, but because I did not want to finish the series too quickly.
The one odd thing about the book is the vacuousness of the lead female character, Elvira Royston. She is a young debutante about to be presented to The Queen at her “coming out” and her head is filled with the trivia of of innocent youth. She is terribly naive and does not does seem to have had a single political thought in her head and consequently does truly stupid things, given the world around her, and consequently is the source of the danger that grows around Peter Carmichael. As with the Viola Larkin character in the second volume of this series, it is very hard to be sympathetic to the female characters since both seems to be so shallow. You know, as you read, that Elvira is going to get all of those around her in serious danger and I found it hard to believe that anyone, even that young, could be so complacent, ignorant and empty-headed.
It is easy to say that the head of the British Gestapo could not possibly be a sympathetic character but Peter Carmichael is exactly that - a good man put into an impossible position trying against all of the odds to do the right thing.
I presume this is the last volume in the series, however the ending provided enough of an opening for the author to write one or two more volumes about the world created by the events at the end of the book. While I was a bit disappointed by the pat ending I would almost certainly buy any books by the author which followed the story beyond that ending. The world created by the book, and the writing, just make it very difficult to not want to read more.
I gave the first two books in this series a hearty 5 star rating, but felt that this volume only deserved 4 stars due to the way the story ended. Both of the previous volumes ended in realistic and believable ways, but this book ends in a way hard to credit and consequently hard to believe. Not in a “bad” way, but in a way that was just a bit too pat and easy. The narration, as with the previous volumes, was first class and I would like to have been able to give this book 4 1/2 stars but, since there is no such rating, 4 will have to do. While a bit disappointing on its own, it is well worth reading if someone has already read the wonderful first two volumes.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Although the pacing in this last entry in the Small Change series was a little uneven, the last few chapters were positively thrilling, and I'm glad I listened all the way to the end. I would love to read a novella about some of these characters another 15 years on.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful