I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how to review these books for a while now. I liked them quite a bit, they’re very entertaining, but there are some really ugly themes in the books which I think were unintended by the author. I think the biggest problem is when I read them, which I’ll get into in a later paragraph because it’s gonna be a long one. However, even with those troubling themes, I still did like the books. They’re very well plotted out and written. The characters are very sympathetic and relatable, and I do recommend them as well done time travel novels, with some reservations.
So, we start at the end of WWI at a farm in Germany where a mad scientist is ‘recruiting’ orphaned children for experiments in creating super humans. Over in England a young boy is introduced to the terrifying demonic forces that live just outside of human perception. Fast forward a few years to the start of WWII and we learn that the German mad scientist has succeeded and the Nazi’s have super powered people to help them conquer Europe. Fortunately, all is not lost because that little boy in England grew up to be best friends with a British Spy, and he thinks that he can save the world from the Nazis using magic. The problem is that the Elodians, the demonic forces that the warlocks in England plan on using, hate the idea of humanity and seek it’s destruction and each time the warlocks access their power they bring humanity a little closer to doom.
In book two, the war has been over for about 20 years, and we find our characters in the middle of a very different Cold War. The United States, which sat out WWII, is an impoverished country barely holding on, and the Soviets have managed to take over most of Europe. Once again, England is the lone country standing against fascism. Even more frightening, the Soviets managed to find the notes of the mad German doctor and have developed their own, more powerful, supermen. Once again, England must turn to the power of the warlocks.
In the third book, The main character of Marsh goes back in time to try and change history completely by completely erasing the existence of the German supermen and thus eliminate the need for the Warlocks. Unfortunately he can only go back to the very start of the war, so he’s up against fully developed supermen as well as the Warlocks.
I liked these books a lot. They’re very entertaining and fun reads. But like I mentioned above, I think there’s something deeply disturbing about one of the messages in them, and that’s what I’m going to focus on. So before I really get going, let me just point out that when these books were written the Neo-Nazi movement was a fringe movement, mostly ignored and definitely not a mainstream problem. I read them the week that Neo-Nazi protesters killed a woman in Charlottesville. And that is the problem, see I think that one of the things that the book argues is that Nazis are not the ultimate evil. By pitting Nazis against what is essentially Cthulhu you could make the argument that there are some things you do not do in order to fight Nazis, because to do so risks humanity (both in singular and plural senses of the word). I find this deeply troubling. Especially given that Nazis are a (sadly) real threat, and Cthulu isn’t. I will say, the fact that both the Nazis AND Cthulu are ultimately defeated does save the series, we’re never presented with the need to accept the lesser of two evils, although in order to do so Marsh does need to work with one of the Nazi supermen.
Here’s an example, Tregillis doesn’t really detail what makes the Nazis evil. He relies on the readers knowledge of history to fill in the gaps as to why England must stand against them, and stand against them at terrible cost. By brushing over the things that horrify us about the Nazi regime and detailing the evils that the British do in order to save England Tregillis creates an imbalance in the novel where the bulk of the wrongdoing is coming from the warlocks. Obviously, most of us are aware of the terrible things the Nazis did, and Tregillis does hint at them, I just wish he’d been a little more explicit. Especially considering that the two German supermen characters that the readers follow are of Romany descent.
Carrie Vaughn wrote in a review for the first Captain America movie, “World War II is becoming American culture’s Camelot or Middle Earth. It’s the place and time we go to be heroic, without irony or cynicism.” I think that’s true, and it’s been true of our cultural output for almost as long as WWII has been over. It’s true because Nazis have become the ultimate evil, and so anything you do to fight them becomes justified. I think that Tregillis wanted to challenge that notion, and I appreciate that as myths must be challenged in order to remain current. I’m just not sure that when the devils of our myths are still a present threat that you can make them the lesser evil, even if the lesser evil still doesn’t win.
Like I said, I enjoyed the books and they’ve obviously made me think a lot. In fact, my reviews are kind of backlogged because I’ve been sitting on this review trying to figure out how to write it. I think that the plotting in them is meticulous, and I very much admire that. I very seriously doubt that Tregillis intended anything that I’ve pointed out above, but I’m a firm believer in The Death of the Author theory. Do I recommend them? I…. don’t know. Maybe? Despite my long screed here, I’m still giving them a fairly high rating, so take that as you will.