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This review is from: Necessary Evil: The Milkweed Triptych: Book Three (Paperback)
This book picks up immediately after its predecessor, The Coldest War, ended, so it's a little hard to comment on the story without dropping major spoilers. The Amazon blurb gives more than enough away. Put simply, if you've read the first two books, then you know what happened and you have expectations as to where this will lead and - by and large - you won't be disappointed. If you haven't read the first two, stop reading this and go and look up Bitter Seeds instead.
I thought this final instalment actually took a while to get going. The pacing of the first half of the novel is very deliberate, concentrating - as per the previous book - very much on the characters. Tregillis has also chosen to write parts of the book in the first person. It's an interesting stylistic choice and - for very spoilery reasons - I can't explain why but, although I found the switches between first and third person quite jarring at first, there is a very good reason for it, and it made a lot of sense once I got to grips with it.
I absolutely loved the previous book. The fact is, I guess, that this one was always going to struggle to live up to the standards set by its predecessor. It's got that tricky job to do of balancing character, action, plot and at the same time tie up all of the loose ends. Overall, I think it does a good job. I turned the final page, read the final line, and felt quite satisfied with the conclusion. But there were a couple of aspects of this final book that I felt could have been better. For a couple of reasons it perhaps lacks the dynamics of the previous books, which were told from the viewpoints of both English and German characters. This one is told purely from the English standpoint, and robs it of some of the shades of grey that worked so well in the first two novels. Also, Tregillis - an American - is writing about English characters, but he allows far too many American-isms to slip through the net on this occasion. Wallets are referred to (repeatedly) as billfolds, pavements as sidewalks, and policemen on the beat frequently end sentences with "what?" like they're toffs out for a stroll ("Nice night for a walk, what?" etc). Also, no Englishman in his right mind in the 1940s would've used the word 'snuck'. I refuse to believe that. It's a real shame, because each successive time one of these words sneaked (sneaked!!!) through the net I found it kicked me out of the experience. Although there were a handful of moments like this in the previous books, it is more noticeable in this one. I'm not sure if this is down to lazy editing, in a rush to get the book published. I would happily have waited a while longer for it and had it sorted out.
On the plus side, the action, when it comes, is written with a real flair for the dramatic. The characters stay true to themselves throughout, and there are some encounters, some scenes, where I couldn't tear myself away - the kind of scenes that the end of the previous book demanded to be written.
The 'Milkweed Tryptich' has been a fun ride. It's easy to read, not overly demanding, but it treats its outlandish subject matter - and the reader - with a degree of respect. It's the sort of story that could've lurched into cartoon-ish exaggeration but has, instead, delivered a character-driven adventure, full of twists and clever foreshadowing. I'll be curious to re-read it at some point with the knowledge of what happens later on, just to see how Tregillis laid all the groundwork earlier on. The title of the first book Bitter Seeds seems to have taken on a whole new level of meaning now that I've completed the trilogy.
I'm looking forward to seeing what Tregillis does next.
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Initial post: 31 May 2013 13:03:08 BDT
Good review, thanks. I'm part way through this final part of the triptych and would agree the switch to first person is hard to get used to at first, but I suppose it's the most elegant (or least clumsy) way Tregillis could have handled these scenes.
I'd also agree that the Americanisms and anachronisms seem more obvious this time round - the request for a 'pint of bitters' set my teeth on edge, and I found it odd that characters would lightly be handing over five pound notes at a time when that amount would have been a week's wages or more. Tregillis seems to be a stickler for detail (always naming the precise make and model of a vehicle, whether it is a late 50's British saloon or a WWII German personnel carrier for example) so it's annoying when he gets it wrong. A British proof reader would have picked up these things fairly easily.
These are minor quibbles though, so all in all, I think 4 stars is about right.
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