PUBLISHER: TOR Fantasy
RELEASE DATE: 24 April 2012
FORMAT: Paperback, 457 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction
It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between. Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.
When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities—a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present—Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be. Alan Furst meets Alan Moore in the opening of an epic of supernatural alternate history, Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis is a tale of a twentieth century like ours and also profoundly different. (Goodreads)
The tone of BITTER SEEDS was set in the opening pages when a German farmer sells two sick and orphaned children to a mad scientist in the early 1920’s. We later learn that this scientist cruelly subjected these children and several others to a barrage of medical procedures to augment and enhance hidden magical talents. The story features heavily two of these children, the brother and sister Klaus and Gretel. All the children (adults for most of the story) have been surgically altered with wires running from plugs on their skull and battery packets to fuel their talents. Klaus is gifted with the ability to pass through buildings and matter while Gretel, the more psychologically damaged of the two can see and influence the future.
Back in England we meet the young Raybould Marsh and William Beauclerk who both come from very different backgrounds but meet in later life and eventually work for a covert operation called Milkweed during World War Two. William is a warlock and uses blood magic to gain favours from the demonic Eidolons in order to turn the tide of Nazi oppression in Europe. Britain is not faring well in the war against Germany who are using their surgically enhanced army to wipe out the Allied troupes. As a normal human with no powers Raybould is up against imposing odds as he works with his long time friend Will and other warlocks to turn the tide. Both characters have tough choices and the border being conscience and conflict is a thin one.
Needless to say due to the subject matter this was not a light, enjoyable read. The opening scenes really set the tone for the rest of the novel which was cruel and bleak in equal measure and almost dystopian. Scenes involving Gretel were predictably disturbing given her psychopathic tendencies coupled with the ability to see and influence the future. Raybould first runs into Gretel in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and this is where he first learns of the ‘mega’ army that Germany has engineered. His path crosses with her again and she influences his life to a devastating effect which makes him determined to see her demise.
Marsh and Will are very different but neither is cast in the heroes role is almost to the detriment of the story. Marsh and Will acted as any ‘normal’ person would in the circumstances but with a super evil army of surgically, enhanced, magical bad guys you really want a hero to sweep in and try to save the day. Without a character to really empathise with I found that there was nothing to counter balance the austere plot. Saying that I thought BITTER SEEDS had a solid plot and it was evident that Tregillis did a lot research into war time England during the 1940’s. I am curious as to what happens in the next book of the series but I can’t say that I am looking forward to another depressing read. This is a definite ‘time and place’ novel so choose when you read it carefully.
BITTER SEEDS was not a comfortable read. It was quite harrowing in places and none of the characters were very likeable but that’s not to say its not a good book. Trelligis created characters that were so ruthless and cruel that you had a hard time figuring out what side you were supposed to be cheering for and in a sense that was the most interesting aspect. The setting of World War Two really fit well with the theme and Trelligis didn’t make it too science fiction as to alienate fantasy readers. This may sound a bit contradictory to say that I liked BITTER SEEDS but didn’t enjoy reading it due to the plot, the characters and the choices they make. I am very much in two minds whether to read book two although super curious as to what happens. The plot was interesting but in stories involving war or conflict you really need characters that make you want to cheer one side on and sadly this was not the case in this novel. If you like science fiction and aren’t afraid to read a book featuring a lot of death and destruction then try BITTER SEEDS…and let me know when you have as I have a couple of questions for something I couldn’t figure out!
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Bitter Seeds
- The Coldest War
- Necessary Evil (2013)
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