Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: Bitter Seeds

Bitter Seeds was one of those books that came out a couple of years ago and got a whole bunch of really great reviews.  It went on my list of books to read in the near future, and eventually I got my grimy mitts on it.  Sure, I'm a couple years late to the party, but I'll be damned if Bitter Seeds isn't one hell of a party.

Set during the World War II era, Bitter Seeds follows Raybould Marsh, a British Spy who, while on a mission in Spain, spots a German woman who appears to have wires going into her head.  Before too long, the German Blitzkreig is in full swing, and many of the German victories have been aided by special soldiers who have strange and powerful abilities.  These special soldiers are WWI orphans and the products of a decades-spanning mad science experiment by a deranged Nazi scientist. This scientist has given the orphans such abilities as fire starting, super strength, intangibility, invisibility, and precognition.

With the help of some stolen intelligence, Marsh and the Britons discover the existence of these super soldiers who are tilting the scales of war in Germany's favor. In order to combat these mad-science soldiers, Marsh calls upon an old college friend, a magic-wielding aristocrat, who in turn enlists other sorcerers to the cause.  With total Nazi domination threatening the entire European/Asian land mass, the British marshal their magical forces to stave off the invasion.  However, both sides might just be mere pawns in a large scale game being manipulated by Gretel, the German precognitive.

To say that I was impressed by this debut is putting it very lightly.  Sure, I had heard lots of high praise about this book, but even with raised expectations, I was still quite impressed.  Even though it is easy to paint every Nazi character in every work of fiction as a pure baddie through and through, I felt that Tregillis did a great job of developing his German characters so that they were quite compelling and believable, and not just caricatures of the typical "evil Nazi" prototype bad-guy.

In fact, I would easily say that I found the German characters, particularly the altered-by-mad-science ones to be the most interesting and fun to read characters in the book.  That being said, all the characters that populate this book are quite well done.  The character arcs in this novel are quite good, and it was interesting to see how much the events of the story changed the characters.  

The most notable character is the German pre-cog, Gretel.  Simply put, she is one of the most fascinating and mysterious characters I've ever come across.  There is certainly more than meets the eye with this woman, and I, (along with many of the characters in the book), don't really know what game she is playing, but I'm pretty well convinced that the results wont be pretty.  

I think there is a tendency among fantasy readers to always be looking for the "next best thing".  As a result, lots of fantasy debuts, and some debut authors, get far more attention than their work warrants, and often far more attention than established authors get.  This is one of those strange phenomenons I don't really care for, or totally understand.  However... this is a really flippin' great debut!  Treggillis is full of cool, new ideas, his plot is sharp, with very few slow points or spots where my interest waned, and as I said before, his characters are great.  

It's not so often that I read the first book in a series and come out the other end super excited for the next installment, but this is certainly one of those times.  Tregillis has a great start to what looks like a great fantasy series.  If you haven't yet had the chance to read this one, I highly recommend you to remedy that situation immediately.  

Grade: A

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