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Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
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Bitter Seeds

by Ian Tregillis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Milkweed Triptych (1)

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5864216,822 (3.69)43
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» See also 43 mentions

English (40)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All (42)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
I love World War II fantastical history, but it turns out I am not very good at reading it because I don't know much about World War II and can never quite remember when it starts diverging from history. I can usually figure it out from context clues, but I am by no means an expert.

But. This book has it all! Nazi mad scientists! English warlocks! Ubermenchen who are basically X-Men! Horrible, horrible sacrifices! Plus really compelling, interesting characters all around, even the psychopaths. I am sorry I waited so long to read it. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Oct 24, 2016 |
The concept of Bitter Seeds - an alternate history of World War Two in which the British employ warlocks and blood magic to fight the Nazis, who have engineered scientifically-enhanced supermen - is one of such promise that you desire earnestly for it to succeed, and not to be a convoluted mess. Thankfully, Ian Tregillis executes it well. The quality of storytelling is exceptional right from the off; on page one, Tregillis introduces the ravens, before linking this deftly to poison gas to illustrate that his story begins in the aftermath of World War One. The ravens are also used on page six to link the previous introduction to a second one taking place in England, linking the separate character arcs and creating a moody, foreboding atmosphere that the novel retains throughout. The ravens, along with later references to the wind and, more importantly, the surf and the rising tide, are used expertly as thematic anchors for the story.

Yet whilst the quality of writing is superb, the main appeal of Bitter Seeds is its alternate history. Particularly in the first part of the novel, this is fascinating to read. The Germans use their super-soldiers on the battlefield in a way that would seem logical; they undergo field testing in the Spanish Civil War (much as the real-life German military tested out its new technologies and tactics in that war), and Tregillis' examples of their employment in 1940 in the Ardennes (clearing vast swathes of impassable forest for the panzers and bypassing the Maginot Line), the early stages of the Battle of Britain (using precognitive abilities to identify key locations in Britain's air defence network) and in the Battle of the Atlantic (using mind powers to rip apart the hulls of British merchant ships) are interesting riffs on real history. The British use of magic is less exciting, though its employment (manipulating the weather to foil Operation Sealion, Hitler's proposed invasion of England) convinces.

However, as the story develops and the plot (inevitably) deviates from real-life events, the alternate history seems harder for Tregillis to control. I don't want to go into too much detail in case they are considered spoilers, but Tregillis' World War Two ends much sooner than the real one did. It makes sense that the British would use blood magic to stem the tide of the German advances until they could regroup after Dunkirk, but its use after this seems strange. I find it highly unlikely that British strategists would green-light the course that Milkweed (the government section in charge of the British warlocks) takes, considering how intolerable it would be to the balance of power calculations that Britain historically applied to continental Europe, not to mention how many in the British government saw the main beneficiary of Milkweed's actions as their real enemy.

That said, the story as a whole does paint a plausible picture of a world at war, albeit one in which blood magic warlocks face off against German occultist supermen. (If it helps, the balance is somewhat similar to the 2011 film Captain America, although less cheesy). The 'pixies' employed in Chapter 11 echo the real-life ingenuity of British boffins; the contraptions seem almost like a lost relation of one of Hobart's Funnies. Neither side holds all the cards - the German supermen rely on imperfect batteries to power their abilities, whilst the British warlocks must negotiate with the Eidolons (of whom more below) - and so the more fantastical elements of Bitter Seeds do not overwhelm its more grounded history. (Though if I could make one nitpicking criticism, Tregillis has far too much confidence in the accuracy and comprehensiveness of World War Two bombing raids, particularly the ones of 1940-1. The total destruction of two locations by aerial bombing are carried out in the novel, and their complete eradication from the face of the earth is important to the plot. However, in real-life, World War Two bomber planes were notoriously inaccurate, often inflicting negligible damage, and sometimes even failing to bomb the right city. This is why they turned to morale bombing; total destruction being something unfeasible until the atomic bombs of 1945, or at least the area bombing of 1944-5).

