Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis
The Coldest War is the second of Ian Tregillis' alternate history Milkweed triptych begun with Bitter Seeds.
I thought Bitter Seeds was a good book, a promising debut, but The Coldest War is very very good and probably the book of the year so far for me.
Given that WW 2 ended a lot quicker than it did in our timeline in Bitter Seeds I thought this book about the cold war between Britain and the Soviets (often referred to as Ivan by their British adversary) may have also taken place earlier, but it doesn't it's set in 1963, when tensions between the two superpowers are at their height.
The Coldest War is an almost flawless book. Tregillis isn't that old, but he had a great handle on the early '60's and this may have been in part because he was working with a version of history that he himself altered in the opening book. He doesn't infodump about this brave new world, just drops in tantalising little nuggets that drive home how the world we know has changed, for instance the Soviets collectivised the French wineries, which ruined their reputation and quality. The best wine now comes from South America, although French cheese is still superior.
As with Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War really shines with it's characters, especially the devious seer Gretel. She's so chilling that the reader almost shivers every time she enters the story. This was driven home for me when she and her brother Klaus escaped from the Soviets (given that Klaus can walk through walls and Gretel reads the future in the same way most people read the morning paper imprisonment is really only a word to the siblings, and they could have run at any time, Gretel just chose to do it this way) and you see why she arranged to have a former teammate killed. Talk about dark!
It was at times painful to read the sections with Raybould Marsh and his wife Liv. In Bitter Seeds Marsh was a dashing and driven secret agent and Liv was the love of his life. Now Marsh has left the secret service and picks up gardening jobs to keep the wolf from the door. Partly due to the death of their daughter Agnes and the stress and strain of caring for their severely disabled son John, the two now hate each other and only remain together out of habit and John's need of 24/7 carers.
Warlock Will has done better for himself, recovering from his drug addiction in Bitter Seeds and getting a nice bureaucratic niche due to his titled and highly placed brother's influence, plus he has met and married Lady Gwendolyn and the two are genuinely in love.
Then Klaus and Gretel defect and it all goes to hell again.
Everyone in this book is Gretel's play thing and you get the impression that nothing happens without her say so. I never saw the ending coming and it has me very eager to see how Tregillis wraps this whole thing up in April with Necessary Evil.
The Milkweed triptych is of the highest quality and you will kick yourself if you don't get on it.