Sunday, February 17, 2013


I stayed up too late last night reading Bitter Seeds, and then this morning I downloaded the sequel, The Coldest War, and finished reading that about six this evening. That didn't make for a very productive day.

Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War are the first two parts of the Milkweed Tryptich, a series of novels that pit Nazi X-Men vs English necromancers. No, it's better than that sounds (just as Ben Aaronovitch's novels are better than "Harry Potter joins the Metropolitan Police"). They're fairly grim; unlike the similarly themed Laundry novels (Satanic Nazis on the moon battle British Civil Servants With Guns) or Hellboy (big red Ron Perlman vs clockwork Nazis) there aren't jokes or pop culture references to leaven the dark atmosphere.

The big reveal at the end of the second book has been foreshadowed from early in the first book, but although I had an inkling of it, the way it's brought in is fairly inventive, and in many ways it's seeing how the plot is developed, rather than being surprised by the twists themselves, that's interesting. It feels strange to read an alternate history of the 1940s that's both written by an American and which marginalises America, but the reasoning for that feels quite consistent, if understated. Maybe I like that because I'm British and have a natural antipathy to some big Yank coming in to save the day.

It's also interesting how the gloom and horror could be amplified in the second book. Bitter Seeds was grim enough, but in The Coldest War a lot of work is done to make everyone's lives even more painful than where they were left at the end of that first book. I was hoping, I suppose, for rip-roaring tales of vampire Waffen-SS detachments fighting Brave Heroes, not carpet-bombing and urchins being set ablaze. But then it's not as if I was watching Sucker Punch - how could I complain?

Although ... Sucker Punch did have a lot of female protagonists. And steam-powered zombie Nazis in a World War One trench, if I remember correctly. The women in the Milkweed cycle are either an evil, insane oracle, a plot MacGuffin or a put-upon wife; the men are the ones that do pretty much everything. That may be because they're unknowing puppets of a precognitive psychic, or because it was the Second World War and men were men and women were not; it's not awfully distracting, but it does make it a bit of a Boys Own adventure.

Then again, despite Sucker Punch's oh-so-historically accurate depiction, there weren't many ladies in commando platoons in the Second World War, although if we're considering historical veracity and the representation of women in a story where chtonic evil forces are placated by blood sacrifice and the Nazis perfect battery-powered quantum-entangled twin girls, we may be obsessing over the wrong details.

The final volume, Necessary Evil, comes out in April - I'm very excited, although it probably means another lost weekend.


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