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Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis I’m sad to tell you that this book was not for me. I’m unabashedly fickle and self-centered with my star ratings, so I have to give this book only three stars, when objectively it’s probably a four-star book. Ian Tregillis is a GR author and friend of our beloved Ceridwen and Sock Puppet. Sock Puppet even designed Mr. Tregillis’s beautiful website. So what I’m telling you is that this book is objectively awesome, and you should read it, even though it’s not my personal bag of treats. Also, what beautiful cover art, right?

If I were in a movie, I would want to be the jargon-talking tech guy. You know that’s why Morgan Freeman wanted to be in the new Batmans – he gets to say things like, “Here it is: the nomex survival suit for advanced infantry. Kevlar bi-weave, reinforced joints . . .” and later, “Memory fabric- dual layer polymers with variable alignment molecules. Flexible ordinarily, but put a current through it . . .” So badass. And who even cares if it means anything? This book is full of stuff like that. It’s page after page of things you’d want to say if you were a sidekick in a movie. And not just the dialogue either - the descriptions are all pretty badass, too, even if I don’t really get what some of them mean at first glance. Here are a couple of examples:

Reinhardt strode across the munitions range while two technicians readied the bipod of an MG 34 machine rifle. He cloaked himself in flames and motioned for them to begin.

Reinhardt stood at attention, head high and chin thrust out, unfazed by the ammunition vaporizing against his chest. The bullets disappeared as violet coruscations within a man-shaped corona of blue fire.


And so the ravens stayed, and watched.

Twined contrails traced sigils in the bright blue sky over the island. The attackers swarmed around the lattice masts dotting the coast like honeybees drawn to sunflowers. One by one, the towers fell, rendering the defenders blind. It was as though their eyes had been plucked out in homage to some ancient myth.

Those are just examples that I randomly picked flipping through the book. It would all be fun to read out loud.

This story is an alternate history of WWII, describing the war through fantastical, scientific-magical events in England and Germany. Unfortunately, I think I missed a lot of the WWII references and manipulations because I don’t know much detail about the actual war and its battles. I think it would be completely valid to say that I can’t properly appreciate this book because of that.

I only have two actual criticisms of the book, and I hope they don’t get into your head if you decide to read it. Especially if sci-fi and WWII are some of your raisons d’etre, you should definitely purchase this book at a local retailer, regardless of what I have to say. In general, I’d call it a grown-up, disillusioned take on the themes of A Wrinkle in Time, and I mean that description as an unqualified compliment. But, now for the criticisms.

First, the tech-specific sidekick speak was fun, and creative, and even beautiful at times, but it added to this general sense I had that all of the characters were sidekicks, and there was no real protagonist or antagonist in the story. There might have been four anti-heroes who were the protagonists, but they all match up to some pretty stock sidekick characters, so it’s difficult for me to think of one as central or of them as a central group. Those four characters were the loveable misanthrope, Cassandra, the henchman, and the guy who says, “When I get out of this war, imma go home and kiss my wife,” right before a bomb hits him. They’re good stock characters, and the touches Tergillis put on them were all pretty sweet. Like, the misanthrope was also a wizard, and Cassandra was and evil plotter, but well respected. Smart. But the purpose those characters usually serve in a story is to foster a sense of foreboding or to be expendable. Ultimately, using these characters, for me, created a gloom over the entire story, like the ubiquitous ravens circling over anticipated carrion.

FYI, I googled “misanthrope” because I was suddenly not sure if that was what I meant, and this amazing blog came up. I thought you would want to know.

Second, it is very likely that the sense of impending doom was purposeful, but for me it made it so that when tragedy did occur in the story I felt so thoroughly warned that I had no emotional connection to the actual event. Every tragedy or shock came with very clear and straightforward foreshadowing, and rather than create suspense, this only served to tell me not to get emotionally involved. That might have been a very personal reaction to the story or it might have been a very conscious choice on the part of Tregillis, but it makes me uneasy. And that’s not spoiling the story to say that, I don’t think, because it was my reaction from first being introduced to the characters and doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually happens to them. I felt detached.

One last thing that makes me feel uncomfortable isn’t a criticism, but just something I have to ask about: am I supposed to know who the appearing/disappearing dude is? Why was he appearing and disappearing? Not knowing this makes me feel like either I missed something vital to this entire story or the book was actually an episode of LOST, and I’m supposed to wait for the sequel. I really hope the answer is behind door number one.

Some books I bump up a star because of personal taste; this is one I bumped down a star for that reason. I feel like it’s a problem that I referred to this book as sci-fi and am going to do so again, when really it’s more of a magical realism/steampunk/alternative history/war memoir, but it’s easier that way. I’m bad at reading good sci-fi and fantasy because I’m really good at suspending disbelief, but if you ever start to explain to me why I should suspend disbelief, I automatically disbelieve you. If you say to me, “God created the world,” or “An explosion created the world,” I’m there. But if you try to prove to me why it’s only logical that one or another happened because of molecules or gamma rays or other phlebotinum, I not only don’t believe you, I’ve started trying to lawyer you, and I’ve probably gotten distracted from what you’re actually telling me. That’s not how you should read good sci-fi or fantasy. You should be happy that the author created reasons and systems for the fantastical elements. It’s a curse.

So, read this book. It’s new and fresh and smart. Don’t get distracted by my problem with well-explained phlebotinum because you’d be missing out on some beautiful writing.