Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
|Book Name:||Bitter Seeds|
|Publisher(s):||Tor Books (US) / Orbit (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Superheroes / Science Fiction|
|Release Date:||April 13, 2010 (US) / July 12, 2012 (UK)|
It’s not often a book comes along that is so refreshingly different as Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds. Starting with the simple thought of, “What if Superheroes and magic existed in World War 2?”, he’s created a complex tale that is thought-provoking as it is exciting. Far more than just the classic battle between good and evil, it gets into the nitty-gritty of the realities of war. It shows the blood on everyone’s hands and the heavy price, not just of victory, but of simply trying to stay in the fight.
Dr. Von Westarp, a Nazi mad scientist, creates genetically-enhanced, battery-powered super-humans who he controls through fear and abuse. Each of his “children” has a unique power including flying, telekinesis, invisibility and pyromancy. Among these new super-humans are Klaus, who has the ability to walk through walls, and his twin sister Gretel, who can foretell the future. It’s amazing how Tregillis takes some pretty tame powers and twists them in a beautifully dark way to make each of the super-humans uniquely deadly.
Klaus provides our point of view from the Nazi perspective and, instead of portraying him and the others as evil beings, Tregillis shows the very human sides of the super-soldiers. Klaus is just trying to do his best to look after himself and his sister while doing his duty, very much a victim despite what he is asked to do.
However, the same cannot be said for Gretel who is a true sociopath. The good doctor thinks she is using her precognitive skills to help the Nazi war machine but it soon becomes apparent she has her own agenda. Klaus knows how dangerous Gretel is but he’s loyal to his sister despite how much she scares him (and us).
She has a long-term plan and we are only seeing the start of her manipulations. The British, for instance, become aware of the super-humans only because Gretel allows herself to be seen. One cannot count the number of deaths she is responsible for as she begins her mad journey towards who knows what ends. As the world burns, it’s terrifying to think of what she aims to create from its ashes and her total emotional detachment from the world around her makes her a truly great villain.
On the British side is Raybould Marsh, a secret agent. He’s more of your typical James Bond-type, a brawler more than a thinker who just wants to beat the Jerries. He’s all hot emotion in contrast to Gretel’s ice-cold calculations and, as a result, the most easily manipulated out of everyone. He’s also the one with the most to lose as he has a wife and family to protect and he has no super-powers of his own to use. However, he does know someone who does. He recruits his old school friend, William Beauclerk to stem the Nazi advance.
Perhaps the most innocent of all the characters, Beauclerk is the aristocratic son of an alcoholic Warlock. Despite Marsh’s urgings, he’s reluctant initially to get involved because he knows how dangerous using magic can be. In fact, it’s not really magic at all. The warlocks borrow power from aliens who live outside time and space called the Eidolons and they want blood in payment for their help.
Eventually Beauclerk signs up to help and, at first, it’s exciting. He believes he is helping the greater good. But, as the blood price required increases as the British demand more and more help from the Eidolons, Beauclerk descends into drunkenness and drug addiction as a way of numbing his conscience at what he has to do. It’s heart-breaking to see such a decent man be put through the ringer and, even when he manages to claw his way back up from the depths of hell, we all know it won’t be a long respite.
Bitter Seeds is the sort of book that stays with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading it. On one level it’s got everything – big battles, adventure, intrigue, magic, super-humans, spies and demons set against a world at war. But as you go deeper, and really starting thinking about Gretel’s plans, it gets very disturbing. Everything happens because she wants it to and has planned it down to the second. Every death, every hard-fought victory is a small step simply towards Gretel achieving her aims.
Can people change their fates? Are they masters of their own destinies or are they at the mercy of a higher power with just the illusion of free-will? These are the questions that run through your mind as you turn each page and linger with you afterwards. Bitter Seeds is a dark tale and one well worth exploring.