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on 19 March 2017
Not a huge amount happens in this story other than it being the lead into book 3 where we'll get a load of time travelling shenanigans hinted at in the first book.

The real weaknesses for me are the almost soap opera style personal misery and the need for people to do the stupidest things to make the misery compound.

Will decides that he blames everybody for the blood sacrifices..carefully forgetting that he caused it all...apparently now, the guys he recruited made him do it.

All the main characters, enmity not withstanding, all end up in the same safe house where Gretel can do her machinations.

And that's the thing, the minute you knew what Gretel had done and could do, you'd kill her...no questions asked. Maybe Gretel has chosen a timeline where people do the stupidest things and give her huge latitude, but such stupidity does not make for a good novel.

Going downhill I'm afraid.
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on 3 August 2014
The most superb trilogy I have read in years.
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This is the sequel to Bitter Seeds - be aware that my review contains some spoilers for the earlier book, so if you haven't read that yet, please stop here and do so.

"The Coldest War" opens some 20 years after Britain, and its Empire, were saved in the darkest days of the Second World War by the brave few - not, though, young fighter pilots: in this universe, the Battle of Britain was decisively lost. Rather, the saviour's were Britain's warlocks - solitary and suspicious figures able to converse with "Eidolons", elemental spirits capable of great harm, and willing to inflict it - for a price.

Now, in 1962, the warlocks are being killed. Suspicion falls on Britain's Cold War rival. The USSR has exploited and developed a different supernatural weapon, the result of twisted German science and designed to endow humans with superhuman abilities. Raybould Marsh and Will Beauclerk, leading lights in the wartime Milkweed organisation which trafficked with the Eidolons, are called back to the Service. Both live blighted lives, paying, in different ways, for their dealings with the Eidolons. They must now, again, face Gretel, the unhinged seer who is manipulating destinies and timelines for her own obscure ends. Will things work out better then the previous time they met?

This is an excellent read, especially in the final third as events really begin to accelerate. Tregillis keeps the story moving at a decent pace and weaves a clever web between this book and the previous one, with some things left unexplained there now falling into place. There is a twist at the end that I really didn't see coming, and things are set up nicely for the final volume.

My only reservation (or I'd give this 5 stars) is that, like the previous book, there are some American turns of phrase put into the mouths of English characters, generally things that could easily be spotted by a British proofreader. But they don't greatly distract from the story and this is really a very small quibble.
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on 9 February 2013
The Coldest War is the follow up to Ian Tregillis's debut alternate history come fantasy war drama Bitter Seeds and the Milkweed trilogy will conclude with the third novel Necessary Evil.
The series is an original take on the events and the aftermath of the World War II period of history and Britain's fight against Germany and Russia.

Set over 20 years after the events in Bitter Seeds, Europe is a vastly different place, Russia is the controlling entity and an uneasy truce remains in place.
Gretel and Klaus, for me the two outstanding characters from the first novel have been prisoners for 20 long years in Arzamas-16, a large and heavily guarded research facility, a secret city formerly known as Sarov.

The Russians have reversed engineered the Götterelektron (battery powered) technology and made massive strides improving there 'supersoldiers' to eclipse anything the Nazi Doctor Von Westarp's Reichsbehörde project could produce.

Incarcerated for 20 years its finally time for Gretel to initiate their tricky escape and restart the gears turning to bring all her plans to bear as they make their way to Britain. During these events Klaus has been growing in awareness of what Gretel is capable of, he realises with horror that she talked Heike into suicide all those years ago simply to use the glass jar that contained part of her brain as a glass for the guards to get drunk and aid in their escape. The sheer callousness bought new depths to Gretels amazing foresight and the insight into his sister brings a fear to Klaus like nothing before.

Raybould Marsh, the former British spy, is now a broken down middle-aged man with his marriage hanging by a thread and a depressing life with nothing to look forward to. Flitting between jobs, he works as a gardener, fuelled by alcohol and a temper that keeps getting him into trouble. His wife Liv seeks escape but they are bound by a son who is mentally ill, a child without a soul. As Gretel and Klaus reach London, Marsh is called from his enforced retirement to once more serve his country and serve he must as he is vitally important to Gretel's plan.

The warlocks are dying, a mysterious assassin who deals death that looks entirely natural, the Milkweed team has a traitor and once more Gretel whose aim is now seemingly to assist the government pulls the strings and the traitor is caught on film but to what ends.

A stunning read, Tregillis raises the bar with The Coldest War, a tension filled jaunt with some surprising twists and turns. All the characters are excellent but once again Gretel steals the accolades and as her plans slowly reveal it is captivating and fascinating. She is one of the most memorable female characters in all the books that I have read, incredibly realistic, devious in a spine chilling way.
Gretel's ability is the power of precognition and her plans revolve around what she has seen but these plans have taken seed right from the start of the series and the author skirts around this wonderfully, never quite revealing enough until the end. And the ending is done superbly, can Gretel manipulate the future or simply delay the inevitable.
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Having not been enamoured of the first book in the series I was hoping for more from this book by author Ian Tregillis. Whilst events within Europe have changed dramatically from the setting of the original (this being 20 years later) for me I still found the bits that originally niggled me present, firstly the lack of pace within the text, secondly characters that felt quite flat that needed more fleshing out to allow me to gain not only an interest but to care as to their fates and finally that the story, whilst reasonably told, felt quite slow and more a filler than a full planned second book.

