The Coldest War (The Milkweed Triptych, #2) - Ian Tregillis Wow, did that seriously just happen?! Those were the words running through my head when I reached the very end of this book. Just when I thought this series couldn't get any crazier with its genre-bending goodness, it decides to throw me for another loop (which in the context of talking about this book is a rather clever pun, now that I think about it. I'm just a little miffed now because I can't explain it without spoiling anything!) The way I see it, as far as those shocking "I-NEED-to-know-what-happens-next" cliffhangers go, Ian Tregillis just raised the freakin' bar.

If I had to go back and talk about the first book of the Milkweed Triptych, Bitter Seeds, I'd probably describe it as an alternate history World War II novel with both fantasy and science fiction elements, mostly due to its main premise involving Nazi Germany's lab-raised soldiers with superpowers versus the British's warlocks and their demons. This second book still has all of that, except it takes place some twenty years later, and even though the war is over, Great Britain now finds itself locked in a precarious power struggle with the USSR.

Now Project Milkweed is threatened when they find out that Britain's warlocks, the country's greatest defense in keeping their enemy at bay, are being killed off by an unknown assassin. Meanwhile, a pair of super-soldier siblings who fought for the Nazis in WWII escape their Soviet prison and make their way to England. One of them is Gretel, the psychopath pre-cog who is still obsessed with manipulating the life of British agent Raybould Marsh. Even after more than two decades, she is still pulling the strings, nudging the future towards her own mysterious agenda.

By all accounts, I should have liked this book more, and I think I would have if it weren't so utterly bleak. I know "Super soldiers vs. Warlocks" sounds like an interesting and unbelievably fun premise -- which it most certainly is, don't get me wrong -- but part of me is still having trouble getting over how dark this series can be sometimes. While I'm no stranger to dark fiction with dreary themes, there's just something about these books that unsettle the heck out of me and chill me to the bone.

I suppose depending on who you are, that can be seen as a good or bad thing. For example, in Bitter Seeds, I found that the disturbing ideas in the first book really worked in giving the story the hard edge it needed. I was able to transform those feelings of dread into suspenseful anticipation which kept me turning the pages, and also because I felt pity for the poor characters who have had such terrible things happen to them or are forced to make these awful decisions.

Unfortunately, my sympathy for the characters ran out and was largely absent for the most part in The Coldest War. The main players were mostly the same, but in the twenty-two years since the events of the last book, many things have happened to turn even the "good guys" into pretty despicable people in my eyes. While the main antagonist Gretel is still as evil as ever, I nevertheless had a difficult time bringing myself to muster up any enthusiasm to root for Marsh or Will this time around. There are no truly upstanding characters in this book, which normally isn't a problem for me; I find I can be drawn to even the most morally corrupted of characters if they are written well, but I honestly couldn't find anyone particularly likeable in this book, with the possible exception of Klaus, Gretel's brother.

Story-wise, though, I am absolutely floored. The ending alone was probably worth all the frustrating moments the characters put me through, not to mention the next book presents the perfect opportunity for many of them to redeem themselves. That last line in the epilogue has got to be the most effective two words in the history of book endings. I can't wait to pick up the third book for the finale, I MUST find out how it all ends.

More reviews at The BiblioSanctum