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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchill's wizards, indeed!
There's a trend recently for books about the backroom specialists whose genius helped win the war for the allies - see for instance Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945. I suppose this may have been triggered by revelations about Bletchley Park. It's matched, perhaps, by books about the achievements of wartime German science such as Hitler's...
Published on 26 Jun 2010 by D. Harris

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but ultimately likeable debut
1939. In the closing weeks of the Spanish Civil War, British intelligence agent Raybould Marsh is dispatched to meet an informant who claims to have vital information about some of Nazi Germany's top-secret weapons being field-tested in the conflict. The informant explodes in front of Marsh with no apparent cause. As the clock ticks down to war between Britain and...
Published on 24 Aug 2010 by A. Whitehead


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchill's wizards, indeed!, 26 Jun 2010
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
There's a trend recently for books about the backroom specialists whose genius helped win the war for the allies - see for instance Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945. I suppose this may have been triggered by revelations about Bletchley Park. It's matched, perhaps, by books about the achievements of wartime German science such as Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact.

Tregillis has cleverly blended these genres to produce an original fictional treatment of an alternate world where attempts to produce an army of German supermen (and women) meet their match in Britain's resort to warlockery, coordinated by a secret section in the Admiralty. This is an audacious concept which, on the whole, he pulls off very well. Magic is not without cost - the research efforts of the (real) enemies in the Second World War gave rise to technologies that still threaten us, as, in this book, do their fictional occult counterparts. I particularly liked the parallel developments in England and Germany - both of which start with the recruitment of needy children, that in England done in a much kindlier way than in Germany (at least, so it seems).

This is an entertaining, page turning story, which I have just had to sit down and finish, and I'd highly recommend it. I hope that more is to come from Tregillis.

I only had two quibbles with it. First (and I know I'm about to sound like a huffy pedant) though large parts of the book are set in England, the (American) author hasn't quite, as it were, "localised" things enough. As an English reader that bothered me slightly, but I had to think about the issue quite carefully. I admit (reluctantly) that I can't object to - for example - the use of "sidewalk" for "pavement" or to an idiom like "they turned left onto Shaftesbury" (dropping the "Avenue"). An American author describing events in Britain (or Germany, or Mars, for that matter) is going to use idioms familiar to him. Fine so far. But I think that a different standard applies where an author puts words into his characters' mouths and that he should - for example - take care not to use "gotten" for "got", or pay attention in some of the cases where the forms of verbs apparently differ (I never realised that this was actually the case, but when you see "teared" instead of "tore" you realise how tricky this stuff can get). Equally, I'm pretty sure that a wedding in London in the 1930s could not have taken place in a private garden (I don't think it would be legal to do that even now).

These are only tiny details, but they did - for me - undermine the overall (excellent) effect.

Secondly I was left slightly baffled by a couple of plot strands that seemed to go nowhere. Who was the strange figure with the beard and scar who turned up a at night and vanished into thin air? There was a lot made of him but I didn't understand who he was or what his point was. A loaded gun, on the wall, that was, in effect, never fired. I was also unclear about Gretel's motivation (I won't go into details as they would be spoilers). Maybe these are hooks for sequels - or perhaps I'm just being dim!

Anyway, to summarise, a wonderful book, it deserves to be read widely, I hope that more follow from this author (including, perhaps, a direct sequel?)

EDIT 6/1/12

Sequel is on its way - The Coldest War - with the third part to come after. Can't wait!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but ultimately likeable debut, 24 Aug 2010
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
1939. In the closing weeks of the Spanish Civil War, British intelligence agent Raybould Marsh is dispatched to meet an informant who claims to have vital information about some of Nazi Germany's top-secret weapons being field-tested in the conflict. The informant explodes in front of Marsh with no apparent cause. As the clock ticks down to war between Britain and Germany, it is discovered that Germany has developed technology that can turn certain, gifted individuals into super-beings, people who can turn invisible, manipulate fire or even predict the future.

Britain's fortunes in the war turn sour as the Germans seem to be constantly one step ahead of them, destroying the transports carrying out the evacuation of Dunkirk and striking down the radar towers that will be needed to protect the country from Luftwaffe bombing. But Britain is not completely unprotected, and the newly-formed Milkweed organisation has resources to call upon which dwarf even the powers of the German ubermensch. But these powers are not to be summoned lightly...

