Necessary Evil (Milkweed)
by Ian Tregillis
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
Review by Benjamin Wald
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765321527
Date: 30 April 2013 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Necessary Evil is the concluding volume in The Milkweed Triptych, Ian Tregillis' fantasy alternate-history trilogy. The novels explore a world in which Nazi psychics and British Warlocks are developed as weapons during the second world war, and the repercussions of these supernatural forces on the war and its aftermath. The three books are intimately connected, with many events that occur in the first novel only making sense much later on, in the second and third novels, so this is not a series that can be read out of order. Furthermore, discussing the plot of this novel will contain unavoidable spoilers for the previous two books. The series as a whole is inventive, fast paced, and ingeniously plotted, so if you havenít read the first novel in the series Bitter Seeds, I recommend you stop reading this review and go pick it up, so that you don't spoil any of the twists in store for you.
In this novel, Raybould Marsh, the aged ex-spy from the previous two novels, has been catapulted back in time to try to save the world from destruction at the hands of the Eidolon's, malicious Lovecraftian beings that the warlocks bargain with for power. His goal is to destroy both the British warlocks whose work ends up unleashing the eidolons on the world, and the Nazi psychic program whose existence forced England to turn to the warlocks in the first place. His unlikely ally is Gretel, the Nazi clairvoyant who masterminded Marsh's travel through time in an effort to save herself from the eidolons, but who is also responsible for destroying Marsh's life and killing his daughter in order to ensure his willingness to travel to the past.
Tregillis is a master at keeping track of the details of his plots, and it is fascinating to see the events of the first book altered by the changes Marsh introduces into the past. The writing is as fast paced as ever, and the historical detail that Tregillis provides adds a nice touch of authenticity.
This book is also interesting for the few chapters in which Tregillis gives us of Gretel's own point of view, revealing the thought processes of a character who has previously been something of a cipher. On the other hand, we lose the viewpoint of Klaus, Gretelís brother and fellow psychic, who had been a major point of view character in previous novels. This is unfortunate, for it deprives us of an important counter balanced viewpoint on the action.
Tregillis manages to keep an impressive number of balls in the air with his plotting, keeping track of his various characters, and time lines to keep the plot rolling. This is especially important in this book, which strives to tie up all the lose ends and make good on all of the hints of the previous novels. This is mostly successful, but the resolution sometimes feels a bit rushed. Gretel, the archenemy of the previous novels, fades from relevance as the novel progresses, and the resolution of her story is not entirely satisfying. Still, overall this novel provides a satisfying resolution to the complex story Tregillis has constructed.
The Milkweed Triptych is an exciting and well-written piece of alternative history. More than most trilogies, it is truly a single story split over three books, with the groundwork for the final novel firmly established from the very beginning of the first. Necessary Evil provides a satisfying conclusion to an epic and intriguing story.