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Ian Tregillis
Necessary Evil
Tor / Tom Doherty Associates
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-765-32152-7
Publication Date: 04-30-2013
384 Pages; $25.99
Date Reviewed: 09-14-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Science Fiction  Fantasy  Horror  Mystery  General Fiction  

The problem for the writer of any series is of one-upsmanship. It's built into the nature of the books; each successive book is n+1. With 'Bitter Seeds' and 'The Coldest War,' Ian Tregillis successfully managed to work around his own creation. In creating a character who by definition knew almost as much at the author, Tregillis could easily have painted himself into a corner. Instead, he turned that corner into a tesseract. But by the end of 'The Coldest War' he had also crafted a multi-dimensional version of the story corner. Strap in, and prepare for the sense-of-wonder conclusion that shows just how clever an author can be with careful planning and a willingness to build rules upon rules.

To even begin to talk obliquely about 'Necessary Evil' is to reveal major plot points for the first two books in the series. Suffice it to say that they're all worth reading and re-reading. Shifting between third and first person perspectives, in 'Necessary Evil,' we find Raybould timeline-hopping in an attempt to prevent the elimination of any reality that includes humans. The Eidolons, shadowy Lovecraftian entities whose existence is anathema to humans, were the source of the British warlocks' power. As humans have to reductively understand it, they're not happy, and they can do something about it.

The power of 'Necessary Evil' comes largely from the intensely personal characterizations that Tregillis has created over his three books. His protagonist, Raybould Marsh is no hero. He's a ball of agony, self-doubt and anger who is all too comprehensible to the readers in this timeline. In 'Necessary Evil' he has the opportunity to see himself in a rather unique manner. The rest of the cast feels equalloy deep and weary.

On the other side of the equation we have Gretl, the German seer who is willing to do anything to avoid the untender mercies of the Eidolon. Recognizing her appeal, Tregillis has made her an ever-more important lynchpin of the plot. Every time we are with her, it is literally a peek into the mind of a mad goddess. And that's mad in both senses of the word; she's angry and she's insane. On the other hand, perhaps she's just well beyond human sanity. In any event, she's a delight for the reader even, in fact especially when she is scaring the heaven, hell and earth out from under our fragile minds.

And here's where the author's planning and plotting craft come in. In the world of self one-upsmanship, Tregillis has pulled off a major coup in these books, intertwining real-world spy craft, alternate history, time travel, science fiction and psychic superpowers in an ever-increasing upward spiral. Given the complexity and the fragility of the plot and character pieces here, a less imaginative author, an author less brave, might not have made the sort of bold moves the Tregillis takes. His success is bracing and entertaining and though-provoking, in the tradition of the best science fiction.

The Milkweed Triptych; 'Bitter Seeds,' 'The Coldest War' and 'Necessary Evil' — comprise a new and high standard in the world of serial science fiction. Tregillis has created more than one world of depth and resonance with grace and economy. His characters have real heart and a world-weary sense of reality. Plus, the books are a mind-boggling blast to read and re-read. However, reading them might give one a sense of urgency. As I write this, they are very firmly in existence in this timeline. As you read them, you'll have good reason to hope that they remain so, set against bitter seeds of doubt that nothing, not this world or the next, is certain or stable. Put them in a place where you won't forget them. Check them regularly. Hope that this day is in fact, followed by another.

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