The Coldest War: An alternate look at the Cold War

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis fantasy book reviewsThe Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

I loved Bitter Seeds, the first volume of THE MILKWEED TRIPTYCH. Ian Tregillis is executing a brilliant spin on twentieth-century world history with this series. The Coldest War begins roughly twenty years after the events of Bitter Seeds, and the name is fitting. Not only is this the Cold War, but it’s also a very cold part of the lives of the protagonists. In fact, the first half of the book is downright depressing as characters realize what an unfortunate life March lives, and while Will seems very lucky, his life takes a negative spin as well. Then, you insert Gretel (who makes my skin crawl) and her brother Klaus, and you have a simmering pot of dark tension just waiting to boil over.

Gretel is, perhaps, one of the most memorable characters I’ve read recently, and a real testament to Tregillis’ ability to write an incredibly realistic character that seeps into your consciousness and takes root there. Gretel works toward her own ends, and Tregillis does a wonderful job of keeping the readers from knowing exactly what that end goal is until the very end of the book. Until then, Gretel strings the reader along just as much as she strings her fellow characters along. No one really knows what to make of her and the horrible things she’s responsible for. Toward the beginning of the book, Tregillis illuminates the incredible lengths she’ll go to set certain events in motion.

This book is just as cold as its title suggests. Marsh is consumed with anger toward pretty much everyone. Will has done something stupid and he’s sucked into events he wants no part of, and this affects his relationship. Klaus realizes what an incredible monster his sister is and tries to distance himself from her. Even when the reader isn’t exactly sure what’s happening and where the book is going, Tregillis keeps the reader fascinated with his brilliant characterization and his constantly moving plot. Combined with that is some incredible prose. If nothing else, it can be said that Tregillis not only matched the quality of Bitter Seeds, but The Coldest War left it in the dust. Tregillis has obviously grown and developed as a writer, and this brilliant installment in this trilogy proves it.

I will say that the ending of The Coldest War was a shock. It’s incredibly rare that I read a book and don’t know how it will end before I get there. While some of the ending will be slightly predictable, other parts will not be, and that’s a testament to the nature of the plot. Not only does the ending surprise the reader due to the culmination of events (and readers will look back at portions of the book and think, “Ah ha! What a brilliant clue he left me there and I didn’t even realize it until now…”), but Tregillis tempers all of his darkness with some chilling and very somber justifications.

It’s probably obvious that I loved The Coldest War. There really isn’t anything more than that to say. It’s a wonderful installment in a brilliant trilogy. Here’s the bottom line: If you haven’t read THE MILKWEED TRIPTYCH yet, you need to.


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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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