- Publisher: Orbit (2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0356501698
- ISBN-13: 978-0356501697
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 133 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,217,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bitter Seeds Paperback – International Edition, 2012
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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.
The secondary characters are all one-note cardboard cutouts, especially the Nazis. But even the main characters lack the depth and development I expect of a novel (rather than a novella or short story). Despite being used to the idea that wartime makes monsters of us all, there is still an unsatisfying lack of any likeable or relatable characters. Characters who has so much promise early on, such as Nazi-science-experiment-turned-superhuman-precognative Gretel and the supposed British spy and 'hero' Marsh, fail to develop that promise and are actually turned into much flatter, horrible people. Gretel initially appears to be a science experiment slash soldier-slave desperately seeking a way out, but by the end of the novel she is revealed, as Marsh discovers, to simply be a sociopathic bitch who wants everyone except herself (and possibly her brother) dead. Marsh starts out as our hero, the underdog who shined up good and wants to protect his country and the innocent from the Nazis. By the end, he is an unhinged monster willing to sacrifice anything and anyone, unwilling to listen to reason and uncaring of anything besides his badly-written love for his wife (which only exists when convenient for the author/plot).
March and Liv's "romance" happens off-screen for the most part, which might be a good thing because what is shown (rarely) on-screen is just bad and lacking any emotion or believability. Liv and the other incredibly rare female characters are just plain badly written -- pop up cliches to provide something soft and smelling of flowers, or a convenient naked body, to male characters who need a distraction from the war. Gretel only escapes being someone's sex toy by virtue of her status as 'scary witch / psychotic bitch'.
I really wish the characters had been better because both the superhuman experiments and the Eidolon entities/system were both interesting and worthy of further novels to explore them. Unfortunately, I don't trust the author to give me decent (either interesting OR moral) characters to explore those things further. I can't see myself picking up the next book.