The Coldest War
The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis is the sequel to Bitter Seeds. I previously posted a review of the audiobook version as that was released earlier than the print version. Now, I find that I have the audiobook, The hardcover, a digital copy on my Nook and an ARC that I won from Tor.com. I am not at all sorry to own multiple versions of this as I find the book to be fabulous.
This is the first line of the book:
Warlocks do not age gracefully.
It compactly points out a couple of truths. First, that being a warlock takes a toll on a person. Second, some time has passed since the end of Bitter Seeds. In fact, about twenty years have passed and we now find ourselves deep into what would have been the depths of the Cold War in our own timeline, but of course our world is not the one we are dealing with. History has been changed by the events in Bitter Seeds and Tregillis does a masterful job of following through with the ramifications of those events. I’m not going to mention what all those ramifications are as that would be spoiling but suffice it to say that there are many such.
In addition to dealing with the effects of past differences upon future events, Tregillis explains and furthers one of the movers of those past events–Gretel. Gretel’s power is to see into the future. In Bitter Seeds, we see her doing this and some of the results of her actions. During Bitter Seeds, some of her actions seem to be just plain psychotic. In The Coldest War, we see some of the reasons Gretel has behind some of her actions. The actions are themselves not necessarily less those of a sociopath, but there are reasons–causes and effects behind what seem to be madness. Is it possible to see the future and remain sane? I don’t know, but this is the second area in which Tregillis shows a masterful touch. Oracles and various beings that can see into the future are a very tricky area to get right. These books get Gretel exactly right. Beautiful work on that front of which I won’t say any spoilers as they are integral to the story.
The books are populated with wonderful characterizations as well as wonderful plot points. We join the tale of Reinhardt, a secondary Gotterelektron soldier with the following:
Children called him Junkman. But he had been a god once.
Very nice. He has fallen from where he once was but the hunger remains. The story is very much one of what happens when the extraordinary is inserted into the world. We see the grinding consequences this has had for Raybould Marsh the British spy, for William Beauclerk the warlock and for Klaus, Gretel’s brother. These three are the main point of view characters. In a scene early on, we are introduced into some of the misfortune of Marsh. We get:
…as it cut him with slivers of irrational hope.
The prose is lovely and redolent with gems like this. In The Coldest War, Ian Tregillis has given us a sequel that exceeds the first book. A rare combination of razor sharp prose, superb characterization and technical plotting that really is a feast. That is to say, I really liked this book.