In the first two books of Ian Tregillis’ Milkweed triptych (Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War), a clairvoyant madwoman by the name of Gretel was Nazi Germany’s greatest weapon. Said the author: “She was a prophet, an oracle, a sear. She was nothing less than a vessel of Fate.”
With Gretel in control, Germany could predict and manipulate the events leading toward the outcome of WWII. Yes, she was a loony bird, but she was also an invaluable piece of der Führer’s strategic advantage.
But now, in the series’ final volume, we find out that Gretel had ulterior motives. She wasn’t using her enhanced precognitive skills to promote the Third Reich. She didn’t care if France was demolished or England was bombed to hell. As it turns out, she was willfully changing the course of history for one selfish reason: love.
Love makes the world go around, after all. What point was there of being a demigoddess if she couldn’t change the things that mattered most to her? The whole time Gretel was secretly creating a new timeline for herself and the man she loved. Never mind that she was an “evil, barmy bitch” from Germany and her star-crossed lover was an English Secret Intelligence Service agent. Given time, she could make him love her. “She and he are as Eve and Adam in this new timeline,” she muses at one point.
In many ways, this revelation about Gretel softens her up a bit. She was a horrible monster in the first two books (and we loved her for it), but here in the finale she’s undone by her timeline-spanning unrequited love. The real villain was always Dr. Karl Heinrich von Westarp, the restless geneticist who assembled an army of Nazi superhuman soldiers. Salamanders, invisible women, telekinetics, psychics, wraiths, oracles—he created a family of overmen to help spread his ideals of Germanic potential. It was von Westarp who was the remorseless monster all along. “He was a sick man, driven to madness by the weight of his genius.”
In the end, after all her timeline tinkering, Gretel gets one chance to seduce the object of her affection. She crawls into bed with him and tries her best to inspire some intimate frottage. After briefly tasting “the sour tang of her own excitement,” her would-be-lover belts her in the face. “I’d sooner bed the Devil herself than you,” he says in disgust. As it turns out, Gretel wasn’t as good at manipulating men as she was at manipulating global history.
[Necessary Evil / By Ian Tregillis / First Printing: April 2013 / ISBN: 9780765321527]