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Bitter Seeds (Milkweed Book 1) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 416 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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|Book 1 of 3 in Milkweed|
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A major talent.” —George R. R. Martin
“Exciting and intense… The clash of magic and (mad) science meshes perfectly with the tumultuous setting.” —Publishers Weekly
“A white-knuckle plot, beautiful descriptions, and complex characters—an unstoppable Vickers of a novel.” —Cory Doctorow
“Bitter Seeds may rival Naomi Novik’s Tales of Temeraire as a sustained historical fantasy.”
- Publication Date : April 13, 2010
- File Size : 523 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 416 pages
- ASIN : B003GWX8JE
- Publisher : Tor Books; First edition (April 13, 2010)
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #533,701 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It has a great start: a mysterious and macabre orphanage in the Weimar Republic; a man on fire in the Spanish War; a woman with wires in her head at a dock. The author also does a great job of really diving into the alt-history: this isn't "just like the historical WW2 but with a few wizards next to the tanks" that a lot of alt-history seems to cleave to. This takes much more of a "butterfly effect" approach such that by the end of the book, the world looks very, very different. I like that.
There are a few missteps along the way, though, that kept me from totally loving this book. Some of them are small quibbles that are easier to overlook. (As others have mentioned: really, England is the only place on Earth with these warlocks? The rest of the British Empire seems curiously absent? Etc.) Those didn't affect my suspension of disbelief too much. I could come up with reasons (even if the author didn't) for why things worked out this way.
The characters aren't drawn as well as they might have been. They start out pretty well: Marsh and Will have a lot of potential. But they end up stagnating for most of the book. Liv and Marsh's relationship with her feels rote. The bad guys in Germany, especially Klaus, end up having a much more interesting and developed interior life.
The author doesn't do a great job delineating the boundaries of magic. What is allowed and what isn't? The result is that the ending big magic thing leaves you feeling....Well, dang...if warlocks can do THAT...why didn't they do it 300 pages ago?! A bit more rigor or pre-explanation would help avoid this feeling like quite so much of a deus ex machina. But that's something that can be improved in the next installment.
The biggest weakness of the book is that the author sets up a villain who is, literally, omniscient. That makes it hard to have much dramatic tension. She sees and knows everything. Every single event in the book unfolds exactly the way she wants it to. She manipulates events on a large, strategic scale (invasions) and on a small scale (a single person being shot). Every other character in the book simply has things happen to them and no ability to deviate from the course she has set.
The only sense of "drama" comes from not knowing what her goals are. That ultimately ends up being pretty unsatisfying as a reader.
Looking back on it, this feels a lot like a comic book in novel form. The relatively shallowness of the characters. The way powers are ill-defined and seem to allow exactly whatever the plot requires. The mandatory but weak love story/relationship. That's not a bad thing, since I like comic books, but just gives you an idea of what you're getting into.
Overall, I still ordered the second book and will continue the series. It provided enough fun to keep me wanting to see how it goes. And if the author fixes some of the weaknesses in the second or third book, it'll be even better.
I would argue that the scenario is the star of the first book. This is a WWII alternate history book, but the line is blurred. There is also magic and there is a science fiction element. So it's a whole lot of speculative fiction rolled into one package, with the line being kind of hard to draw. I am mostly a fantasy reader who occasionally delves into science fiction and I thought it was well done, anyway. (I will admit my knowledge of WWII-era history is spotty. Because I grew up in Independence, MO, we spent an inordinate amount of time on Harry Truman, specifically, in school, sometimes to the exclusion of other things that were going on in the world at the same time. So I know more about the atomic bomb than about the European theater, bombing of London, etc. I bring this up to point out that I might not spot potential inconsistencies that the true military history enthusiast would notice.)
I don't want to give too much away but the book synopsis does mention this so I don't really count it as a spoiler: the protagonists are British warlocks and the antagonists are German supermen upon whom vaguely explained medical experiments and surgeries have been done, conferring them with abilities like passing through matter, long-distance communication, becoming invisible, and the like. At least, that is how it feels after reading book one. Both sides do some pretty awful things but of course history is written by the victors. (I also think we sympathize with the British because we are *supposed* to, based on our understanding of history in our own real timeline. There is something being set up at the end of the book that is revealed in book two as well as expanded upon there -- I'm close to being done with that one as well -- that makes you wonder how different the Germans and British really are, especially in this book that doesn't touch much on the horrors of the Holocaust. It's not ignored, it's just not the focus of the story.)
