On 23rd October, 1920, three children found their destiny.
A Gypsy girl taken into the ‘care’ of a German doctor, a stepping stone in his vision of a road to humanity’s greatness. A young boy searching for food in a garden, among the wartime rationing in London. Another, a young second son of an English Duke, finally forced by his Grandfather into the dark and fiery heritage of his family.
The Second World War will bring them together. Twenty-odd years later, when the fire of World War II burns across Europe, and an ascending German Reich uses the terrifying powers of the foundlings experimented on by the enigmatic German Doctor, holding powers that stem from their transformed bodies unnaturally and beyond apparent physical laws. The young girl is now an Oracle, one who looks into the future and knows what awaits, and works it to her ends without any responsibility or regard for others of her kind. To stop her, an agent of the Crown will have to ally with a Warlock, the keeper of secrets that may mean an end to the Universe. But luck is never to be depended on if you will contend against a Seer, and every victory may contain bitter seeds of dust and ashes…
Ian Tregillis’s Bitter Seeds is a work of science-fiction, with a feeling of secret histories mixed in it, rife as it is with mentions of Nazi super-science and beings of otherworldly power. For all that, though, its success lies in prose and plot, and the interplay of the complexly drawn characters. The three main protagonists are carefully woven, strand by strand, so that in the end the reader is compelled to follow them along, caught in their wake. The young thief, Marsh, becomes a Secret Agent of the Crown, falls all over Europe, even into the heart of enemy territory; faces enemies human and otherwise, even falls in love – he is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the story. The Duke’s son, William the Warlock, is also written in a style that evokes our sympathy, especially near the end of the novel. The secondary characters are also powerful in their own ways, especially Liv and Kraus. But in the end, the Gypsy Seer is the one that stays with the reader the longest. An evil so indifferent to the ripples in the world that the common man would call his life – it is conceivable, but rarely has speculative fiction seen its kind. Throughout the pages resonates a feeling – that this is conceit, deception, manipulation – every little gesture, every word uttered serve the goal of the spider at the center of the web.
And finally, after wins and losses and when hope is proven to be a mirage, her shadow whispers in the reader’s ear – “incoming”!