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Back from France, Bane of Kings reviews Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis, published in the UK by Orbit, which is the first in the Milkweed Triptych trilogy.
“An awesome, original and fun take on an alternate World War Two. How do you make history more different? By adding warlocks to the English side, and supermen to the side of the Germans, of course. Tregillis’ debut is one of the most fun reads that I’ve had this year, and one of the best.” ~The Founding Fields
I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming into Bitter Seeds, other than the fact that I went into it with high expectations, if only because Ian Tregillis shares the same writers group with the likes of Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin), and George RR Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire). And you can see my reasoning behind this, I guess. If a writer works with the likes of Abraham and Martin then I they’re probably going to turn out quite good, as the aforementioned authors will likely be reading Tregillis’ drafts. This view’s further enforced when, on the UK front cover of Bitter Seeds, Martin hails Tregillis’ debut as “A Major Talent.” So, then. Does Bitter Seeds live up to Martin’s praise?
Oh hell yes.
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.
I loved Bitter Seeds. The plot was engaging, unpredictable and mind-blowing. With a fun, original (from what I’ve seen) concept, Bitter Seeds would probably be the debut novel of 2012 for me if it was first released in 2012. However, it’s sadly been out in the USA for a few years, thus rendering it unqualifiable (If that’s even a word) for that award. And that’s saying something, as 2012 has already given us some amazing debuts, such as Myke Cole’s Control Point, Chris F. Holm’s Dead Harvest and Adam Christopher’s Empire State. (Headline, Angry Robot and Angry Robot respectively). So, what makes Bitter Seeds better than what we’ve had so far?
Several things. But, there is one issue, one minor niggle that I had with Tregillis’ otherwise astounding debut that I feel I should start this review off with before I start praising the book. The pace of Bitter Seeds was varied, and it wasn’t always as fast as I wanted it to be. If Tregillis nails this for The Coldest War (Book 2), then we’ll have an even better novel than the first one. However, this is not to be, which is a shame, but – everything else was brilliant. Rather than tell the novel from a first person POV, Tregillis gives us an insight into not only the workings of the British Warlocks, whom – for a change, don’t perform the magic themselves – they tap into a mysterious, outer-space force known as the Eidolons, whose price is blood. Whilst we don’t get much appearance of the Eidolons in Bitter Seeds, I can’t help thinking that they’ll play a more important role in the Trilogy to come, and when they arrive, something tells me that it’s going to be big. The main British Warlock that you get a look into is Will, and he undergoes several massive changes over the course of Bitter Seeds, and by the end – he’s hardly recognisable as the figure that he started out as. Tregillis has mastered the art of character development, and has done expertly well at blending the lines between good and evil in this novel, and showing what price one must pay for victory.
On the German side, the main focus is on Klaus and Gretel, two siblings who take up almost as much page-time as the British characters do, making it a straight split down the middle. Like Will, these two undergo great changes over the course of Bitter Seeds, and Tregillis shows that he can write strong female characters in the form of Gretel, as she is easily one of the key players in the plot of the first Milkweed Triptych novel. The characters are also three-dimensional, especially during the latter halves of the novel, when the lines between good and evil begin to blur, and there is no entirely one-dimensional character. Tregillis also has made Bitter Seeds terrifically unpredictable. We don’t know what’s going to happen next, and I had no way of guessing the outcome of this novel. The action scenes are enjoyable and varied, as Tregillis manages to make you feel as though you’re reading different battle-scenes, rather than just one after the other.
All said, Bitter Seeds comes highly recommended, and is a novel that you will not want to miss. Although I have heard mixed opinions about it, I believe it is one of my best reads of 2012 so far, and I can’t wait to see where Tregillis takes the reader in the sequel, The Coldest War. Superb stuff.
The Milkweed Triptych Trilogy by Ian Tregillis: Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, Necessary Evil (April 2013).