That said, what Ian does do well is utilise his world to the fullest taking each opportunity to allow the reader to see the time period through different eyes. All in, for me not a series I'll be returning to any time soon and whilst for some it may entertain them quite a bit its more a middle of the road series rather than something that stands out on its own.
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on 12 March 2013
I won't say anything further about the plot beyond the Amazon blurb, what with this being a sequel and all. Sometimes a sequel comes along that you're looking forward to so much that it can't possibly meet your expectations. Just occasionally one comes along that defies your expectations. The Coldest War completely floored me. With it, Tregillis has not only refined his writing skills, he has also excised the aspects of Bitter Seeds that maybe didn't work so well, taken the parts that did work, and kicked them up several levels.

Take the first book as set-up. Now he is polishing and honing his ideas until they are dazzling. Every question left unanswered at the end of the first book is answered here, revelations that - on a couple of occasions - had my jaw hanging open in awe. I could actually feel my heart thumping as I read the final chapters. I had no clue what was going to happen and, when it did, I immediately read it again, then dived back into the first book to look for something, and then felt my jaw hanging open again.

One thing I can say, without really spoiling anything, is that the action - with the exception of a handful of stunning set-pieces - is actually played down in this book. The emphasis is very much on the characters, and the effects the events in the first book has had on their friendships, their marriages, their families. The science fiction elements are still there, woven seamlessly into the telling of the story. Tregillis has a set of rules and he sticks to them - the Lovecraftian horror and man-made super-humans serve the story, rather than vice versa - but oh how they serve it. Gretel is still the character who stands head and shoulders above the rest, enigmatic, scary, charming, with everyone being aware that they are being manipulated, but nobody quite sure how or why.

On the cover of each of these books is a quote from George RR Martin saying that Tregillis is 'A major talent'. Now George and Ian are friends, apparently, so I would normally take that with a pinch of salt, but I think I might have to agree with him. This is only Tregillis's second book. I can't wait to see what happens next, and what he does beyond that.
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on 23 September 2012
If you loved Bitter Seeds you'll love this. The novel takes it on 20 years into the early 60s with Cold War paranoia. The author wisely steered clear of the obvious cultural references and instead sets up an atmosphere of English mundanity.....though how mundane is it when warlocks are battling ex-nazi supermen?! Descriptions are vivid. Characters are realistic and not infallible - guilt is a major theme - though you end up feeling for each one as a possible occult apocalypse looms.
Though not much happens in the first 2/3 of the book, this is more than paid back with an intense final third which really sets the situation up for the finale of the tryptich. Classy!
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on 6 June 2015
I'm on the third (last) book of the series at the moment. And, man, this is a conundrum. On the one hand, I love super-Nazis, eldritch sorcery and alternate-history. Ian Tregellis is very good at all of these. On the other hand, the author (an American) tries to hard to get period English syntax correct, with the dialogue a syrupy mix of Bulldog Drummond and Harry Enfield's 'Mister Cholmondley-Warner.' The words 'tosser' and 'minger' are thrown around with abandon by upper-class Englishmen (really?), and the protagonist lives in a mock-tudor house in *Walworth* (as a South Londoner I can assure you there are very few of those). Yes, I'm afraid my 'immersion' (and I hate that refrain normally) is strangled by these errors. To be fair, the man knows (very) central London well, either that our he's spent hours poring over Google maps.

In this, the second series, Tregellis mashes up Lovecraft with Le Carre with this tale of a very different post-WW2 Cold War. The Soviet Union has appropriated Nazi superman technology, in much the same way as the allies tracked down and stole rocket science at the end of the (real) war.

Our heroes, and villains, return in an attempt to stop Soviet hegemony... which leads to some awful Eidolon shenanigans and the unravelling of Gretel's mysterious plan (whatever it is).


This leads to some time travel at the end of the book. Bejaysus I hate time travel.

What keeps me reading? Well, one thing Tregellis can do is long-game plotting. That the series is in fact about Gretel and her quest for survival (albeit tinged with utter madness) is compelling and keeps me reading. Were the issues I described above absent I would happily give this series 4+

As is, as a native English-speaker and Briton, I'm afraid I can't.
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on 2 March 2013
A great follow up to the first book that remorselessly drives the characters to the only possible logical conclusion. The ending is the boldest I have ever seen for the second book of a trilogy. Utterly ruthless.
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on 21 August 2015
This is a fantastic book. I couldn't put it down. I actually started with this book instead of the first one but it doesn't matter, you can still follow the story. It's a brilliant '60's cold war intrigue, combined with supernatural horrors, and don't forget Nazi technology. Only slight complaint is the sometimes quirky dialog. It's very much an American's view of how British people speak. The posh bloke Will is one of the funniest examples. But you can get past this and tune that out. The author has done a lot research and the inner city London scenes really ring true. After I finished I immediately bought book three. It is that good.
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