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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

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on 19 March 2017
The last book actually coasts along and is a neat resolution to what's gone before and ultimately satisfying.

There are some bits that jibe, such as Gretel's confidence in a timeline she can't see, but all in all it's a good tale.

I can't help thinking that 3 books was pushing it and the tale would have worked better in 2 but at least things picked up in the end.
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on 3 August 2014
A magnificent book, superlative, imaginative and fascinating.
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This is the third in a "tripytch" of books, after Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War. It's appropriately called a "triptych" not a "trilogy" - a triptych is a picture in three parts, while a trilogy is just three successive books. If you've read to the end of the second book, you might have started to guess why and I will be discussing this in a moment, so if you want to avoid spoilers for the first two books, go away and do something else now (ideally, read those first two books).

If you're still with me, "Necessary Evil" follows Raybould Marsh back from the 1963 of "Coldest war" back to the dark days of 1940. Marsh is a British secret agent and part of the unconventional "Milkweed" organisation, whose job is to conjure up demons to fight the Queen's enemies. But Milkweed has been played, and in '63 the demons break loose to eat the world. Marsh takes a desperate course of action, returning to the Second World War to prevent that. Marsh has also been played by Gretel, one of a secret cadre of German super-soldiers. Gretel can see the future - or rather possible futures - and is trying to engineer one in which the demons fail - and in which she can claim Marsh for her own. As part of this, she murdered his baby daughter (in 1940) by directing a bombing raid at the village to which she was evacuated. that's part of Marsh's motivation for returning to 1940 - not only to save the world, but to save his daughter (and to avoid the subsequent failure of his marriage).

Confused? If not, remember that not only is "old" March now in 1940, but so is the "original" Marsh. And so is the younger Gretel, who can, of course, see forward to the future timeline in which she send Marsh back...

It's a mark of Tregillis's technical skill that he holds these threads and alternate characters together, resolving the story credibly and tying up these loose ends with aplomb. I was also impressed by his characters: they are very human, real people who almost walk off the page - Tregillis sketches their motivations and characters convincingly, and makes them all sympathetic, even horrible Gretel. This isn't run-of-the-mill SF, it is a book very much driven by those real characters, who are not simply there to have the plot happen to them.

The setting was also well described and realised, although slightly less convincing in two respects. First, a few Americanisms slipped through which I think an editor or advance reader could have caught. Secondly, I found the mechanics, especially in the second half of the book, a little unlikely - could you really put on a Naval uniform and wander into the Admiralty in 1940? Was travel as easy as the plot requires? Perhaps, though, it's a bit off to complain about details like that in a book where demons are summed and surgically enhanced soldiers can turn invisible, walk through walls or wield fire as a weapon!

This is a fitting, even triumphant, ending to the "triptych". We have another history of the events told earlier, filling in missing details and completing the picture. So clever is it, it might almost be one of those Steven Moffat "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey" Doctor Who adventures.
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on 4 May 2013
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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on 7 May 2013
If you've come this far with Raybould & Gretel then you need no more reason than that to read this book.
With a mixed bag of feelings did I close this final tome. None of them reflecting negatively on the book itself, rather it's the scope of the punch packed into the final chapters that makes me say this.
Highly recommended.
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on 21 June 2013
See my review of this book, and many more, at TalesfromtheGreatEastRoad.wordpress.com

(Spoilers for the first two books in the series.)

To be given the chance to undo the mistakes of his past, to not only change the fate of his family but also save the world, Raybould Marsh has agreed to trust his most despised enemy. Gretel is one of the few living genetic experiments created by the mad Dr Von Westarp, who were used as soldiers during the Second World War. She can see the future, and has used her powers to kill Marsh's infant daughter once already. But the only wait to save his baby, and everyone else, is to trust Gretel. As the Eidolons - a race of god-like beings who abhor humans - destroy the world Gretel is able to send Marsh back in time from 1963 to 1940 in order to save this time line from destruction and redeem himself.

Necessary Evil is a very bittersweet book. After seeing Marsh become a shadow of the man he used to be in the last book, The Coldest War, he is given a chance to change history - but for a different version of himself. He gets to see his wife, when she still loved him, and his baby daughter, who has been dead for nearly twenty years, but can't reveal who he truly is. Marsh's pain and loneliness is visible throughout the novel, and heart-wrenching to read.

The comparisons between Old Marsh and Young Marsh is interesting to read. Both are obviously stubborn and determined to protect their family, but Old Marsh has become better at scheming and manipulating people: more willing to do the "necessary evil" in order to reach his goals. His loneliness has hardened him, and the possibility of saving his child has made him desperate. Yet, despite these faults, Old Marsh is a constantly sympathetic character.

The few insights we get into Gretel's mind are fascinating, in a very disturbing way. She has been described as "evil" constantly throughout the series, and these chapters certainly show she is unstable and obsessive, willing to kill anyone who gets in her way. No-one is safe, and a few key characters are killed in a fairly gruesome way.

Ultimately, this is a satisfying and emotional ending to a great series.

4 stars.
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on 5 May 2013
Good finish to the series. Loose ends tied up and you can see how it was all worked out from the first book. Looking forward to his next book.
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on 10 May 2013
Handily, the 1st several chapters bring you up to date (revise?) without slowing down the plot. The descriptions and sense of menace from the eidolons make this the most satisfying and frightening of the 3 books. A really satisfying conclusion. The whole thing hangs together so well - definitely all planned out rather than just a sequence of 3 books. Remarkable.
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To be honest this is a series that I've not been a huge fan of, not because I've disliked the concept but purely because I really can't get on with the principle characters as I don't feel that I have an emotional link to them to care about their fates. Its tricky to read a book when this happens and when it's the same problem time and again throughout its something that really does leave you thinking that this author is not going to be for you.

That said, the story ideas are clever and the way that the author works on the pace does take it along at a reasonable rate so much so that there will be quite a few prepared to forgive the character defects to see what unfurls. Unfortunately I'm not one of them so whilst I will try the first book in a new series from this author it will be the last chance that Ian gets in my TBR pile.
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on 29 October 2013
I really liked the first one in the series (Bitter Seeds), was amazed that the second one (The Coldest War) was even better and love this third (and final?) one. Very satisfying conclusion to an exciting and very well written series. Highly recommended.
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