Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

April 2010
ISBN 978-0-76531-250-2
352 Pages
Author Web site:


World War II is one of the most widely used historical periods in any genre, including Science Fiction.  Ian Tregillis, a veteran short story writer, uses this setting to depict a familiar war fought with arcane weaponry and soldiers.  The Nazis have bred, for all intents and purposes, supervillains similar to the Fantastic Four, the X-Men or even the Justice League.  These superpowered beings are fully under the control of the Nazis and specifically Herr Doktor von Westarp, the man who used his twisted science to genetically engineer these super soldiers.  The English have, through knowledge and lore passed down over several generations, access t o the Eidolons, beings outside of time and space which essentially grant the allies the power of dark magic. 

Our point characters on the English side are Will and Marsh, two spies who travel through the mainland to gather intelligence on their enemies.  When a strange girl with tubes ticking out of her head is noticed, the action stakes are raised. 

On the Nazi side, and Tregillis deserves much credit for this, is the sympathetic character of Klaus – a young man granted the power to phase through solid substances.  Klaus is a naïve young man whose greatest concern is for his sister Gretel, whose power is to see the future.  Not only does Tregillis lend a great deal of sympathy to these two characters, the Nazis don’t come across as the purely evil cardboard cut outs they’ve been portrayed as throughout much of 20th/21st Century Fiction.  Perhaps this is because the means of weaponry employed by the British have just as dire connotations upon their use – that is, a heavy price is exacted when dealing with the Eidolons.

I’ve not read Tregillis’s short fiction, so this is my first exposure to any of his work and I am impressed.  Though I’m not averse to Alternate History and enjoy it, I don’t typically seek it out.  Tregills’s novel worked on many levels, partially for the characters, partly for the iconic setting, partly for the thrilling plot, and wholly for the combination of all of these elements into a cohesive entertaining story..

Marsh falls in love, marries hand has a child. Here Tregillis depicts the high emotions very nicely in contrast to the backdrop of war torn England with prose that is both readable, and at times elegant. There is a great balance between the plot, characters and setting that is all the more impressively achieved considering this is Tregillis’s first novel.  To be fair, Tregillis did have great experience in penning installments in George R.R. Martin’s popular Wild Cards series, so he had an impressive group of peers with which to set a high bar for his writing. Perhaps his experience writing about metahumans in the Wild Cards setting had some influence on Tregillis use of metahumans as a plot element.

This is the first installment of what’s being called the Milkweed Tryptich – after the secret British organization who commune with the Eidolons. WWII is far from over by novel’s end, and in fact, plot notes towards the end of the novel point to a several developments that both hang in great anticipation and great dread for the characters.  The promise of the expanding war, at least as it played out in the ‘real world,’ add to the level of anticipation for the second volume.

All told, Tregillis takes some familiar things – World War II, Metahumans (a.k.a super heroes/super villains), spy fiction, dark magic, secret societies, horror, Science Fiction – and weaves a damned entertaining novel.  If Bitter Seeds is any indication of what’s to come, then Tregillis will have a fertile writing career.  The novel receives my highest recommendations and will likely be very close to the top of my best of 2010 list.

© 2010 Rob H. Bedford

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