Bitter Seeds is Ian Tregillis' debut novel and is a brash, refreshing alt-history which sees Nazi superhumans and British warlocks battling to the death during WWII. It's a cool premise, generally well-handled with a large and complex story being effectively told through a small number of POV characters on both sides. However, if the story sounds too big to be contained within a single volume, you would be right. In an increasingly annoying trend in modern SFF publishing, Bitter Seeds is the first novel in a trilogy (dubbed The Milkweed Triptych) despite this fact not being mentioned anywhere on the cover or inside the book. The story doesn't come to an end or really any kind of conclusion, just screeches to a halt 350 pages in with a number of stories broken off mid-flow. The follow-up volumes will be entitled The Coldest War and Necessary Evil.

That out the way, Bitter Seeds works successfully on a number of levels. Characters are drawn pretty well, with British secret agent Raybould Marsh being an effective central character, driven by passion and rage, whilst his amateur magician friend, Will Beauclerk, makes a good foil for him. Will's story assumes greater importance as the novel proceeds, culminating in some shocking moments near the end of the book that hint that his role in the sequels will be very interesting indeed. The opposing characters, such as Klaus and his River Tam-like sister Gretel, are also intriguing characters, although the way Tregillis handles Gretel's potentially tension-destroying prescience (by making her a whimsical fruitcake who sometimes lets the Nazis lose battles due to the callings of A Higher Plan) seems to be dramatically unsatisfying, with Gretel working as a constant deus ex machina-in-residence, who may or may not defeat our heroes' plans at the whim of the author.

Elsewhere, Tregillis has done his homework, with WWII Britain described in convincing detail and atmosphere, even if the book's (relatively) slim page count means that some elements need to be skipped or drawn only in broad strokes. His alteration of history is well-conceived but is a little inconsistent: at first it appears that the Nazi superhumans will be providing explanations for real oddities in the war (like the ease with which the German armoured columns passed through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes Forest), but later the outcome and course of the war shifts very dramatically away from the historical, and in fact becomes credence-stretching by the time we get to the end of the novel. This is fair in that it reflects the tone and plot of the novel, as supernatural forces become increasingly prevalent in their impact on the world, but those who prefer their alt-history to be more closely tied to real events may be underwhelmed as the book deviates radically from established history by the end.

Tregillis has a nice way with words, particularly in descriptive prose, but this is inconsistent. Nice, flowing prose is replaced by a more prosaic, infodump-heavy mode with little forewarning, increasingly favouring the latter as the novel progresses. This is disappointing as Tregellis' writing is what lifts the book above more plot-driven WWII alt-histories by the likes of Harry Turtledove and John Birmingham, but as the book continues to unfold his prose becomes more ordinary and less engaging.

All of that said, the book is short, fast-paced and, for all its faults, remains something of a page-turner. It is the finely-judged character interrelationships, particularly the increasingly tense friendship between Raybould and Will and the fraught sibling relationship of Klaus and Gretel, which defines the novel and leaves the reader eager to read on into the next novel.

Bitter Seeds (***) fails to live up to its full potential, but remains an effective and readable debut novel. It is available now in the USA and on import in the UK.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good alternative history debut novel, 19 Sep 2012
I was lucky enough to find Bitter Seeds in Scotland at the house we were staying in on our vacation. Of course I grabbed the opportunity to read something that has been on my wishlist for ages!

It's a very good alternative history book although it's pretty dark and depressing and doesn't really have a happy ending. At times it reminded me Lightning by Dean Koontz, although the latter is written better.

I don't think there is only one main character in Bitter Seeds, it's much more complicated than that.

On British side there is Marsh, a secret agent, whose chance encounter with a strange gypsy woman with the wires from her head, starts the whole Milkweed project - a reconnaissance mission to find out what the Germans experiment with and how Brits can stop them. There is also Marsh's old friend, young warlock Will, whose aristocratic family passes the skill from father to one of his sons each generation.

