Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

I don't know how well Tregillis's previous novels have sold -- I could look them up easily, but I'm ignoring that for a rhetorical purpose -- but the cover of Necessary Evil has the flop-sweat look of a cover desperately trying to drag in an audience that has failed to be engaged so far: vague quote from a big name, pretty blond young hero with guns blazing, what seems to be several massive simultaneous explosions, and no hint that it's the third book of a trilogy.

That's a damn shame if true, because Tregillis's "Milkweed Tryptych" -- comprising Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War and now Necessary Evil -- is a towering achievement, brilliantly integrating large-scale secret-history fantasy with the classic spy novel and telling a story that is both deeply human and full of characters who are vastly more than human. On the evidence of these books, Tregillis is a major talent, and not just because his local-writers-group friend George R.R. Martin says so. Tregillis is a major talent because he's written a compelling, mesmerizing, thrilling sequence of novels, because he's believably organized the plots of those books around a woman who both can see all the possible futures and is ruthless enough to always pick the best future for herself alone, and because he has the widescreen imagination and painstaking skill to make a WW II fought between British demon-summoners and Nazi electrically-sparked supermen seem more real than the true history.

(See my reviews of the first two books, linked above, for the details -- you definitely don't want to start with this book, but I give the whole series my highest recommendation. If you've ever enjoyed Tim Powers's Declare or Charles Stross's nasty tales from "The Laundry Files," you will love these books.)

Even sketching the setting for Necessary Evil would be a massive spoiler for the second book, so I'll try to be vague: the precognitive Gretel has seen one way -- one convoluted, folded-onto-itself timeline -- that humanity can escape the attention of the extradimensional Eidolons and survive. As this book opens, her plan to create that timeline -- and, as ever, to warp everyone around her into doing what she wants as well -- is under way, and Raybould Marsh, once one of England's best spies, is the only one besides her to know the plan. Necessary Evil hurtles forward from there, continuing the brilliant story of the first two books and culminating in a magnificent ending.

Look, this is a major series by a great new writer. Period. Necessary Evil should be on award ballots for 2013 -- as many of them as it can be shoehorned onto. (Maybe not the Golden Spur, but just about everything else.) Just go read Bitter Seeds and try to stop there. I dare you.

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