Changing of the Guard by James Farner



Set in England during the 1800s, James Farner’s Changing of the Guard is a story that builds layer upon layer, from viewpoint after viewpoint, to create a suspenseful narrative.


“Mrs Forsyth was happy to steer the conversation away from Edward’s future. It was a future he couldn’t yet know about.”


The story centres around Edward Urwin, an orphaned boy who lives with his working class aunt and uncle. Through a series of chance encounters and incredible good fortune, a boy destined to work in the factories is put through school and given a life he thought impossible.


Those he meets along the way often have linked pasts and as the novel progresses we get to see the world from other viewpoints, which helps fill in the gaps and keep the story moving. The more we learn, the more intriguing things get and as the book draws to a close there are plenty of questions to be answered.


The story, its setting in time and the method of its telling are all reminiscent of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries but while Catton’s twists and turns add more and more to the engagement of the story, Farner’s similar attempts are occasionally confusing and unwieldy.


When done well this complicated approach works beautifully, and although Changing of the Guard is a good attempt, it could have done with a bit more fine tuning before being shared with the world.


One particularly jarring aspect is the character’s dialogue which doesn’t fit in with much of the surroundings — there’s little that reflects the town, the time or the class of the characters — ultimately this makes it hard for them to stand out.  


As the first book in the Pomp and Poverty series, Changing of the Guard builds a solid foundation for what’s to come but frustratingly seems to have fallen short of what it could have been.


Changing of the Guard Book Cover Changing of the Guard
Pomp and Poverty
James Farner
Historical fiction
November 2015


Queen Victoria ascends the throne in 1837 and heralds in a new era of prosperity for the British Empire. Whilst the great Norlong and Ebonson families fly the flag for the British Empire, Edward Urwin spends his time scratching pieces of art into the cobblestones of Birmingham.

Life is straightforward for Edward until a strange old man approaches him in the street. With the help of Henry Beechworth, Edward learns to read and use his special talents to win a place at St. John’s Boarding School.

But it isn’t all down to good fortune. Edward doesn’t realise he’s under control of forces far more powerful than him. Forces that are determined to shape him in their image. Forces that are determined to bury the mystery of the demise of the Urwin family for good…


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