For what it's worth, both British and German abilities have appropriate limits and these are explored in a great amount of detail as well as being cleverly pitted against one another. This part was nicely done.
This is sort of a common theme in Tregillis's work; you really get involved with both sides of the story, and there's nothing that's 100% right or wrong, and sometimes good people on the *right* side are forced to do things, or choose to do things, that are pretty awful. (For the record, the Germans here are soldiers, basically, not leadership, although a few historical figures do make brief appearances. They are not really in charge of anything and they are victims of medical experimentation that doesn't leave a lot of survivors and this makes them more sympathetic than anyone who could order something like concentration camps to exist or send people to them.)
The pace is wonderful. There's a little personal reflection and such, but mostly there is a lot of suspense and action and I did find myself reading long past when I should several times, just to find out what happened next. Whenever that happens, I am inclined to give a pretty good rating to a book.
I enjoyed the writing style. I thought it was unobtrusive but I took some German in high school and while it has been a long time, I could piece together enough of the German officers' titles and such to make sense of them, so it didn't break immersion for me.
If I had to name a weak point it would be the characters. I don't feel there is a ton of character development in this book. One character, Will, a warlock who is also the younger brother of a Duke, has misgivings about his work (not necessarily feeling that the ends justify the means, and feeling guilty about his part in everything) that begin to manifest in self-destructive behavior towards the end of the book. Another character, Marsh, starts from a low beginning and has a brief rise working for British intelligence. But there is a great cost in his personal life. I don't really feel like he changes a lot, though. He lets entirely natural feelings get the better of him. On the German side, our main POV character is Klaus, one of the individuals on whom experiments have been performed. He strikes me as an immature adolescent trying to please a father figure (the doctor who did the experiments) and vying for attention versus a rival. I think he is a bit older than adolescent, but I would attribute my picture of him to the fact that he had an unnatural childhood without love or affection from a parent. He doesn't change in this book but I think if you stick with the series, you will be more pleased with Klaus in book two. (To be fair, you can't focus on too many characters in one book without diluting things.) I kind of find the characters to be stereotypes in this book, not having quite as much depth as I would like, but more being carried along by external events.
And then there is Gretel. She is Klaus's sister and her ability is precognition. She is always a step ahead of everyone and the full implications of some of her actions don't make sense until later on. She is captured by the British at one point and you just wonder why all of this is happening and don't worry, you get an explanation in book two. I still have no idea what her overall motivation is. I hope it is something more than mental illness (that was a problem I had with the antagonist Queen Mab in the Alchemy Wars series). She is not the only antagonist, and there are plenty of other conflicts going on, from a personal level for the characters to the level of international diplomacy. I am reserving judgment on her until the end of the series, when/if we find out her motivation.
In short, overall I felt this was a strong book, I just wish there had been a little more character development. (Future volumes do start to remedy this.)
Top reviews from other countries
I did find that sometimes the odd sentence was poorly put together and I had to go back and re-read to get the gist but, in the main it's a well written book.
Be warned though that, at its core , it's a very grim read and neither the British or the Germans behave terribly well in this..an accurate reflection of win at all costs I suppose.
Best character for me is amateur occultist Will who, despite doing some terrible things in the course of duty, is perhaps the most morally grounded of our "heroes".
The Gretel character is thoroughly irritating in her omniscience and it means that, early on, you realise she isnt going to be surprised by events...it weakens the plot to have somebody like her in the novel and kills any suspense.
But it's an entertaining and engrossing read and I'm encouraged to learn more.
It's not bad, in fact, and part of the reason is that Tregillis works hard to create a realistic WWII setting, with a back-story which extends over the previous twenty years, in both Britain and Germany. The main characters are well-drawn, even if some of the minor ones are mere stereotypes, and the story as a whole has a moral complexity to it that is refreshing after too many black and white WWII narratives. Don't mess with magic, might be the informal sub-title of the book, or at least if you do be prepared for terrible consequences.
It would be better, though, if the author had left it there. As it is, we get an alternative history of the war itself, as well as the setting-up of an entire alternative history of the twentieth century. Sometimes this is reasonable (a British disaster at Dunkirk was entirely possible) but sometimes it's not clear whether the story is alternative history or just bad research. No country had a long-range precision-bombing capability in 1941, for example, any more than the Red Army had the ability to overrun Europe at that time. And it's hard to credit that a handful of supernaturally gifted Germans (whose powers are never really explained) could somehow have altered the course of an entire war involving millions of combatants.