From German side there are brother and sister, Klaus and Gretel. He is the invisible man, and she is a precog. And let me tell you something about Gretel. She is beautiful, clever, strange and very, very unhinged. She is perhaps a mastermind in Bitter Seeds, a catalyst for a lot of very tragic events, and in a way she is more terrifying than the evil German scientist who first starts the project that increases the strength of human will and turn children into X-men. She is more terrifying than The Indolans - universal magical entity who just want to destroy humanity but can't without the warlocks marking their way with our blood...

This is a dark book, violent and at the same time fitting to the whole topic of Second World War. The only happy end you'll get is the inevitable victory of the Allies, but the people involved into the project would never be normal again.

I especially felt sorry for Will, who destroyed himself, his psyche and his vitality, so Britain could win the war, and for Klaus who only wanted to protect his sister and for them both to survive.

Bitter Seeds is... well, a bitter, but very interesting debut novel. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not as much fun as I was expecting, 17 Aug 2013
By 
C. Jack "colinjack" (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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I was drawn to the book by the interesting plot and Cory Doctorow's "Mad English warlocks battling twisted Nazi psychics? Yes please, thank you." comment. I agree, yes please.

However the book was far grimmer than I'd expected and all the main characters are either sociopaths or are decent people driven to, and in turn destroyed by, horrendous actions. I think that's part of the point of the book, that the desire to win a war can drive people to terrible acts. However the fact that I didn't actually like any of the characters created a problem.

The plot itself was decent enough, it moved along at a decent rate until being let down by a typical trilogy non-ending, however its difficult to get too involved in a book where you dislike all of the characters so I'm not sure I'll bother with the rest of the series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay?, 20 Jun 2013
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I closed this book quiet bewildered and i'm not complaining about Mr. Tregillis imagination.Theres an abundance of scenes that gives me the creeps but then it's just the beginning of a story. Something is missing and would like it to fleshend out some more.
The cover on the otherhand is outstanding...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read, 3 May 2013
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Absolutely brilliant read, finished it in under three days, starting the second book as soon as I've posted this review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff, although not the cheeriest read, 5 Mar 2013
By 
James C. Foreman (Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
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I went through Bitter Seeds and its sequel, The Coldest War, in the space of a weekend: Tregillis has put together what was for me a compulsive page-turner.

The more I read of British realpolitik in the 20th century, the more I can be convinced that the Allies weren't a group of wonderful, clean people but were forced into all sorts of moral quandaries, whether battling the Nazis or the threat of a Communist future. It's therefore congruent with that view that Tregillis' two sides are both engaged in horrific activity, whether it's the British necromancers and the sacrifices they require, or the experiments to make literal Nazi supermen.

It's also interesting that (because of the turn of events in these books) the US is marginalised. You might almost think that this was the product of wishful thinking by an Englishman, except that Tregillis is American (which you'll notice from the occasional slips - sidewalk instead of pavement, the verb 'to table' meaning to put something aside, rather than bring it to the centre of discussion, and so on - these can be distracting, but the books aren't exactly riddled with them, and I noticed fewer and fewer as the book went on).

This is a gloomy read. Whereas Stross's The Atrocity Archives is quite light in tone, there's grim nastiness on almost every page of Bitter Seeds; if there's a continuum where you have clockwork-steampowered-Nazi zombies fighting teenage vixens in Sucker Punch, and then evil Nazis on the Moon in the Atrocity Archives, Bitter Seeds is quite a long way further over in the sad and miserable end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality alternate history read!, 31 July 2010
By 
Patrick St-Denis "editor of Pat's Fantasy Hot... (Laval, Quebec Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
For those of you who haven't been keeping track, Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds is the last book I was assigned to read by George R. R. Martin for losing our second NFL wager. GRRM has done pretty good by me since I lost that first bet, so I was actually looking forward to reading this book.

Here's the blurb:

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.

As a paranormal alternate history yarn, Ian Tregillis tinkers with the history of WWII and its genesis. The author takes us back to Spain during the Civil War, while the bulk of the action takes place in Great Britain and Germany. Tregillis has an eye for historical details, and his narrative truly makes the reader feel as if they're right there. His style is evocative without being too dense, and he managed to capture the essence of Spain, France, England, and Germany in a beautiful manner.