Bitter Seeds also appeals as it approaches events with a distinctly gray morality: by the end, you are not quite sure whether the British, with their 'blood prices', are all that much better than the defeated (and cold, and starving) Germans. The British warlocks are not magic-users as such: they commune with powerful otherworldly bodies known as the 'Eidolons' to perform the acts for them. The Eidolons are an interesting and enigmatic element of the novel. Upon encountering an Eidolon, Marsh (the main British character) detects a simmering undercurrent of malevolence" (pg. 131) - the Eidolons hate humankind but, for reasons explained adequately in the text, cannot destroy it. These omnipotent, godlike beings of 'pure volition' are "offended by the notion that anything as profoundly limited as we are could also express volition." (pg. 240). The fury of the Eidolons when humans exercise their volition is shown most strongly on page 334. They exact blood prices as payment for their services to the warlocks, as blood allows them to gain understanding of humankind in preparation for its destruction. This increasing knowledge, as well as the rising body count needed to appease the Eidolons' blood prices - "Blades are outmoded, worthless; the ha'pennies of negotiation. Dynamite and priming cord, that's where the purchase power is." (pg. 264) - adds an element of menace whilst also compelling the British to surrender the moral high ground. One gets the feeling that, by the end of the novel, the British have defeated one evil enemy - the Nazis - but empowered a much more dangerous one (perhaps two if you count the Soviets). In Tregillis' world, Churchill might well have revised his statement that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2641278.html

It's a story where the outcome of the Second World War is altered by people with psychic powers on each side, the British and German secret services trying to control their respective paranormal resources. I wasn't hugely satisfied by it; despite the existence of psychic powers, it takes until 1940 for history to diverge from our timeline; the Soviet Union barely features and the Holocaust not at all; and as with many such novels, the paranormal extends and then stops rather arbitrarily to suit the plot. ( )
  nwhyte | Apr 17, 2016 |
I “won” this book on Twitter – a friend did a giveaway and… I can now understand why he gave it away. Bitter Seeds is a reworking of World War II – although it opens during the Spanish Civil War – in which the Germans have half a dozen super-powered teenagers, who need electricity wired directly into their brains to manifest their powers. The British are forced to make deals with the Eidolons, enigmatic and omnipotent demon-like creatures, who exact a blood price each time they deign to help. It’s an interesting idea, a mishmash of Nazi occult science mythology and the sort of potboilers Dennis Wheatley used to churn out. Unfortunately, it reads like a novel that’s been through far too many writing workshops, where the writer has tried to follow every “rule” and address every critique levelled at the manuscript. So when it’s not overwritten, it’s trying too hard do everything it thinks prose should do. And then there’s the research… Although much of the story is set in Britain, it’s not in the least bit convincing. Everyone carries billfolds. The book’s hero marries his wife in the garden of his boss’s house. The second son of a duke wears a bowler all the time (and the ducal estate is in Bestwood, which is actually a colliery village but never mind). There’s a pub which resembles no British pub ever. And the dialogue sounds like it was based on that spoken in 1970s and 1980s UK television series. There are apparently two sequels to this book. I won’t be reading them. But I might well be doing a giveaway on Twitter for Bitter Seeds… ( )
  iansales | Mar 9, 2016 |
WWII as a cage match between British warlocks vs battery-powered super-Nazis.
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
don’t hang around, pick up a copy of ‘Bitter Seeds’ and get reading right away. I particularly enjoyed the way that Tregillis not only weaves his story into the historical background (making it all sound very plausible and part of events) but uses it to send the path of history running in a slightly different direction at times. It’s ‘alternate history’ done so cleverly that you don’t even realise you’re running down a different track. Tregillis shows that he has an eye for the spectacular, on more than one level, with scenes that show just what the clever use of a relatively minor ability can do to a tank, a group of enemy combatants and even the entire Maginot Line.

It’s not just the fight scenes that make for compulsive reading. The use of these powers sends the plot in some very interesting directions with the march to victory switching between parties on a regular basis. Things move so quickly that you have to keep reading to follow it all, you don’t dare miss a word.

It would be doing the book a real disservice though to paint it as a straight fight between powers though, no matter how well it is done on the page. For me, the real strength of ‘Bitter Seeds’ (and maybe where this title was born) lies in it’s exploration of occult warfare and the price that must be paid for victory

‘Bitter Seeds’ is nothing short of an awesome read

Ten out of Ten
 

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Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
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.
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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.… (more)

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