Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

July 9, 2012

The year is 1939. Raybould Marsh and other members of British Intelligence have gathered to watch a damaged reel of film in a darkened room. It appears to show German troops walking through walls, bursting into flames and hurling tanks into the air from afar.

If the British are to believe their eyes, a twisted Nazi scientist has been endowing German troops with unnatural, unstoppable powers. And Raybould will be forced to resort to dark methods to hold the impending invasion at bay.

But dealing with the occult exacts a price. And that price must be paid in blood.

British warlocks squaring off against Nazi augmented humans? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a certain amount of excitement surrounding this novel, so much so that it made it on to my preview list for 2012 when I heard about it last year. This is exactly the sort of premise that is guaranteed to gain my attention.

Raybould Marsh is the intelligence officer tasked with finding a way to combat the mysterious new breed of soldiers the enemy has unleashed.  He calls upon the assistance of an old school friend, Will, who has some secrets of his own. Marsh is an interesting protagonist. At first glance he appears to be little more than your average man, but as the plot unfolds his hidden depths begin to be uncovered. I particularly enjoyed the moments that Marsh shares with his wife Liv. The highs and lows of their relationship give valuable insight into why Marsh is so driven. There are a series of traumatic events that help to shape the man that Raybould has to be in order to stop the rising tide of the war.

Across the English Channel the other focus of the novel is Klaus and Gretel, a brother and sister who have spent the years as part of a secret Nazi experiment into unlocking hidden human potential.  Both have been gifted with special abilities that make them indispensable. Along with a number of other specially powered individuals, they are the vanguard of the Nazi war effort.

In a refreshing break from the norm, Will and the other warlocks in Bitter Seeds don’t actually perform magic themselves. Instead, they are the human negotiators between our world and a group of cosmic beings known as the Eidolons, whose price for assistance is blood.

Tregillis’ debut displays a level of self-assurance that is often lacking from more established authors. I was surprised by how easily I was drawn in by this story. I rattled through the whole four hundred and eighty pages in a couple of sittings, I just didn’t want to put it down. The action has a cinematic quality, while the more intimate moments are also handled with a great deal of skill.

By novels end, the outcome of the Second World War has been altered irrevocably. The British warlocks and the Nazi super humans have both left their mark on the hostilities, but the lines between good and evil grow more indistinct every day. In order to ensure the safety of their nation, the warlocks have consorted with the darkest of powers and performed unspeakable acts. Meanwhile the offspring of Nazi experimentation realize they are little more than pawns in a much larger game.

If I was going to criticize anything about this novel it’s the same thing that I have leveled at other novels in the past. It would have been nice to learn something about what is going on elsewhere in the world, specifically the effects of the war on the United States and Japan, but Bitter Seeds sticks firmly to the conflict in Europe. The events that unfold are bound to have global ramifications, and some exploration of that would have been a nice touch. Perhaps this is something that will be explored in future novels. The plot does include a number of tantalizing suggestions that there is still much of this story left to be told. I’ll be looking forward to the next installment with bated breath.

Bitter Seeds is the first book in The Milkweed Triptych and published in the UK by Orbit. It will be available from 12th July 2012 onwards. The sequel, The Coldest War, will be released in early 2013.

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