The only aspect of this novel which sort of kept nagging at me was the total absence of the pogroms and the entire Jewish angle of WWII. Considering just how important what came to be known as the Holocaust was and still echoes down the decades since the end of the war, it felt odd -- to say the least -- not to see a single mention of this atrocious genocide.

Other than that, however, Bitter Seeds makes for compulsive reading! The pace flows extremely well, and there is not a dull moment throughout. Following Marsh and the rest of those working on Operation Milkweed trying to puzzle out how to face and defeat the German superhuman soldiers was quite a treat. Another facet which I found appealing is that the author attempts to imbue the story with as much realism as possible, be it with the warlocks' magic (which takes a heavy toll and requires a blood price for every spell) or the supernatural abilities of von Westarp's children.

The narrative is broken down into a number of POVs, with the principals being that of Raybould Marsh, Klaus, and William Beauclerk. This allows readers to see events unfold through the eyes of both the Allies and the Nazi war efforts, as well as the warlocks' involvement. Still, as interesting as these points of view ultimately are, it's the enigmatic gypsy-born German seer Gretel who takes the cake as the most fascinating character of this book. I found myself looking forward to any scene featuring her and was seldom disappointed. Though Tregillis only offers us a glimpse of her psyche and her powers, the ending really makes me want to know what will occur next.

The blurb can be a little underwhelming, I know. But do give Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds a chance and you won't regret it. As things stand, in this house at least, it's the speculative fiction debut of the year.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre and not much fun, 27 Mar 2014
This book is definitely 'different' but wasn't as much fun, or as interesting, as I hoped it would be. I will give it 3 stars, mainly for an original premise. I won't bother seeking out the rest of the series though. Too many better more rewarding books to read.

It reads as fairly standard WWII spies versus the enemy type fiction, but the characterisation to me is too simplistic and cliched. There isn't enough fine detail in the writing and its a bit too 'Boys Own' for my liking. We just don't get to the real feelings and motivations, beyond some pretty broad brush stroke stuff.
The main premises are around German wonder-science on the one hand (the 'evil' X-men as mentioned in other reviews) and British 'dealing with Outsiders' Warlocks. Both these sides were actually poorly explained, and I was disappointed that the 'magic' side was just negotiating/buying services at an increasingly awful price that we were reluctantly willing to pay. The characters (German and British) were pretty much a standard set of stereotypes and the main hero the most disappointing of all, with nothing much to offer
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fast moving, well written page turner, 11 Jan 2014
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Ian Tregillis is an author I have only just discovered after reading favourable reviews of his more recent offering "Something More Than Night". When I learned of the premise of Bitter Seeds I bought into it immediately. Nazi Supermen Vs English Warlocks is a great concept and one that Tregills brings to the page with panache. The three main POV characters are drawn well enough and Tregillis does a decent job of not rendering the British as clean cut, righteous heroes firmly on the side of good, so much so in fact I was surprised to find that the German, Klaus, became my favourite character as the story progressed.

The book unfolds over a 2 and a half year period, during which the established history of WW2 is turned on its head and a lot happens to the characters on the page. The biggest issue I had with the story was related to the magic system. The warlocks 'magic' stems from their negotiations with supernatural creatures known as Eidolon's. These creatures facilitate the warlocks abilities, but at a price - a price which I was surprised to read that our Warlock POV character was willing to pay quite readily. We learn of how this affects him after the fact but the ease with which he agrees to it unsettled me a little.

For the most part the 'mundane' Nazi's are the stereotypical characters we are used to seeing in movies. Mad Doctors, and ruthless officers. Tregillis doesn't really dwell too much on those however and does a good job of making us rootl for Klaus and his sister Gretel who are actually Roma characters brought into the 'Supermen' program at young age and who are therefore subject to Nazi prejudice themselves since they do not represent Hitlers Ayrian ideal.

Overall the book is a satisfying page turner and I am looking forward to reading the sequel which is winging its way to me right now....
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Bitter Seeds
Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (Hardcover - 3 May 2010)
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