Before we start, you need to know that this review is of the third book in a triptych of books, a series which is quite possibly the most consistently brilliant that I have read in years. For that reason, while I will try to keep this review light of spoilers there may be things given away if you haven’t read the first two novels. BELIEVE ME, you don’t want to ruin them for yourselves. Just read them and love them and thank me later.
With that said, let’s crack on.
For those who need a reminder (or who ignored my spoiler warning) here’s a brief description of the first two books in the Milkweed, Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War.
At first, Bitter Seeds appeared to be a straight alternate history set in WWII-era Europe. It introduced us to the villainous Nazi Reichsbehorde: a group of poor unfortunates who had been experimented on by a twisted doctor and given amazing super powers which ranged from telekinesis to intangibility to seeing the future. In response to these evil ‘X-men’, the English got desperate and turned to warlocks to invoke strange entities that no one fully understood… How could things possibly go wrong? Called Eidolons, these omnipresent demons hate humans but crave access to blood as a means of ‘seeing’ humanity and will do arcane and unnatural things in return for the red stuff.
Bitter Seeds was one of the best books I read last year.
Book two of the triptych, The Coldest War, jumped things forward twenty years, upped the ante a hundred fold and proved that humanity are dumb, desperate and almost certainly doomed. Almost, but not absolutely… The entire last 60 pages of this book caught me completely off guard and blew my face off. The final ten pages in particular made it one of the best ‘Hol-lee shit’ reads of recent memory. It is seriously that good.
Which brings us to Necessary Evil.
Necessary Evil takes everything I thought I knew about this series and then pulls the camera back to reveal we had only been peering down a microscope. All those little winks, the tiny nods to something bigger that you disregarded when reading, all the throwaway lines that you figure must get explained later and are quickly forgotten – this book is the payoff, baby!
It’s so hard not to spoil things but I can tell you this. Marsh, our British protagonist from the first two novels has well and truly had the rug pulled from beneath his feet just as he happens to be wearing roller skates and juggling piranhas. Physically and emotionally he’s a car crash and he’s rapidly running out of time to save all of existence. But if Marsh is anything, he’s a man with a plan and what a plan it is.
I truly wish I could go on but to say anything more, to even mention one more character could be enough to arguably spoil this bloody brilliant series.
Necessary Evil is so damned clever that it makes most other books look to be written in crayon. The moral line is not only muddied by a big storm boot but it’s flushed through a sewer and then buried beneath the kind of swamp you’d expect to find Yoda in. The constant back and forth of the story could induce motion sickness and the actions scenes in it are vivid and violent and brutally cool. Beyond everything though, beyond the Nazis, the demons, the scheming and the good ol’ adventure of it all, lies a love story. Yes, a love story – but this isn’t Mills & Boon, this is the kind of love story that’s wrapped in a blanket of apocalypse. If the last three pages of this series don’t bring a tear to your eyes then you need to take that mechanical heart back to get it fixed.
The Bottom Line
To sum up the Milkweed novels by Ian Tregillis in a nutshell is a bit like trying to squeeze your head into a toothpaste cap. It’s just not possible and the idea of Nazi super humans versus English warlocks really does this series a disservice. The Milkweed Triptych is a triumph of literature of any genre. It hits every note like a symphony of perfect destruction and is so scarily convincing that you can’t help but wonder, what if?