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Ian Tregillis
The Coldest War
Tor / Tom Doherty Associates
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-765-32151-0
Publication Date: 07-17-2012
342 Pages; $26.99
Date Reviewed: 09-09-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Science Fiction  Fantasy  Horror  Mystery  General Fiction  

Editor's Note: I know that this review has been slow in coming, but we're looking ahead to the review of the series finale and my interview with the author. Make sure you get all these in hardcover. This is a series to read and re-read.

Time hangs heavily on history. We look back with perfect clarity and see the moments and movements that changed us all. In the moment, nothing is ever clear. As 'The Coldest War' begins, twenty years have passed since the events in 'Bitter Seeds,' a title that seems ever more pertinent in this sequel. Raybould Marsh is washed up, and the world he lives in bears little semblance to ours, or even the one in 'Bitter Seeds,' which must be read to understand what comes to pass here. Grim times are ahead, but Tregillis manages to craft a novel that's endlessly engrossing, and hugely entertaining even as it takes its readers to the edges of clinical depression.

Depression is very much present, as in this timeline, America has been trapped in a depression for more than thirty years. Raybould's marriage is a sham(bles), while Klaus and Gretl have been prisoners of war in a Russia that has overtaken much of Europe. Will is doing reasonably well, but it won't last long, as events conspire to bring Raybould and Will back to the Milkweed project.

Tregillis is a master of economy, honing in on three characters and using their perspectives to build the world anew. Building both character and world proves to be advantageous for both, giving us a nuanced look at a very different world. Marsh is particularly enjoyable. Starting at a low that is almost difficult to read, as the new exploration of the G√∂tterelektron technology unfolds, Marsh does as well. The title of course, gives a clue as to where the narrative is headed. We're in spy-versus-spy territory, with a big side order of supernatural technology. Of course, what comes to pass is beyond his expectations — as well as the readers'. Gretl and her plans are ever entertaining. She's the most Lovecraftian waif ever created in speculative fiction.

As the second book in a series, 'The Coldest War' has a difficult job; offering neither beginning nor ending to the series arc, Tregillis still manages to find self-contained stories here that are thoroughly satisfying. The initial shock of the new is nicely handled, while the direction in which the novel takes matters is a thorough and satisfying surprise. As this review is being written, the third book in the series, 'Necessary Evil' has already been released. Be sure to have it to hand as you read this one.

With 'The Coldest War,' Tregillis manages to craft an utterly unique take on science fiction, alternate history, historical fiction, spy fiction and the wildest of the pulps. Readers will find elements of everything but so thoroughly well combined as to never stand out. Tregillis' ability to create such a large and detailed world with the kind of economy that he brings to these books is nothing short of miraculous. They're well worth having in hardcover, as they'll definitely support re-reading. 'The Coldest War' is a superb example of series fiction done with √©lan and style. For all that it creates a distressing, depressing vision of man and the world we have created — yes, this world is not so hot either — 'The Coldest War' is a constant joy to read. Look around and realize that it is in a sense a sophisticated code for our world. Look around in wonder.

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