Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Bitter Seeds Bitter Seeds
by Ian Tregillis

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Stephen Litten

A remote farm in post-WWI Germany receives abandoned children. It is run by Doktor von Westarp, a man exploring new science. Three Gypsy children are brought in one autumn day, but only two survive the first day. Meanwhile, in London, a convalescent war veteran spots some children pillaging his garden. One shows spirit when he confronts them. Enter heroes and villains. Fast forward to the Spanish Civil War, and the Nazis are road testing their latest experimental weapon: precursors of Nazi Supermen. But one of the Nazi advisors is having doubts. Our heroes and villains re-appear.

Tregillis has set up an interesting alternate history: Nazi Supermen. To balance the equation, the British have witches. The main protagonists are a motley bunch. Ray Marsh is an action hero, but he seems a little out of place. He is assisted by one of his few friends, Will Beauclerk, and both work for John Stephenson, the war veteran from scene two. Klaus and Gretel are the orphans from scene one, modified by von Westarp to pass through matter and be precognitive respectively, though Gretel’s precognition is not always on. Technology is required to harness their talents, indeed to even manifest them.

Tregillis has written a good story and the inside of the book assures me that it is the first of a trilogy. Being an alternate history, Tregillis has felt free to play with certain aspects and actions of the early part of WWII. Some of this was a little jarring. But he was writing for dramatic effect, not truth. But all stories hang on the actions of the main characters, and some of Tregillis’s characters just didn’t seem to be right. I found it interesting that Marsh was invariably Marsh, never Ray, but Beauclerk was always Will and never Beauclerk. An important psychological difference and I felt greater connection to Will than Marsh. On the other side, Klaus and Gretel obviously have a surname, but I’m damned if I learnt it. Of all the characters, Gretel is the most interesting perhaps because she is the most enigmatic. Certainly the scenes she was in were always the most interesting.

The book ends with the cliff-hanger for book two, The Coldest War. I’m not giving anything away by saying the Red Army has captured Berlin. It promises to be an intriguing book, provided the politics isn’t clumsy.

Bitter Seeds is a good read but not necessarily to everyone’s taste. If you like Alistair MacLean and diesel punk, this may be the book for you.

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