The Coldest War: Ian Tregillis continues the Milkweed Triptych

Ian Tregillis's The Coldest War is the long-awaited sequel to his 2010 novel alternate WWII novel Bitter Seeds, a secret history that pitted a mad Nazi scientist who'd made a cadree of twisted, dieselpunk X-Men against the hidden warlocks of the British Isles, men who conferred with ancient, vast forces and traded the blood of innocents for the power to warp time and space.

Coldest War opens in the late 1960s, in which continental Europe has been entirely taken over by the Soviet Union, the UK locked in cold war with it. The Nazi supermen of the first volume were either captured by the Soviets and spirited away to a secret city for reverse-engineering, or they were killed, or they have gone underground in London.

With all the flair he showed in his debut novel, Tregillis continues the tale, bringing to it that same marvellous plotting, immersive sense of place, and above all, wonderful characters. One of the characters introduced in the first novel is a precognitive, and in this volume -- which revolves around her long plots -- we are shown that the power to see the future is the most corrupting power of them all. Tregillis's oracle is one of the most chilling psychopath villains of literature, a delicious monster who drives the book forward.

As with the earlier volume, I tore through this one in a day and a half. Tregillis is a major new talent in the field, and this is some of the best -- and most exciting -- alternate history I've read. Read the rest

Westerfeld's Goliath: suitably thrilling conclusion to cracking steampunk WWI YA trilogy

Scott Westerfeld's Goliath ships today, concluding his fabulous steampunk YA trilogy that began with Leviathan and continued in Behemoth. This alternate history of WWI is set in a world divided into two technological camps. On the Darwinist side, scientists manipulate the "life threads" of animals to create useful synthetic animals ranging from little "message lizards" that can parrot brief phrases up to enormous organic zeppelins that are part whale, part hydrogen-breather. Clankers -- the Austro-Germanic camp, mostly -- create huge, steam-driven mecha and work-horses that do useful and deadly work. When Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated, his son, Aleks, is smuggled away to neutral Switzerland before his uncle can have him killed to get him out of the chain of succession. There, he ends up joining forces with the Leviathan, a British airship whose crew includes the intrepid Dylan, a plucky girl who has dressed as a boy in order to secure a spot in the ship's crew. Once Aleks and Dylan have joined forces, Westerfeld begins to retell the history of WWI with ingenious variations drawing on his notional Darwinist/Clanker split, a tale of air-battles, naval warfare, diplomacy, skullduggery and sneakery.

Goliath picks up where Behemoth let off, after a spot of bother and a revolution in Constantinople, and takes the Leviathan to Tunguska, Siberia, where Nikola Tesla is secretly investigating the progress of his death ray, which may end the war -- or life as we know it. Goliath hurdles on from there in the classic Westerfeld style, a cracking adventure story that revolves around science and engineering in equal measures with love, jealousy and honor. Read the rest