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Jo Walton

Jo Walton(1964- )
Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw won the World Fantasy Best Novel award in 2004. You can read excerpts of her novels and some of Jo Walton’s poetry at her website.

Small Change

Small Change — (2006-2008) Publisher:One summer weekend in 1949 — but not our 1949 — the well-connected “Farthing set”, a group of upper-crust English families, enjoy a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years before. Despite her parents’ evident disapproval, Lucy is married — happily — to a London Jew. It was therefore quite a surprise to Lucy when she and her husband David found themselves invited to the retreat. It’s even more startling when, on the retreat’s first night, a major politician of the Farthing set is found gruesomely murdered, with abundant signs that the killing was ritualistic. It quickly becomes clear to Lucy that she and David were brought to the retreat in order to pin the murder on him. Major political machinations are at stake, including an initiative in Parliament, supported by the Farthing set, to limit the right to vote to university graduates. But whoever’s behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn’t reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts… and looking beyond the obvious. As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out — a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.

Farthing: A country-house murder mystery in a dark alternate timeline

Farthing by Jo Walton

At first glance, it seems like Farthing, Book One in Jo Walton’s SMALL CHANGE trilogy, could have been written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Elizabeth George. At a house party in the home of an aristocratic British family, a guest is found dead, his body staged to throw suspicion on another guest specifically. Soon clouds of secrets, lies, betrayals and adulteries fill the air. Peter Carmichael, the Scotland Yard Inspector sent to investigate, must fight his way through those clouds, dealing with aristocratic privilege and interference from his own higher-ups, if he is to reveal the truth.

There’s nothing science-fictional about that, you might think, except for one small change. In the world of Farthing, America did not enter World War II. Britain and Germany met in 1941 and agreed to a treaty — “peace with ... Read More

Ha’Penny: How do you make a difference in a dictatorship?

Ha’Penny by Jo Walton

(May contain spoilers for the previous book, Farthing.)

Ha’Penny is the second book in Jo Walton’s dark alternate history series SMALL CHANGE. The “small change” that created this world is the refusal of America to get involved in the war in Europe, in 1941. From that small “counterfactual” sprang a world where, by 1949, Europe is largely under the control of Hitler, who is at war with Stalin for the rest. Britain negotiated a “peace with honor” with Germany and has now fully embraced fascism. Many Brits know about the death camps in Europe, but they don’t care. Jews in Britain have their freedoms and rights limited daily, and the newspapers and radios screech about terror attacks from Jews or Bolsheviks.

Like Farthing, Ha’Penny alternat... Read More

Half a Crown: The most optimistic, but weakest, book of the trilogy

Half a Crown by Jo Walton

(Warning: may contain spoilers of the two previous books.)

In the foreword to Half a Crown, Jo Walton says that she is by nature an optimistic person and that’s why she wrote the SMALL CHANGE series (which she refers to as Still Life with Fascists). Half a Crown, the final book in the trilogy, is admittedly more optimistic that the first two. Sadly, in several ways it’s the weakest of the three, although still worth reading.

The final book is set in 1960, more than ten years into the repressive fascist regime of Prime Minister Mark Normanby. Peter Carmichael is now the head of the Watch, Britain’s Gestapo. Within the Watch, Carmichael and his lieutenant Jacobson, the agency’s “model Jew,” run the clandestine Inner Watch, an underground railroad that sends Jews and other people deemed ... Read More

The Just City

The Just City — (2015) “Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.” Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past. The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her. Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human. Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

The Just City: Plato’s Republic in Atlantis, with Greek gods and robots

The Just City by Jo Walton

When you’re Apollo, son of Zeus, and a nymph prefers to turn herself into a tree rather than have sex with you, you know it’s time to think seriously about the life you’re leading.

After asking his sister Athena why the nymph Daphne didn’t want to have sex with him, a notion that perplexes him initially (for, as a god, Apollo isn’t used to people not wanting to have sex with him) he decides to reincarnate in the body of a newborn child to become a part of Athena’s latest experiment: An actualized version of Plato’s Republic run by people from all human eras who have dreamed of living in Plato’s creation, and populated by thousands of 10-year-old slaves bought at slave markets to be modeled into the perfect citizens of the Republic.

Thus is the just city constituted, a city where “you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent.” Read More

The Philosopher Kings: Surprises and philosophy, with a touch of Greek mythology

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

My jaw remained open whilst I read the last pages of Jo Walton’s The Just City, and for a little while afterwards. Released earlier this year, Walton’s first novel in a new trilogy saw the start of a story whose foundational ideas are so wild, so daring, that only an author with the fullest grasp of her talent could even think of trying to wrestle with them, let alone to actually subdue and then use them to write an engaging story.

