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Necessary Evil (Milkweed) Hardcover – April 30, 2013
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“A combination of Alan Furst's brand of historical espionage with the fantastical characters of graphic novelist Alan Moore.” ―New Mexico Magazine on Bitter Seeds
“Exciting and intense… The clash of magic and (mad) science meshes perfectly with the tumultuous setting.” ―Publishers Weekly on Bitter Seeds
“A white-knuckle plot, beautiful descriptions, and complex characters―an unstoppable Vickers of a novel.” ―Cory Doctorow on Bitter Seeds
“A striking first novel.” ―Locus on Bitter Seeds
“Bitter Seeds may rival Naomi Novik's Tales of Temeraire as a sustained historical fantasy.” ―Booklist on Bitter Seeds
About the Author
Necessary Evil is the third title in Ian Tregillis's alternate history series, the first of which, Bitter Seeds, was highly praised. Tregillis lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he works as a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In addition, he is a member of the George R. R. Martin Wild Cards writing collective.
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With that out of the way, one of my complaints about the previous books has been resolved here. Raybould Marsh was a major player in both previous books, but I just don't feel we got inside his head as much as I would've liked. Well, we do here. At the end of book two, it is 1963 and the world is ending and Marsh gets sent back in time to the early days of the Milkweed project (British intelligence services' monitoring of medical experimentation on a German farm).
Older/time traveler Marsh's sections are in first person. It's a little jarring at first, since there were no first person sections in the previous novels, but it makes sense. It is pretty much the only way the author could distinguish between young Marsh's sections (told in third person) and old Marsh's sections, since they are often interacting with the same people and of course they have the same name. It is a more intimate style and I think it gets the reader closer to his thought process and makes him more sympathetic. Although we know the main reason things went wrong between him and his wife in book two, we understand more of his feelings -- he's not hiding out in the garden shed or getting in bar fights here, but there's a lot more introspection. Because of this, the end of the book for him is really bittersweet, but it's also the only way things could have worked out. (Side note: I don't think Tregillis can write a happy ending. This is the seventh book of his I've read. The Alchemy Wars series also had kind of a depressing end. Don't let that stop you from reading his books, just don't read them when you're in the mood for something light. Lots of thinking to do with these!)
We also get into Gretel's head a little bit here and it is interesting. If you have read the previous two books, you'll know she was one of the experimental subjects at the German farm and she has the power of precognition. She can see all possible futures and can make decisions -- the WWII-era German government pays attention to her, so it's not just personal power but she can affect international events -- to alter the course of history. But in all futures, she's seen the end of the world, so she has to create a new timeline. Marsh's time travel is key to that. However, in this new timeline, her power starts to break down. It's not unexpected; the author laid the groundwork for this as early as book one, when Marsh is able to surprise her with a statement. Gretel becomes both an ally and an enemy for Marsh and his companions. Her POV sections are short, which is good -- don't think I'd be able to handle much of them (lots of strikethrough text as she decides what course the future will take). But they are really well done.
I think the time travel really works here. As many successes as Marsh has, there are some oddities that lead to very similar situations replaying themselves over again (the possibility of sorcery-propelled travel across long distances, for example). I feel like the author has really thought through all the implications of the different choices the characters make this time around, and also that he had this whole thing planned out in great detail from the beginning. The clues were there if you knew to look for them. I think this one (the whole series, really) might be worth rereading, now that I Know the end, actually. I'm pretty sure I would catch a lot more.
The reactions you have to non-main characters are also interesting. Will (a sorcerer and British aristocrat working on Milkweed) and Klaus (Gretel's brother another experimental subject from the farm) were quite nicely developed in book two, and you have to keep reminding yourself that these are their younger selves, that Klaus has not yet had his big transformation, that Will has not yet hit rock bottom, that neither of these events may ever occur.
There is plenty of tension and the action is well-written and has a fast pace. There really isn't a dull moment in this book. There's a real sense of urgency in pretty much everything the characters (especially older Marsh) do.
In the end, I enjoyed this whole series and the last book most of all. Definitely recommended.
I really loved this series and it was fun to read the third and concluding novel of the Milkweed Triptych, Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis. The plot threads were nicely tied up, and I was constantly surprised with the direction of the book.
The first two, Bitter Seeds and Coldest War were amazingly good (see my reviews of both) and Necessary Evil kept up the tension. I won't ruin the first two books here, as the beauty of the series relies heavily on not knowing what's coming. Overall, I think the first two books had me more worried about the characters and their fates, but Necessary Evil was excellent. I still never knew what was going to happen.
Gretel, the character who can see the future is back and the interludes from her point of view were brilliant. The chapters when we get into her mind were my favorites. The turn her character takes later in the book was unexpected for me, but I can totally understand why it happened. I don't know what else the writer could have done with a goddess like character to make the rest of the novel work, but I wasn't expecting the series of events involving her shift. Never trust Gretel is still the best advice anyone can give.
This was a very unique and ambitious series, and book one, Bitter Seeds was an incredible achievement. Book two, The Coldest War blew my mind, especially the ending, and I wondered how the third novel would compare. For me, the second book was probably the peak of the series as far as high drama and tension, and Necessary Evil was not as epic in some ways, though it was a worthy conclusion. I think reading the three books back to back to back would be best, as there are clues in book one and especially two that will improve the experience of the reader in book three. All the books are so interdependent with each other it's hard to separate them. Having book two fresh in your mind when reading book two would be best.
The author created such a complicated web that little things mean a lot, and small events change the course of history. Pulling it all together in the finale was a fantastic achievement and the epilogue had a lot of heart. I was so glad to read the last chapter, as some writers fail to deliver there, but Tregillis pulled it off perfectly.
If you're a fan of alternate history, spies, characters with super-powers, and great writing, read this series for sure.
Highly Recommended 5/5 Stars
The third one is an attempt to tie up loose ends and knock together a happy ending in the laziest fashion possible. Yes, our old friend time travel raises its ugly head. What you have is the events of the first book playing out just slightly different. Massive boredom ensues --- there is absolutely no sense of wonder whatsoever, and the protagonists, not exactly scintillating in a first place, are positively annoying third time around. Oh, and there are more of them (time travel, remember?)
Annoying bordering on unpleasant, in fact. The author keeps on pontificating about hard moral choices, yet the protagonists have all the moral complexity of a two by four. Look, I understand that there are good guys and bad guys, but in a novel at this level of sophistication there must be something to the good guys in addition to great big labels saying "Good Guys". It is impossible to root for our two (or three or four) protagonists considering the choices they make and the traits they exhibit (it would also help if someone, anyone, had some sense of humor).
I wish I stopped after the first book. If you're here, do yourself a favor and skip the third one.
Most recent customer reviews
Book three of the Milkweed Triptych (Bitter Seed and The Coldest War being book one and two) starts off with a bang.Read more