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Bitter Seeds (Milkweed) Mass Market Paperback – April 24, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Debut novelist Tregillis breathes new life into alternate military history with this fun take on WWII. In this version of 1939 Germany, the insane Dr. von Westarp has given WWI orphans superpowers, such as fire-starting, intangibility, and invisibility. As they use their abilities to aid German expansion, young mutant Klaus starts to suspect that he and the other soldiers are being manipulated by his precognitive sister, Gretel. Meanwhile, British secret agent Raybould Marsh recruits his old college buddy, magic-wielding aristocrat Will Beauclerk, to the British cause. Tregillis has trouble fleshing out characters and is overly fond of worn-out plot devices—a disastrous raid survived only by the protagonists, an urchin destined for greatness—but the action sequences are exciting and intense, and the clash of magic and (mad) science meshes perfectly with the tumultuous setting. (Apr.)
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.
In the Spanish Civil War, British secret agent Raybould Marsh thinks he saw a German woman with wires growing out of her head. Once WWII erupts, he learns that his eyes weren’t fooling him. The Germans have developed various kinds of real live supermen, such as the wired-up lady, with the ability to foretell and influence the future. The British have their own, equally secret occult arsenal, including warlocks to conjure “friendly” demons and fight the other kind. A member of the Wild Cards group, Tregillis begins a saga in his first novel, one that may rival Naomi Novik’s Tales of Temeraire as a sustained historical fantasy. --Roland Green --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.)
Bitter Seeds is a great novel. I was pulled in right away by the beautiful prose and the compelling storyline. I couldn't put it down and read it in three days, wishing I had the time to read it in one. It's an alternate history set during World War II with fascinating characters and gripping action. Here's the blub:
* * * * *
"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, the tale of a twentieth century like ours and also profoundly different."
"A major talent... I can't wait to see more."
--George R. R. Martin
"Mad English warlocks battling twisted Nazi psychics? Yes please, thank you. Tregillis's debut has a white-knuckle plot, beautiful descriptions, and complex characters-- an unstoppable Vickers of a novel."
* * * * *
As you can tell, this book has received a lot of attention by major writers and reviewers, and deservedly so. There are many positive reviews online and I agree that this is an exceptional book. I was so impressed with the way Tregillis unfolded the plot, and revealed the characters, of which there are three whose point of view we get to see.
Raybould Marsh is a British spy right in the middle of things; William is a British nobleman who was secretly taught to be a warlock by his slightly insane father; and Klaus is one of the German's "supermen" with wraith like abilities. All three add a lot to the novel, and there are quite a few other secondary characters that are quite fascinating as well.
The most interesting other character is the sister of Klaus, Gretel, who has also been mutated via diabolical processes and now she can predict the future, and warp it to her will. She's the most powerful of all of the Nazi "supermen," and is on the cover of both the mass market and hard cover editions for good reason. I wish Tregillis would have let us into her mind, but that would be too telling I'm sure, as she knows what's going to happen and would ruin the mystery of what is to come.
This is a trilogy called the Milkweed Tryptych, and Bitter Seeds came out in 2010. The sequel, The Coldest War, is coming out in July of 2012, so I/we don't have long to wait now. I feel late to the party, but at least I got there eventually. I'm stoked about reading the sequel, and have just pre-ordered it on Amazon. The cover is awesome and shows one of the "supermen" in great detail. Their abilities are powered by horrific surgery, which connects their brain to special batteries they wear around their waists. The "superman," Klaus was forced into being a Nazi soldier, and he is extremely sympathetic, and his chapters are always interesting.
Every chapter was finely crafted, and the big time span gaps between some chapters really added to the coolness of the story. All the chapters have a date on them: month, day and year, which helped a lot. Anyway, this is not a large book, and only spans about 350 pages, but so much was accomplished. It was so impressive how little Tregillis told about what was happening in the actual wider war, but still incorporated a huge story in between the pages, as he focused on the three main characters and their experiences as wider events played around them. They are a huge part of those larger events, but this is not the alternate history of World War II in detail. There are lots of hints, but Tregillis doesn't go into detail much at all. I would have liked more about how certain battles were going and such, but those issues weren't the point of the book.
Some of the wider war was actually shown in incredibly written interludes from the point of view of flocks of ravens and crows that feast on the dead after major battles. The interludes from the birds point of view were so awesome. Tregillis has a flare for brilliant description, and his ability to be brief, and yet powerful, is amazing.
The book opens with a chapter from the ravens point of view. Here's the first line:
Murder on the wind: crows and ravens wheeled beneath a heavy sky, like spots of ink splashed across a leaden canvas.
It's a great first line.
Bitter Seeds is a little bit X-Men, a little bit James Bond, with a core of brilliant darkness that pulls you in page after page.
Author of the Iron Dragon Series and Editor of the Crimson Pact anthology series
Most recent customer reviews
The quickest review I can give is this: If the original cover art by John Jude Palencar appeals to you, you will probably be underwhelmed by the book.Read more