Top positive review
definitely a fitting conclusion to the series
Reviewed in the United States on March 2, 2017
I read this whole series in like a week. I enjoyed the first two volumes although I found them to have some flaws. This last book is my favorite of the three. Please note that it is pretty much impossible to talk about the characters or evaluate the book without discussing some spoilers from the first two books, so if you are already reading the series, you might want to stop here. And if you are thinking of starting the series, go back and read book 1, "Bitter Seeds," as this book will make no sense at all without the background of the two previous books.
With that out of the way, one of my complaints about the previous books has been resolved here. Raybould Marsh was a major player in both previous books, but I just don't feel we got inside his head as much as I would've liked. Well, we do here. At the end of book two, it is 1963 and the world is ending and Marsh gets sent back in time to the early days of the Milkweed project (British intelligence services' monitoring of medical experimentation on a German farm).
Older/time traveler Marsh's sections are in first person. It's a little jarring at first, since there were no first person sections in the previous novels, but it makes sense. It is pretty much the only way the author could distinguish between young Marsh's sections (told in third person) and old Marsh's sections, since they are often interacting with the same people and of course they have the same name. It is a more intimate style and I think it gets the reader closer to his thought process and makes him more sympathetic. Although we know the main reason things went wrong between him and his wife in book two, we understand more of his feelings -- he's not hiding out in the garden shed or getting in bar fights here, but there's a lot more introspection. Because of this, the end of the book for him is really bittersweet, but it's also the only way things could have worked out. (Side note: I don't think Tregillis can write a happy ending. This is the seventh book of his I've read. The Alchemy Wars series also had kind of a depressing end. Don't let that stop you from reading his books, just don't read them when you're in the mood for something light. Lots of thinking to do with these!)
We also get into Gretel's head a little bit here and it is interesting. If you have read the previous two books, you'll know she was one of the experimental subjects at the German farm and she has the power of precognition. She can see all possible futures and can make decisions -- the WWII-era German government pays attention to her, so it's not just personal power but she can affect international events -- to alter the course of history. But in all futures, she's seen the end of the world, so she has to create a new timeline. Marsh's time travel is key to that. However, in this new timeline, her power starts to break down. It's not unexpected; the author laid the groundwork for this as early as book one, when Marsh is able to surprise her with a statement. Gretel becomes both an ally and an enemy for Marsh and his companions. Her POV sections are short, which is good -- don't think I'd be able to handle much of them (lots of strikethrough text as she decides what course the future will take). But they are really well done.
I think the time travel really works here. As many successes as Marsh has, there are some oddities that lead to very similar situations replaying themselves over again (the possibility of sorcery-propelled travel across long distances, for example). I feel like the author has really thought through all the implications of the different choices the characters make this time around, and also that he had this whole thing planned out in great detail from the beginning. The clues were there if you knew to look for them. I think this one (the whole series, really) might be worth rereading, now that I Know the end, actually. I'm pretty sure I would catch a lot more.
The reactions you have to non-main characters are also interesting. Will (a sorcerer and British aristocrat working on Milkweed) and Klaus (Gretel's brother another experimental subject from the farm) were quite nicely developed in book two, and you have to keep reminding yourself that these are their younger selves, that Klaus has not yet had his big transformation, that Will has not yet hit rock bottom, that neither of these events may ever occur.
There is plenty of tension and the action is well-written and has a fast pace. There really isn't a dull moment in this book. There's a real sense of urgency in pretty much everything the characters (especially older Marsh) do.
In the end, I enjoyed this whole series and the last book most of all. Definitely recommended.