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Bitter Seeds
by Ian Tregillis
$25.99, Tom Doherty Assoc., 352pp
Release Date: April 24, 2012
While this is Ian’s debut book, it is not his first published work.  I discovered him contributing to a trilogy in George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards universe some years earlier.  This story bears absolutely no resemblance to the Wild Cards series.  It’s deep, dark, and chilling in its plotting.  It is the first in a trilogy called the Milkweed Triptych.

This is an alternate history story where the US has not entered WWII and the British are desperate for an edge against the Nazi war machine.  The British spies have uncovered a super-secret Nazi project that might be producing super-soldiers.  But these are not the stereotypical super-soldiers; these are people with extraordinary abilities such as passing through walls or setting things on fire.  People who would make superb assassins or single-handedly disrupt an enemy’s advance.

England decides to resort to an ages-old pseudo-science-magic and use demons to attack Germany.  The knowledge of negotiating with these demons had been handed down from father to son and those who practiced the art were, by nature, extremely secretive.  But they found a willing participant in Will Beauclerk who helped track down the reclusive warlocks and even participate himself in the negotiations.  The problem for Will is the price of those negotiations.  Marsh is the spy who found the threads leading back to the Nazi project and even captured one of the subjects.  Although, it became something of a question as to whether he actually captured Gretel, the mad seer, or if she engineered the entire encounter. Gretel can see the future and the Nazis used her abilities to plan military strategy.  There’s actually more to her talent than that but no one has yet figured it out.

There are some very exciting scenes of the demons pushing back the Nazi advance and some chilling revelations of the negotiations that produced that cooperation.  There are a few hints of things to come that imply a breakdown of those negotiations but the author reserves that for the second book.  The end of the war is nigh but it will be the Soviets who subjugate Germany and the British are desperate to acquire or destroy all the research material of the German super-soldier project.  Marsh is partially successful; he highjacks all the printed research and the British are hopeful that the project’s subjects were all destroyed in a British raid.  But they can’t be sure.  It’s possible the Soviets might have captured some of the subjects or their equipment.

There is some superb character development with Will and Marsh and their friendship.  Gretel and her brother, Klaus, are also well-developed.  The plotting is excellent and tight.  I cannot find one single thing to criticize; this is excellent writing.  We should all be looking forward to more work from this writer.  ~~ Catherine Book

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