Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Coldest War The Coldest War
by Ian Tregillis

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alex Lindsay
Steven Litten

There are a surprisingly large number of books about shadowy organisations which protect the British state from supernatural threats. They vary in quality from Charles Stross down to Department 19 and look at the idea from as many different angles, and together they almost form a distinct sub-sub-sub-genre. The Coldest War is the second in a trilogy which combines that idea with alternate history.

The Nazis had invented a number of supernatural weapons which had to be countered by some rather morally questionable actions by the British warlocks, whose work on weather control helped the Soviets to win the Great Patriotic War. This book is set in the early sixties, when the continent has been under soviet hegemony for a generation, and the German supermen captured by the soviets are trying to escape to Britain.

This is one of the few books in this category which was written by an American, and he actually handles the language problem very competently. There are a couple of places where characters "make change" instead of giving it, but generally his command of British English is exemplary. The characterisations are wonderful, both human and superhuman, and the hero is perfectly flawed, and very reminiscent of Bob Shaw's Ground Zero Man.

The development of the plot is greatly muddied by one of the ubermensch being a precog. The number of stories ruined by the sloppy use of temporal paradoxes is almost the same as the number of stories which try to use that device, but in this specific case it works, and works beautifully. Every time it seems that the author has mishandled the technique, a scarcely noticed bump in the causal chain turns out to be a handhold for sending the action off in an unexpected direction. I have never seen precognition used as well as it is here.

After reading this book, I went back to read the first in the series, and the way that the author has used the foreknowledge of this character is masterful. I'd recommend that you read them in the order they were published, but even out of sequence they make an exciting, thought-provoking saga.

The first book in the series is Bitter Seeds. The third volume Necessary Evil isn't out in paperback yet. Dammit!

- Alex Lindsay

This is the second of the Milkweed trilogy (or Milkweed Triptych as the publisher prefers). It’s approximately 20 years since the War ended. Stalin’s armies made it further west, thanks to the eidolons, and Paris is a divided city. Britain is slowly sinking into decay, and is home to Reinhardt, and eventually Gretel and Klaus who manage to escape from their own little Gulag. William Beauclerk has escaped from the self-loathing he ended Bitter Seeds on and has acquired a wife, Gwendolyn. Raybould Marsh has a son to replace the lost daughter, but the boy is a broken vessel and has wrecked the Marshes' marriage. Marsh is sinking faster than Britain when news of Gretel and Klaus's escape reaches what used to be Milkweed.

As with Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War changes perspective every few pages. This helps link the various threads. Gretel and Klaus surviving in Britain. Reinhardt attempting to make a battery so as to use his talent. Marsh recovering some purpose as he is recalled to Milkweed, and Will’s fall from grace as his treason is discovered. This may be the second of a trilogy, and usually they’re the weak link, but I preferred this volume to the first book. Whatever it was that didn’t work in the first does here. It is as though Tregillis had to write the first in order to get warmed up.

The action flows. The Soviet villains are mostly off camera, lurking menacingly in the shadows as villains should. Soviet Willenskrafte agents can use more than one talent, and have modern equipment. And the real monsters, the eidolons, only appear briefly. Marsh is no longer the all brawn action hero, although he still tends to think with his body. Reinhardt may hunger for revenge for a long dead Reich, Klaus has matured. He can almost contemplate a life not serving a state.

The key figure of Gretel is as enigmatic as ever. Her talent, clairvoyance, is the McGuffin for the whole story, and we finally learn what she is plotting at the end of The Coldest War. It is so simple (and obvious if you sit and think about it) that if volume three, Necessary Evil, is half as good as The Coldest War it shock be a cracking good read. Tregillis annoyed me with Bitter Seeds but all is forgiven as he has repaid the debt with interest.

- Steven Litten

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