The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis
|Book Name:||The Coldest War|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Superheroes / Science Fiction|
|Release Date:||July 17, 2012|
Editor’s Note: Mild spoilers for book one. Read with caution if you’ve yet to finish Bitter Seeds.
I very recently read Bitter Seeds, the first part of Ian Tregillis’ tale of German super-humans and British warlocks and loved it. However, the book takes you on quite a disturbing journey, and despite how much I enjoyed that book, I took my time getting to its sequel, The Coldest War. I had to brace myself for another expedition into Tregillis’ dark alternate history, slightly nervous that the sequel wouldn’t live up to its predecessor.
The short review, if you haven’t read Bitter Seeds, is that The Coldest War is even better. It has so many jaw-dropping moments, so many clever twists and an ending that leaves you hanging desperately for the final part but also ties up the current events. Tregillis is a master storyteller on top of his game.
Long ago, there was a debate that asked if you would kill an innocent baby in order to save millions of deaths later. Would that single act of evil be worth it in order to prevent a greater evil in the future? Would you say yes? Would you do it? This theme runs throughout all of the Milkweed Triptych so far. If you agree, the question just intensifies. Would you kill a hundred people to save your country? What would you exchange a million lives for? Where would you draw the line?
William Beauclerk is first asked in Bitter Seeds by the alien beings known as the Eidolons, who actually perform the magic for the warlocks, if he is willing to cut off a finger to pay for a piece of information. He agrees readily. As the war goes on, the demands gets higher until Beauclerk promises the soul of an unborn child. In the end, Beauclerk’s conscience can’t stand the guilt and he descends into drug addiction and eventually attempts suicide. As The Coldest War begins, he is happily married and attempting some form of redemption but someone is killing all the British warlocks and Beauclerk may be next on the list.
His comrade, Marsh, who in Bitter Seeds was willing to do anything to get the job done and keep Britain safe, is a shell of a man. He spends his life getting drunk in order to avoid the horrors that await him at home.
Klaus and Gretel, the German super-twins, are in Soviet custody and have spent the last twenty years since the end of World War II being examined so the Soviets can create their own army of super-humans. When the opportunity to finally escape arrives, the twins seize it and escape to Britain. Gretel must find Marsh and ask for his help despite responsible for the death of his daughter.
I once got frustrated with a second book in a series because I felt the author was just moving chess pieces around on a board – positioning them for a grand finale – without anything of consequence happening. It’s a common problem – the Middle Book Syndrome – and one we often accept as necessary and forgive because we love the authors’ worlds so much. However, The Coldest War shows how to deal with the problem brilliantly. It is all about moving chess pieces but done so cleverly that it left me gasping. The chess player isn’t the author playing God, it’s the main character, Gretel. Because she can see the future, she knows what the grand finale could be. Everything she does in both books is about manipulating people and events to get them in position to achieve her end goal. She’s playing with lives though and everything she does has horrible consequences. It doesn’t help that she is utterly devoid of compassion and enjoys making people “hop”. The big question though is why is she doing it? Is she insane? A sociopath with a God complex? Or a being with a higher purpose?
Gretel really is the perfect creation, utterly original and I love the fact that, just when I think I have her all worked out, Tregillis pulls the rug out from under me.
The Coldest War is as dark as Bitter Seeds. There is a pervasive sadness to a world having survived a terrible war and then found itself in an even more horrible place. No matter how hard everyone struggles, there is an inevitability to everything that is crushing. This may be the darkness before the dawn, but at points, it’s hard to imagine salvation will come.
Whereas Bitter Seeds bounced all around the European Theatre, The Coldest War, for the main part, takes place in Britain and the book benefits from that focus greatly. The pace is relentless as it hurtles towards the most epic conclusion. Whenever things can’t possibly get any worse for our heroes, Tregillis turns the ratchet up once more. There’s big superhero battles and taught psychological warfare. It’s The Avengers made up of Smiley’s People.
There’ve been some amazing books this year but Tregillis has the top two places in my Best Of with Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War. It’s going to be a long cruel wait until the final part of the Milkweed Triptych but I have no doubt Tregillis will blow my mind once more.