- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (July 17, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765321513
- ISBN-13: 978-0765321510
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As any fan of the alternate history genre will surely have noticed, there is certainly no shortage of works that use the Second World War as a point of divergence. Writers who explore this territory do so in the very considerable shadow of Philip K. Dick, whose 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle is still arguably the most critically acclaimed work of its kind. In light of this, the fact that The Coldest War elbows its way into this decidedly overcrowded sub-genre and manages to be a fresh and interesting read is no small achievement.
In this version of the post-1945 world, the Soviet Union has expanded and overrun all of mainland Europe. So far, so Orwellian. The United Kingdom appears to be the last outpost of democracy, and maintains a fraught peace with the Soviets which threatens to collapse at any moment. This new world order has resulted from the work of ‘warlocks’ in the service of the United Kingdom; this was apparently detailed in Bitter Seeds, the first book in the series. In The Coldest War, these warlocks are being assassinated one by one by Soviet agents, using Nazi technology which harnesses and enhances psychic energies to endow the user with almost godlike powers. In the meantime, two German prisoners (who were among the original test subjects for this technology) escape from their Soviet captors and attempt to warn the British of a coming invasion.
Simply put, The Coldest War is a cracking read. The plot is clever and rarely predictable, never once bogged down by the weight of its own complex mythology. Ian Tregillis has a restrained and economical style of prose which works in tandem with a superb knack for pacing and a tendency to introduce unexpected (and very welcome) elements from other genres and forms. He seems to have drawn on 1980s manga and cyberpunk for inspiration—there are some striking parallels to Akira in particular—and the result never seems forced or out of place. Perhaps most importantly, he has created a memorable and genuinely chilling character in Gretel, the sociopathic female übermensch who drives much of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I have no hesitation in recommending it.