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Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

1/07/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Bitter Seeds in the USA - or Buy Bitter Seeds in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 352 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2150-3.

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'Bitter Seeds' is Ian Tregillis' first novel although he has contributed to the recent 'Wild Cards' book series revival.

This is an alternative reality that speculates that leading up to World War Two, experiments on orphaned children gave some of them super-human powers and were seen as a covert power-base for Nazi Germany. This was the work of Doctor von Westarp who essentially wired their brains to find their hidden potential and connecting them to a battery source to allow them to use their singular abilities. Amongst these is Klaus who could become phantom-like and Gretel who could see the future. It goes without saying that these people lack a conscience and some of their number were pure psychopath.

After the British military were forced back from France, a side-division of the Secret Service called Milkweed was set up to investigate how they had been so effectively routed. Raybould Marsh who had actually encountered Gretel in Spain goes to Germany and captures her, although things aren't quite what they seem when Klaus invades their London HQ to get her back. The British call upon a warlock fraternity to give themselves a fighting chance to create a blockage and to teleport a commando brigade into the super-human household to stop them. Chuck into that Marsh's family life and Gretel tearing it apart from a distance and anything else beyond that is in the spoiler zone. PS Stay clear of Williton.

I'm never quite sure what to make of a mix of SF with magic. We aren't really given much insight as to just what Eidolan magic is other than its dialogue has to be learnt young let alone who welds it. Indeed, the possessors of such magic aren't really that prominent in the story so for all we know it could just be a superior science indistinguishable from magic. At least, that's how I'm choosing to deal with this aspect.

The super-humans have their own agenda which doesn't necessarily tally with the Nazis in other than their violent attitude. In some respects, it tends to raise too many questions as to why keep them all together or at least have key members in Berlin where they can be of more use to Hitler. He doesn't get much of a look-in neither come to that.

If anything, Tregillis is just using the time period as a place to stage his events for an adventure that takes place over a three year period. He does get some of the feel for the time even if he makes it far too easy to slip between countries. The only real faux pas he makes is that we British have never called a wallet a billfold but then we never called our money bills neither. A bill is something you might pay at a shop or restaurant. Still, he never takes any of his characters to such places so we won't know if he thinks we pay tax separately.

The build-up is suitably sinister but the death of some characters gets practically lost in the rush. Not that with some of them you want to morn them but they become an irrelevance to the plot. I often wonder with first novels if there is a tendency to realise half-way through of the page count and then start squeezing things in to ensure the story is completed. In that respect, some of the emotional content and scene changes seem to be trimmed a little too much. A sharp reminder that a story needs to be as long as it needs to be told and not to second-guess the editor to unconsciously abridging.

Having said that, this story does have an interesting premise and you'll think twice about submitting to this kind of wire surgery in your own life.

GF Willmetts

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