Review of The Coldest War, (Book two in the Milkweek Tryptich) by Ian Tregillis
(No big spoilers, except for a few minor ones that regard the set-up)
I just finished The Coldest War, book two of three in the Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis. I devoured it.
I read book one, Bitter Seeds (now out in mass market paperback by the way) in about three days and the same applies to book two. I would have read faster if I’d had the time.
(The mass market paperback cover)
I'm so blown away right now from finishing this fantastic novel. Mr. Tregillis has created a brilliant book, and I concur with the blurb from Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin blurb, “A major talent,” indeed.
The ending was so awesome, and redeems the grim nature of this book. More on that later . . .
The same characters from book one are back, and it’s about twenty years after the end of an alternate history World War II, and is now 1963, the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union appears to have all of Europe, even France.
The alternate history is fascinating, but that is not the point of the book. This is a character novel and focuses very tightly on the protagonists, so we get three main point of view characters. There is very little detail given about the wildly divergent world so different from what happened after World War II in our world, but the details we do get are tantalizing, especially for history buffs.
Raybould Marsh, the British super-spy, is now a broken down middle-aged man with a terrible home-life and he’s working as a gardener after getting fired from all his other jobs. His journey is incredibly bleak and sad, the most depressing of all the storylines. He should have listened to his warlock friend, William from book one, but he didn’t, and Raybould and his wife, Liv, had another child. BIG MISTAKE.
William Beauclerk is also back, he was the warlock in Bitter Seeds who helped the British Empire fend off the Nazis who had super-human warriors. British warlocks negotiate with the eidolons (think demons) and accomplish feats of magic that boggle the mind, but the cost is high. Think . . . a blood price, and/or the souls of unborn children. William is no longer doing what he did before and has recovered from some of the horror of what he had to do during World War II, and he has the happiest life of all the characters. However, Will is still traveling down a very dark and dangerous road that is leading him toward a terrible confrontation.
Klaus, the former Nazi superman warrior is also back, but he is a pale reflection of who he was before, when he was at the peak of his power. After twenty years in a Soviet research camp he is incredibly broken and his storyline is so sad and very often quite poignant. I felt so bad for him, as he has been abused his entire life.
Raybould, William, and Klaus are the three main point of view characters, although there is one other with minor scenes, Reinhardt, another former Nazi superwarrior.
The most fascinating character is still Gretel, who is the sister of Klaus. She has the power of precognition and is so devious and brilliant. Tregillis gives us a look into her thoughts at the end of the book, which is worth all the dreary sadness of what went before. All the groundwork Tregillis did in book one (and two) paid off big time at the end. Wow, standing ovation.
Gretel can manipulate the time-line and might just be in charge of the future, but can she change it, or just delay things with her actions? You’ll have to read this book to find out.
***Look for the short story available on Kindle, about Gretel that precedes this trilogy, “What Dr. Gottlieb Saw,” and learn more about her as a teenager. It’s a great short story and worth the 99 cents, and you don’t need a Kindle to read it. You can read it on your browser while you’re on Amazon.com. Read it after you’ve read Bitter Seeds, not before, as it kind of gives things away.
Overall, The Coldest War had a lot of tension, brilliant, razor sharp prose, and some pretty amazing action. There were so many great chapter endings and twisted moments. Tregillis is a master of the complicated and awesome plot, and I’m stunned at the foreshadowing he did in book one, which came out in book two. It’s a must, in my opinion to read these books in order, as the sequel builds on book one big time. There is some recap about what happened in book one (thankfully), but I think readers would be a little lost had they not read Bitter Seeds.
Strangely, as I read Coldest War, I felt like the book was too perfect sometimes, meaning: "How the heck did Tregillis pull this off and make this book so great?!" It just felt like there was nothing wrong, and that bugged me a little. I kept thinking, “I'm going to see a chink in the armor here somewhere,” but it never materialized.
The only real negative of this book was that it was so dark and depressing that some people will find it hard to take, but as long as readers get to the ending, it will all be okay. My feeling that the book was too depressing was erased with the fantastic ending of course. I’m not going to spoil it here, but suffice it to say that it will leave you floored and wanting book three, Necessary Evil (April 2013) really bad.
So, yes, the book was harsh and depressing most of the time, but Tregillis kept the tension up so much that no matter the sadness I felt for the characters, I could still face reading on about them, as I wanted to find out what was going to happen. That is the mark of great writing.
I’m just so impressed with this series and feel like Tregillis succeeded big time. I have no doubt that book three will be a triumphant conclusion to a great series.
Five Stars, Highly Recommended
Paul Genesse, Author of the Iron Dragon Series and Editor of The Crimson Pact anthology series