Ian Tregillis' Necessary Evil, sequel to the excellent Bitter Seeds and the awesome The Coldest War, is the final installment in the Milkweed Triptych sequence. And since the second volume was my top read of 2012, I was really looking forward to finding out how the author would close the show.
And although my expectations were quite high, Tregillis delivered on all fronts! Indeed, the Milkweed Triptych is definitely one of the very best speculative fiction series of the new millennium! Too bad Tor Books sort of dropped the ball on this one, what with the delays and everything else. With such crossover appeal, with the right marketing the Milkweed Triptych could have been a real hit. . .
With this Back to the Future format, several kinds of pitfalls could have sunk this book. And yet, Ian Tregillis steers the various storylines with panache and aplomb and brings Necessary Evil to a fully satisfying ending!
Here's the blurb:
12 May 1940. Westminster, London, England: the early days of World War II. Again. Raybould Marsh, one of “our” Britain’s best spies, has travelled to another Earth in a desperate attempt to save at least one timeline from the Cthulhu-like monsters who have been observing our species from space and have already destroyed Marsh’s timeline. In order to accomplish this, he must remove all traces of the supermen that were created by the Nazi war machine and caused the specters from outer space to notice our planet in the first place. His biggest challenge is the mad seer Greta, one of the most powerful of the Nazi creations, who has sent a version of herself to this timeline to thwart Marsh. Why would she stand in his way? Because she has seen that in all the timelines she dies and she is determined to stop that from happening, even if it means destroying most of humanity in the process. And Marsh is the only man who can stop her. Necessary Evil is the stunning conclusion to Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed series.
Bitter Seeds was a paranormal alternate history novel in which Tregillis tinkered with the history of WWII. With The Coldest War, he did the same by extrapolating with the events surrounding the Cold War. With his eye for historical details and his evocative prose, the author revisits what occurred in Bitter Seeds as Marsh must alter the past in order for the future to have a chance in this new timeline. I was afraid that the time travel aspect could perhaps rob the book of its espionage feel, but it was not to be. Tregillis adroitly avoided potentially hazarduous plot points and Necessary Evil is everything it needed to be.
Once again, we witness events unfolding through the eyes of three main protagonists: A younger Raybould Marsh, the go-to guy of Operation Milkweed; a younger, more innocent William Beauclerk, who isn't yet aware of what will be asked of him during WWII; and the elder version of Raybould Marsh, a hard and bitter man who has traveled back in time in an attempt to make things right. Or die trying. Burned and disfigured during the Cold War, with damaged vocal cords, the older Marsh is unrecognizable. There are some touching moments as he can't help but make contact with his wife and baby daughter. For a while I was afraid that Tregillis would go down the corny road, and I guess that he does play with readers' preconceptions to misdirect us. I feel that there was a nice balance between the three POVs, and it was interesting to get two different viewpoints from the same character. The two incarnations of Raybould Marsh are so alike, and yet so different. At times, it felt as though William's storyline, even if it is inherently important to the resolution of the tale, also served as a counterpoint to the other two darker POV sections by offering up "lighter" interludes.
Gretel, the gypsy-born German seer remains the most fascinating character of the series. Although she is indubitably brilliant, her short POV sections show that she is also quite mad. As was the case in Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War, at the beginning of the novel Gretel continues to be in complete control of events. Yet somehow, in this new timeline, the only timeline in which the seer saw herself surviving the Eidolons, Gretel slowly realizes that she can't see and shape the future as she used to. And unstable as she is, realizing that she isn't infallible will have repercussions that could throw everything in jeopardy.
With several loose ends to tie up in order to make this novel work, Ian Tregillis paced this one to perfection. There isn't a single dull moment to be found within the pages of Necessary Evil, making it a true page-turner. The ending, when it comes, packs a powerful emotional punch. I don't believe that Tregillis ever received the credit he deserves for writing such an absorbing series. He is definitely an author to watch out for!
As was the case with its two predecessors, Necessary Evil is an intelligent, thought-provoking, inventive, and engrossing work that totally satisfies you and makes you beg for more. The Milkweed Triptych is by far the best series released by Tor Books in many a year and in my opinion it is one of the very best speculative fiction sequences of the last decade.
Looking for the perfect blend of alternate history, science fiction, and urban fantasy? Then the Milkweed Triptych is exactly what you should read! This series deserves the highest possible recommendation.