This is, in other words, the kind of book for which the term "promising" was coined. We'll have to wait and see if the author can fulfil the promise, not just in the sequels (already out) but in other areas as well.
The more I read of British realpolitik in the 20th century, the more I can be convinced that the Allies weren't a group of wonderful, clean people but were forced into all sorts of moral quandaries, whether battling the Nazis or the threat of a Communist future. It's therefore congruent with that view that Tregillis' two sides are both engaged in horrific activity, whether it's the British necromancers and the sacrifices they require, or the experiments to make literal Nazi supermen.
It's also interesting that (because of the turn of events in these books) the US is marginalised. You might almost think that this was the product of wishful thinking by an Englishman, except that Tregillis is American (which you'll notice from the occasional slips - sidewalk instead of pavement, the verb 'to table' meaning to put something aside, rather than bring it to the centre of discussion, and so on - these can be distracting, but the books aren't exactly riddled with them, and I noticed fewer and fewer as the book went on).
This is a gloomy read. Whereas Stross's The Atrocity Archives is quite light in tone, there's grim nastiness on almost every page of Bitter Seeds; if there's a continuum where you have clockwork-steampowered-Nazi zombies fighting teenage vixens in Sucker Punch, and then evil Nazis on the Moon in the Atrocity Archives, Bitter Seeds is quite a long way further over in the sad and miserable end.
The English answer is a group of characters whose abilities exist under the basic framework and knowledge of society, Warlocks, blood magic practitioners. Warlocks speak an ancient language called Enochian, a primal language that is used along with various forms of sacrifice, to communicate with the Eidolons, beings that exist outside of reality. The Warlocks negotiate with the Eidolons and they in turn aid them in the war effort but each bargain struck is at a terrible cost, a cost of blood.
The story’s apparent villain, although only because she is one of the re-engineered Germans is Gretel, whose superpower is an ability to see the future. She is a character whose motives are always in doubt, and whose foreknowledge is pivotal as the plot progresses. She is also an apparent sociopath who plays both sides with little or no concern for the lives lost, its a game to her and she has her own agenda. A fascinating and mysterious character, even at the end of the book we have no idea what she's up to.
The two main protagonists are Brits Raybould Marsh, a secret agent, and William Beauclerk, a friend of Marsh and unbeknownst to him a warlock. When Marsh discovers the Germans’ secret weapons, he turns to his old friend for help. Will is the more interesting of the two characters the only warlock who seems to have any reservations for what they do, expressing constant remorse and eventually succumbing to drugs and alcohol, the only way he can cope with what they have done. Marsh to suffers horrific loss and treads a painful journey, his coping mechanism is to throw himself into the war effort but I thought him slightly inaccessible as a character.
Seems a touch unpatriotic but for me the most compelling of the novel's characters were Gretel and her brother Klaus, whose understanding and conscience slowly emerge through the book and yet we realize Gretel is as much a mystery to him as to us.
Bitter seeds is an original take on this period of history, the opposing factions are not so easily tied into the good versus evil formula, in fact in this respect the waters are not clear but somewhat murky.
Certainly an enjoyable read, some good ideas and I shall definitely continue with the series.
I cannot speak much about the artistic value, since I have no taste, but it was certainly
easy to read.
The genre has been established a while ago but this implementation is worth praising.
I liked the way the characters were shown and developed, real and round people, not
Various points of view just add to the story and are not confusing in this case.
The story line starst time-line compatible to us and then it diverges, interesting to see
the differences and I think they are well thought-out (USA not joining the war, radar destroyed)
The mood is definitely grimm and tragic, differently so than in history but appropriately so, considering the
It is really interesting and partially horrifyingto see and think about the moral choices presented to those people,
especially on the UK side. As to the Nazi superhumans, you can think how cool it would be to be one or to
have your country defended by some, but would you be able to have to sacrifice hundreds of children to death
and torture, to achieve it? Would you want to be go through torture from the young years, to be the one survivor
from dozends, to achieve superpowers? That is a very good quandary, considering that the superheroes from
many (most) other books come into their powers very easily, preferably from the start (similar sacrifice was
visible in the Wiedźmin - Witcher books)
The motif of the clairvoyant psychopath is new for me and one that is really unnerving.
I really like the book, now am reading the second one and hope the last will come out soon.