In that novel, scholars and philosophers from different times and places are selected by the goddess Athene to build the ideal society depicted in Plato’s famous dialogue, The Republic. To accomplish that, she gifts them multiple robots from the future whom we later learn are able to develop self-awareness. Those same schola... Read More

Tooth and Claw: Pride and Prejudice with Dragons

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Bon Agornin, patriarch of a well-off family, is on his death bed. His family has gathered around him, including his oldest son Penn, who is a country parson, and Avan, the younger brother who is making his way up in the bureaucracy of the capital city. Also there are his unmarried daughters Haner and Selendra, and oldest daughter Berend, who is married to Daverak, a young nobleman. When Daverak claims a large part of Bon's wealth, a complex family drama starts, involving an inheritance battle and the search for suitable matches for the young daughters.

So far, fairly standard plotting for a Jane Austen novel. The twist here is that every character in Tooth and Claw is a dragon, and the wealth of the dying dragon doesn't only include his hoard of gold but also the flesh of his body, which dragon children traditionally eat to grow in strength.

When I re... Read More

Among Others: A novel for bibliotropes

Among Others by Jo Walton

Kids nowadays have it easy. If you’re into fantasy, there’s a good chance that the books you like have a devoted following and a few dedicated web sites. There may be movie franchises and/or an HBO series about them. You can buy Team Jacob/Team Edward shirts, Harry Potter glasses and A Game of Thrones calendars. There may be book release parties, even people sleeping in front of the bookstore when the next book is due out. There’s GoodReads, Shelfari and Librarything, and even if you’re not on one of those sites, it’s never been easier to connect with other fans and with the authors themselves.

Growing up in the seventies... Read More

What Makes This Book So Great: Concise insights, evangelistic joy

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

In 2008, Jo Walton began a regular column over at on the books she was reading. Actually, mostly re-reading. She was invited to blog on the site because, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden told her, she was “always saying smart things about books nobody else had thought about for ages.” In What Makes This Book So Great, she’s collected about a fifth of those posts and presented them in brief essays, being careful to point out she is doing so as neither a reviewer (who mostly cover new works) nor a critic. Instead, she tells us, “I want to talk about books and turn people on to them . . . I’m am rereading them [the books] for the sheer joy of it. I want to share that . . . I am talking about books because I love books.”

It doesn’t take long for the reader to pick up on that; Walton’s sheer exube... Read More

Mythic II: Compact and precise

Mythic II edited by Mike Allen

Much like its predecessor Mythic, Mythic 2 feels compact and precise. Both the prose and poetry (and everything else in between) are easy to read and have a lyrical tonality. The anthology is even and consistent, with no sudden drops or spikes in the quality. Editor Mike Allen also continues the format of alternating between both mediums, which makes the book work.

For the most part, I found the poems to be decent and the fiction enjoyable. Mythic 2 continues the tradition of weaving or re-inventing fairy tales, legends, and myths and infusing them with the sensibilities of the various authors. This isn't a long anthology, but the quality more than makes up for the brevity. I really liked all of the prose and appreciated the poetry but I think the former wins out overall, at least in this volume of ... Read More

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction: Packed full of excellent SF stories

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction is packed full of excellent science fiction stories. I've been reading anthologies lately, partly to improve my own short story writing, and this is the best I've found so far. It contains stories by authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow, Catherynne M. ValenteJohn Scalzi, Jo Walton, Charles Stross, Read More

More speculative fiction from Jo Walton

Tir Tanagiri — (2000-2002) Publisher: Sulian ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story — a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, where the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. Ringing with the clash of arms and the songs of its people, rich with high magic and everyday life, The King’s Peace begins an epic of great deeds and down-to-earth people, told in language with the strength and flexibility of sharpened steel.

book reviews Jo Walton Tir Tanagiri 1. The King's Peace 2. The King's Name 3. The Prize in the Gamebook reviews Jo Walton Tir Tanagiri 1. The King's Peace 2. The King's Name 3. The Prize in the Gamebook reviews Jo Walton Tir Tanagiri 1. The King's Peace 2. The King's Name 3. The Prize in the Game

Lifelode — (2009) Publisher: The Boskone 46 Guest of Honor book is a unique fantasy novel by Jo Walton winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the World Fantasy award. From the introduction by Sharyn November: “Lifelode is what one might call domestic fantasy, set in a quiet farming community but it’s also about politics, God and religion, sexual mores, the make-up of a family, and how people change over time. There is magic, humor, and lots of good food.”

Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction — (2010) Publisher: It’s 1960, and the Axis powers dominate the world. Life goes on, because, as we see in “Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction,” history is driven both by big events and by small temptations… Following the appearance of her first two novels, The King’s Peace and The King’s Name, Jo Walton won the 2002 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Two years later she won the World Fantasy Award for Tooth and Claw. Her Small Change trilogy, comprising Farthing, Ha’penny, and Half A Crown, is set in a world in which Britain struck an early truce with Hitler in 1941; “Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction” is set in the America of that world.ost ambitious series. Among Walton’s many subjects here are the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by “mainstream”; the underappreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field’s many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read. Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely readable, engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.