Bitter Seeds (The Milkweed Triptych) by Ian Tregillis

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Bitter Seeds (The Milkweed Triptych) by Ian Tregillis

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A war action thriller dipped in a combative fantasy. If I didn't know better I'd think that Ian Tregillis was the love child of Alistair Maclean, Ira Levin, Stephen Baxter and Ian Irvine and the cover blurb An unnatural power, An unstoppable force would appear to be a comment on his career.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356501697

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It's 1939 and Lt Commander Raybould 'Pip' Marsh of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service travels to Portugal to smuggle out Krasnopolsky, a fascist with a secret. However things don't go to plan. Krasnopolsky nerves are justified as, in the time it takes to order drinks, he spontaneously combusts. Marsh is too late to extinguish him but manages to retrieve Krasnopolsky's case to take back home. He finds the surprises keep on coming: it contains film footage of people becoming 'insubstantial' whilst walking through walls, others absorbing bullets and some bursting into flames with no apparent side-effects (unlike poor Mr Krasnopolsky). Marsh realises the Nazis' unconventional weapons need an unconventional response and so calls on Lord William Beauclerk who happens to be a warlock. Operation Milkweed is on so let other-worldly battle commence.

Ian Tregillis is an American who consorts with writers, scientists and other unsavoury types and, let's be honest, it's paid off incredibly well. Bitter Seeds is not only the author's first novel; it's the first of a 'triptych' (trilogy to the rest of us). Why is this noteworthy? First books in series are generally 'set up' books where possible story time is diverted to character/setting introductions and are therefore often not as good as those that follow. E.g. Benedict Jacka's Fated and Jim Butcher's Furies of Calderon are both first books that get ultimately excellent series off to a shaky start. Now, using this theory, Bitter Seeds is so good already, how great will the next two be? (No pressure on the author there at all!)

The story rips along at a rate that not only drags you to the edge of your seat but almost knocks you out of it as action scene follows revelation follows supernatural happening. We being reading thinking we know how it will end; after all, this is our history. Then gradually, in a Stephen Baxter's Time's Tapestry Series way, historical timelines deviate from any recognisable sequence and we often have no idea what's ahead. That's not all that deviates. Some of the vocabulary isn't 1940s English but the adventure's so intense that you'll just raise an eyebrow and carry on. You may even smile at the use of words like 'minger' as you hurtle past to the next page.

There are shades of Nazi X-Men as Klaus (the insubstantial), Reinhardt (the flaming one) and Gretel (who foretells the future, when she feels like it) stand out amongst the fruit of Dr von Westarp's experimentation. (Yes, I know – an evil scientist, but don't let that put you off as, apart from him, this is a book of fleshed out characters rather than flat comic book heroes.)

Klaus has a conscience and issues whilst Gretel has her own agenda. Even at the end of the first book we have no idea what she's up to. Ian Tregillis has said that she was a challenge to write as some of her comments in the first novel relate to moments in the third. Gretel's gift means her random reactions and weird comments make no sense at all till the 'Aaaah!' moment. The story alone is intriguing but she adds an additional layer and I warmed to her totally. Yes, I, a bit of a lefty, admit it: my favourite character is a Nazi. Indeed, this is proper war where there's no absolute good or absolute evil (Reinhardt and the doctor excluded). Not even Pip or Will remain as they began. Their morals shift as war and its effects shape them. Poor Will begins as someone wanting to use his powers for good but is unaware of the collateral damage he'll wreak by colluding with Eidolons.

So what next? The Coldest War, the second of the Milkweed triptych, arrives in February 2013. However if you're reading this in the US, you'll be pleased to hear it already exists and I'm trying to fight the jealousy.

A special thank you to Orbit for sending us a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this destined classic and would like to read a current classic 'what if?' World War II thriller, we suggest Ira Levin.

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