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The Coldest War: The Milkweed Triptych    by Ian Tregillis order for
Coldest War
by Ian Tregillis
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If you like your fantasy on the noir side, then check out The Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis. The first book, Bitter Seeds, revisited World War II to show what might have happened if the Nazis and the English government each employed different kinds of dark magic.

Herr Doktor von Westarp experimented on young orphans, powering their talents with batteries connected to their skulls, to form the Reichsbehorde. Subjects included gypsy twins Klaus and Gretel. Klaus moved through walls, while Gretel used her visions of the future to manipulate events (though her ultimate aim was and is unclear).

On the Allied side, spymaster John Stephenson mentored Raybould Marsh as a Secret Intelligence Agent (Ray later married the lovely Liv Turnbull). And the Duke of Aelred indoctrinated Ray's friend William as a warlock. Together, Ray and Will brought English warlocks into the fray - they bargained with demonic Eidolons, to influence events, at a terrible cost - 'The soul of an unborn child.'

As the first episode ended, Gretel and Klaus were captured by the Soviets. Ray and Liv lost their small daughter to an air raid, but expected another child. Will was haunted by foul bargains made with the Eidolons in the war. And the English began their own experiments on war orphans, raising them in complete isolation from human language. The epic only gets darker in The Coldest War.

Now, in the early 60s, Britain's warlocks are being targeted by the Russians, with a surprising ally. Ray, dismissed from the Intelligence services, takes odd jobs as a gardener and shares the care of their mentally damaged son with Liv, their marriage a shambles. And Gretel, puppeteer of all that follows, executes a plan to get herself and Klaus to England. There, Gretel offers to help British Intelligence, but insists on working with Raybould Marsh.

Ray plans to allow the Soviets to believe they have eliminated all British warlocks. Their next action will leave them 'vulnerable to an Eidolonic counterattack.' But, as always, the best laid plans go awry, as Soviet sleeper cells erupt, everything ends - and everything changes. Though I find this a very dark series, it's highly imaginative and thought provoking about where end justifies means decisions take us - well worth following.

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