the Little Red Reviewer

Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis (Milkweed #3)

Posted on: August 21, 2016

necessary evil coverNecessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

published in 2013

Where i got it: from a friend




Necessary Evil is the final book in Tregillis’s Milkweed series, and this book takes place immediately after the gut punch cliffhanger ending of the second book in the series, The Coldest War. So, I really can’t talk in any detail about Necessary Evil without giving epic spoilers for the entire series.  #sorrynotsorry


Before I get to the spoilers, let’s go back in a time a little bit. Back in 2013, I read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.  It was one of the darkest books I’d ever read.  When I finished it, I thought to myself that this Tregillis guy is a damn awesome writer, but I don’t know if I can read anymore of his stuff.  A year went by. And suddenly, all I could think about was this series – what happened to the characters?  So I finally read the second book. And it was even darker and more soul wrenching than the first one. And when I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely Gretel is, that maybe she was a victim, that she’s a horrible human being and I hate her, but she is lonely and a victim.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how how Raybould Marsh got to this point in his life, where his wife barely talks to him and their son is, well . . .  not even going to go there because then I have to thinking about why his son is the way he is.   Like the earlier books in the series,  Necessary Evil was an utterly engrossing page turner.

I just now described Necessary Evil to my husband with “it’s about the psychology of redemption and every page is  like a punch to the nuts and you just want to die on every page”. He laughed, a little.


While I was reading Necessary Evil, a line from my review of Bitter Seeds kept popping back into my head:


“When the cost gets too high you are supposed to know it’s time to stop.”




Over the course of the series, Will and Marsh realized the cost was far too high for what they were getting from the Eidolons. But when you work for people to whom money is no object, how do you get them to stop spending?  By becoming the enemy.


And with that,  it’s epic spoiler time.

In The Coldest War,  Marsh gets to spend a little too much time with Gretel. Not enough to understand her, but enough to understand how much he hates her.  At the end of the that novel, the world practically ends.  And Gretel has a plan, a selfish plan, to save it.  The only way to stop the end of the world in 1963 is to go back to the beginning, and to stop it from happening.  She drags Marsh back in time to 1940 with the mission of destroying the Farm, and stopping Milkweed’s existence. The title of the book itself is quite a spoiler. (And now that I think about it, the title of Bitter Seeds is a play on words, if not a spoiler, for the entire series. Damn do I love it when an author plays a long game like that!)


It’s always been thought that Gretel could see the future, that she had prescience, precognition. But she doesn’t just see the future, she sees all time lines, all the time. She sees choices and options, and how to manipulate the present to ensure a future of her choosing happen. The scenes we get from Gretel’s point of view are absolutely disturbing and horrible, and it’s even more horrifying to realize that from her point of view everything makes perfect sense.   If she wasn’t such a bitch, I’d want the entire novel to be from her point of view. But omg WOW is she a total bitch.


What’s always fun about time travel stories is the supposed time travel paradoxes. If you go back in time and meet yourself, is it a paradox? If you go back in time and kill your younger self or stop your younger self from being born, is that a paradox?  Well,  Marsh not only meets his younger self, he meets his meets his wife, Olivia.  Older Marsh is still in love with his wife, and he fights with himself about the possibility of stealing younger Olivia away from younger Marsh.   Meeting your younger self isn’t a paradox.  The paradox is more a psychological one –  Should older Marsh make decisions that benefit  only himself and his 1963 timeline, or his younger self’s timeline?  If young Marsh has a happy marriage, will older Marsh ever benefit from it?  Watching older Marsh with Olivia will break your heart more than any of the political machinations in the book.


That’s another thing I love about this entire series – all the subtle psychology. What makes someone do what they do? Why does Klaus feel so protective of Gretel? Why does Gretel act the way she does? Why do Will and Marsh betray everything they believe in?   How close does older Marsh get to stealing Olivia away from younger Marsh?  Everything everyone effects everything else around them (and that sounds so deceptively simple!), and now Marsh has a chance to make completely different decisions.  If you could go back and do things over, what decisions would you make differently?


This entire series is utterly engrossing.  Historical fiction, magic, weird technology, batteries wired into kids heads, Chthonic intelligences, world politics, crumbling marriages and intimacies you want to protect from everything bad in the world.  If you like any of the things in that last sentence, this is a series for you.  Yes, it is ultra dark, and may be too dark for some readers, but it’s so addictive.  A little like Szechuan peppercorns – the taste weird and make your tongue numb and you probably shouldn’t eat the whole jar, but you just can’t stop eating them.


9 Responses to "Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis (Milkweed #3)"

Hi! I really enjoyed Necessary Evil (in fact, I loved the whole series), but one thing that really bothered me about the novel was the shift to the first-person perspective for Marsh. I realise that Tregillis did it to help distinguish Marsh from his younger self, but I found it to be jarring, especially after the first two books had been entirely written in the third-person. Did you find the same? I’m curious to see how other readers reacted to it.


Hi! thanks for commenting!

Not only was the switch to 1st person jarring, but it was really unexpected, for the exact reason you mention – the first two books had been written in 3rd person. But once I got used to the 1st person POV, I found I liked it for a few reasons for Marsh. It made it much easier to tell the two Marsh’s apart, and I think 1st person is a better vehicle for emotional baggage, which wow, older Marsh has a boatload of.

Liked by 1 person

I really didn’t enjoy the shift to first-person – I think it weakened what was already the weakest book in the trilogy. I think Tregillis could’ve found another way to separate the two Marshes and preserve the third-person narration. It sullied the end of the trilogy for me. Though, I’ll certainly admit that the plot elements of the third book were great. The whole resetting of the timeline was fantastic; I went back and reread some chapters from Bitter Seeds afterwards, and Tregillis has certainly put all of the hints in there (Bitter Seeds, as you pointed out). His planning and foreshadowing is pretty impressive!!


I really need to read this trilogy. I own the whole thing and everything!


you’re in luck then – you can read them back to back, instead of what I did – having a year (or two!) in between books and forgetting half of what happened.


I want to go off topic here, but if you aren’t OK with it go ahead a delete this comment.

On the Hugo Awards. Despite the Rabid Puppies renewed efforts to slate bully the awards and use straw shields in the personages of a few good authors who would have been nominated regardless, ultimately I think they were, again this year, losers, which is both fact and pun. Now I wish Beale/Day would just go away. I like good rousing old fashioned SF, but not to the exclusion of the other good stuff being published. So how about the influence-peddlers go away and leave us readers alone to enjoy and vote for what we like best?


off topic is always ok! 😀

You’ll notice I didn’t do any hugo posts this year? I let my membership lapse, because the more I got involved the commentary and the discussions in the last handful of years, the less I liked the kind of SF reader I was becoming. Like you, I enjoy rousing old fashioned SF, but I like other types of SF too. I got sick of having to defend what I liked, because I like nearly all of it. I got sick of liking something because I was supposed to, or feeling guilty for liking things that were deemed problematic. Anyone that tells anyone else that they are wrong for liking something (whatever that something happens to be) needs to go away.


Amen to that. You did notice I said “but not to the exclusion of the other good stuff being published”.


you bet i did. 🙂


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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