Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds is the first book of his Milkweed triptych, an alternate history series about a very different World War II.

There are two sides in Bitter Seeds. One is the Allies, led by intelligence operative Raybould Marsh and his nobly born friend Will, who is also a warlock. The other side are the Nazis, a special super powered division known as the Reichsbehorde.

Initially Bitter Seeds seems to follow the accepted history of the conflict with the twist of the magic using British and the supermen of the Third Reich, then as the war really gets underway events that we know as historical fact take a definite alternate path, with the result that the war ends earlier and this also sets up the sequel (The Coldest War), which as the title indicates will cover a Cold War that is nothing like the one we know about from the late 1940's and 1950's.

A number of things about Bitter Seeds impressed me. One was the atmosphere. Ian Tregillis has, despite his twists, managed to give the whole thing a very noirish WW II novel feel about it, and the reader is taken into a Britain in the grip of a terror from the Nazi blitz of their skies and cities. I was surprised to discover when looking into Ian Tregillis' background that he's not actually English. He lives in New Mexico and got his information about the Blitz from reading and studying, oh and watching Foyle's War!

The characters themselves were another thing that made me sit up and take notice in Bitter Seeds. Initially the Nazis are painted as the stereotypical bad guys from any number of war novels, but as the story unfolds they develop layers and we begin to understand why they behave the way they do. In fact Reichsbehorde member Klaus is probably the most sympathetic character in the novel. Although the rather Bondian Raybould does act in some pretty extreme ways at times I also felt for him and Will, who was really put in between a rock and a hard place trying to protect his country. The character of Gretel, Klaus' precognitive sister, was far and away the star of Bitter Seeds for me, and she is drawn wonderfully. She doesn't say much or even do that much, but she's truly chilling and alternately sympathetic and we still don't know exactly what game she's playing.

Bitter Seeds is a very strong, very dark debut with an startling premise and will have many readers eager to see how Milkweed comes out.

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