Thursday, May 16, 2013

Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

Necessary Evil is the final book of Ian Tregillis' Milkweed triptych. The second book of this (The Coldest War) absolutely blew me away.

In Necessary Evil, the story is taken from an alternate 1963, largely created by the events in the first book (Bitter Seeds) back to where it began in a war torn world in 1940. Through the machinations of the former Reichsbehorde seer Gretel, British secret service agent Raybould Marsh finds himself back in time, with the chance to save the world and at the same time change his own life and ensure the survival of his infant daughter; Agnes.

Because we've got two Marsh's in the one time Ian Tregillis had to distinguish between the two without always using 1963 Marsh's disfigurement as a description. I think he pulled off something quite clever to do this. 1940's Marsh is written in third person and 1963 Marsh is written in first. It was interesting to see things from his viewpoint as intimately as we did and it gave the character new levels and depth.

The other thing that really added to the story for me were the occasional interludes from Gretel where we got to see how deep her obsession with Marsh went and how she had been barely hanging onto sanity for most of her life. Although these sections are small, they must have been incredibly difficult to write, because Gretel often follows two or three possible timelines and outcomes before arriving at the one that suits her.

The planning to write this triptych is mind bending. He plays with the course of World War Two, this creates an alternate 1960's, then he goes back to the '40's and tries to steer the whole thing back on course to produce the outcome we all knew about.

Aside from a few instances where Ian Tregillis (an American) struggled with getting the 1940's British vernacular right (no Brit would use the phrase 'rogered the pooch') overall he got the tone spot on, and I couldn't fault it.

He drew me in so completely to the characters that I nearly threw the book across the room at one point where I thought some of them were stepping into one of Gretel's many traps.

Milkweed as a whole is superlative story telling and Necessary Evil is the perfect end for it.


  1. I loved the first book, I think it was my pick for favorite of the year when it came out. Though thinking back, I may have gone with Changes by Jim Butcher. Definitely my favorite debut, easily if I recall.

    All to say, I need to get my ass in gear and read the next two.

  2. Thanks B, you really do need to read the other two, because they get better and better as the triptych progresses.