Thursday, 3 May 2012

‘The Coldest War’ – Ian Tregillis (Tor)

Last month I found myself in the rather unique position of being a year behind in reading a book and almost a year ahead of the game… all at the same time. The book in question was Ian Tregillis’ ‘Bitter Seeds’, another one of those books that I read and find myself really regretting that I hadn’t read it sooner. You can read the whole review Here or just read the ‘summing up bit’, in italics, below. They both pretty much say the same thing :o)

It’s a testament to what Tregillis has done here that I’m already of the opinion that he keeps writing then I’ll keep reading his work. Can you tell I’m excited? Read ‘Bitter Seeds’ and you’ll see why.

Glowing words then but totally deserved. There were times, over the last three months, when I was glad that I wasn’t working and one of those was when I was reading ‘Bitter Seeds’. I couldn’t put it down and was glad of any excuse to keep reading.
I’d taken my time getting round to ‘Bitter Seeds’ and promised myself that I wouldn’t hang around when I got a chance to read the sequel. ‘The Coldest War’ gets its US release in July and I’m assuming that the UK release will be the month after ‘Bitter Seeds’ (Orbit are good at doing that). There’s a little while to wait yet but the wait is worth it; ‘The Coldest War’ is a worthy follow up and promises great things for the concluding volume (I think it’s the concluding volume, how many books are there in a Triptych…?)

It’s been twenty two years since the end of the Second World War and a precarious peace exists between Britain and the USSR. The Soviet Union has taken full advantage of captured Nazi research and bred its own army of super powered soldiers; the only thing stopping them is a small group of British warlocks harnessing otherworldly powers in defence of the realm. And now those warlocks are being murdered one by one…
In the meantime, Gretel and Klaus have escaped from Soviet capture and are making their way back to Britain once more. Gretel has plans for one Raybould Marsh, a man about to be dragged out of the gutter and shown that the country he fought so hard to protect will stop at nothing to protect its interests. Britain’s darkest acts didn’t end with the war… Gretel knows only too well that there is far more at stake than mere Cold War politics and Marsh is the only man who stands any chance of rescuing order from inevitable chaos…

Tregillis does it again, ‘The Coldest War’ is a book that gripped me right from the off and wouldn’t let me put it down until I’d finished. If you enjoyed ‘Bitter Seeds’ then I think you’ll get a lot out of ‘The Coldest War’ as well. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to read both books in fairly short order but now I’ve got to deal with a very long wait to see what happens next. Be forewarned that ‘The Coldest War’ ends on a real cliff-hanger and you’ll probably end up feeling just like me, eager to see what happens next.

It’s not a perfect read though and the funny thing is that this is because ‘The Coldest War’ follows the lines that made ‘Bitter Seeds’ just that. Where do you go next after being on top of your game and writing a book that, for my money, had nothing wrong with it at all? I think the temptation is always there to do exactly the same thing all over again and that’s the approach Tregillis has taken here. After all, why fix things if they’re not broken… right?
Well, we can all see the logic behind that I’m sure but the upshot for me was that I sometimes felt like I was reading ‘Bitter Seeds’ all over again with most of the same characters facing the same kind of questions and situations that they faced before (with occasional diversions to be fair). The concluding chapters promise a whole new direction for the next book but that’s not a lot of help here where familiar ground is very much trodden. The impact that the last book had is lessened, to a degree, here and it’s also made it very difficult to write this review without repeating myself too much... ;o)

The good news though is that Tregillis very clearly knows what he is doing and treads that familiar ground with an assured stride. The sense of urgency and intensity are still very much there and reflect very well what is at stake for everyone playing this shadowy game.
Tregillis is still very much about exploring the price paid for waging occult/super powered warfare and although he doesn’t exactly break any new ground it’s still very interesting to see how choices made in the previous book have affected the main players here. Will is the most interesting character to follow in this respect; his actions don’t come as a surprise but make for some intense reading as they play out. You get a real feel for what was done to Will in the past when a certain revelation comes to light.
It also makes for some compelling reading seeing Marsh make his journey back into the murky world of the British Secret Service. It’s a journey that will make him plumb new depths, in the service of his country, but offers him a shot at some kind of redemption right at the end.

For me though, Gretel is the real star of the piece with her own special brand of psychosis highlighting just how tight Tregillis’ plot is (as well as making her an unnerving character that you find yourself having to keep an eye on). Gretel does nothing without a very good reason, she either knows that something is about to happen or she knows that she has to do something now so that something will happen in the future. As we get to know Gretel more, everything is slowly cast in an entirely new light (in ‘Bitter Seeds’ as well as here) and you have to admire a writer like Tregillis who has everything covered in such a tight plot like this.

And of course there’s a whole load of scenes where super powered Communists throw down on woefully underpowered Nazis and British agents. These are always worth the price of entry and offset the more thoughtful moments rather nicely. Tregillis also has a few surprises in store here that showcase just how much time has passed and what the Soviets have been able to do with the captured Nazi technology in the meantime. It’s the same playing field but the rules have changed…

The finale is nothing short of awesome, tying up a few things that were left hanging in ‘Bitter Seeds’ and promising a book to come where the stakes are raised even higher and the appearance of a super powered person will pale into insignificance compared to the true threat on display. ‘The Coldest War’ doesn’t really do anything new but what it does do is superb; while you’re reading this I’m sat here waiting impatiently to find out what happens next.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


bubbasmom said...

Well, I picked up Benedict Jacka's "Fated" on your recommendation, and it was a terrific read. So based on your recommendation of "The Coldest War" I'll pick it up, too, because so far you're batting a thousand.

So, thanks!

Morgue said...

I got the audiobook because there was no way I was waiting til July.

I didn't find it repetitive, really, or at least not in any way that bothered me. Klaus's story, at least, was unlike anything from Bitter Seeds.

Can't wait for the third.