About the Book
Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War. During a mission back in the Spanish Civil War, he saw something strange: a German woman with wires going into her head. She 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 from Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present - Marsh is the man who gets to handle the problem. 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 the outright loss.
I don’t really know how to even start with this one. I wasn’t going to read Bitter Seeds. I read the basic premise about Nazi superhumans and warlocks in England and thought “pullleeeeze.” Then, I read some rave reviews for it and figured that I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t pick it up. I read having set myself up to hate it.
Now that it’s over, I honestly don’t even know how to review it.
World War II is probably one of the most written about historical events of all time. The superhuman spin on it isn’t new. One of the main reasons I didn’t want to read this book was because I thought Tregillis would be trying really hard to be new with old ideas and thus, the book might come off as stale. Well, that didn’t happen.
And I also think one of the reasons I’m having such a hard time narrowing down this book for a quality review is because there are so many different factors at play in it. Tregillis fills the pages with literary prose that is commonly associated with high quality fiction. The historical events are so well researched, Bitter Seeds could easily interest historical readers; and the myriad of superhuman and paranormal at its core will keep speculative fiction fans hooked with baited breath.
How the hell am I supposed to review something like that?
Tregillis floods the pages of Bitter Seeds with an intricate, fast paced plot and stunningly flawed, believable peoples who can’t help but capture the readers interest. Bitter Seeds takes the reader on a journey through important protagonists on both sides of the infamous conflict. Tregillis should be rewarded for allowing the reader to become sympathetic with characters on both sides of the line. He keeps his cast minimal and easy to follow without dropping in unnecessary viewpoints or flooding the pages with more people than any reader could possibly keep track of. This also allows the reader to become far more emotionally involved and interested in the characters you are presented with. The small, tight cast seemed to help Tregillis to flesh out his characters to an incredible extent.
If there is one flaw with the book, it’s the fact that sometimes Marsh can be almost predictable with his actions and overarching desires and some readers might find that the characters do fall flat at times. There were also points in the book where, despite the fantastic writing and world building, the overall narration did seem to falter slightly where there may be slight plot hiccups. This, however, was easy for me to overlook though other readers might find it to be a larger issue than I found it to be. Hey, not every book can please every reader.
The writing is, simply put, stunning. Tregillis brings fine quality literary prose into the speculative fiction genre in a big way while keeping the flowery, unnecessary descriptions that seem to flood so many books to an absolute minimum. Everything you read is necessary for the book. It’s easy to get lost in the pages, the world, the conflict and people. The whole book simply shines with the quality of writing.
Tregillis packs quite a bit into the paltry 350 plus pages making every detail important for the reader to hang onto and also serving to prove that quality is often times more important than quantity. There are no incredibly happy endings and nicely tied up plots. However, from my understanding this is actually the first book in a trilogy (The Milkweed Triptych). The ending will leave the reader hanging on with baited breath to see what the genius of Ian Tregillis can come up with next. Never fear, it doesn't necessarily end on a cliffhanger, it just leaves plenty of open ended questions.
Though the initial plot might seem cheesy, Bitter Seeds excels at bringing the impossible to life. It is quite amazing to see how Tregillis can draw thought provoking parallels between events happening on both sides of the World War II line, and while most of the most notable and horrific events are hinted at rather than described, it will still chill the blood of the reader. The book also serves as an interesting exploration of war itself.
It should be noted, though I think it’s pretty common sense, that World War II was a very dark war and this book is, therefore, a very dark book. If you aren’t a fan of books that don’t end in a most satisfying light or dark plots in general, I’d suggest you avoid picking this one up.
Bitter Seeds is an incredible debut that Tregillis should be very noted for. It blends a hodgepodge of literary genius, horror, paranormal and history with some amazing dark tones and incredibly believable, tragically flawed characters. While this book may seem to be a bit of everything, it never strays far from it's speculative fiction core. This is easily one of the most impressive debut works I’ve read.