Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregillis

You definitely can’t fault bitter seeds on a sentence by sentence level. From the opening to the finish this book is overflowing with beautifully crafted imagery and interestingly worded lines. Nor can you fault the plot. It’s world war 2. The nazi’s have engineered a team of soldiers with supernatural powers, while the British have enlisted a group of warlocks to broker deals with dark and terrible powers.

And you definitely can’t fault the characters! Will, Marsh and Klaus are well rounded, flawed and believable. Will, an upper class young man whose alcoholic grandfather forced him into a world of dark magic, is charming and genuinely funny. His character arc is the most tragic, as we watch him fight against becoming all the things he hated about his grandfather.

Street urchin turned spy Marsh is dark but will a concrete centre of nobility, he’s believably good at his work and more than a little bad ass. While he has no mercy for those on his level, and time again Marsh defends those weaker than he is. This instinct is handled quite subtlety, and it was an impressive piece of characterization. I also enjoyed the relationship he has with his boss/father figure. An impressive example of showing over telling.

And Klaus, while on the outside should be wholly unlikable, garners the reader’s sympathy through his tragic upbringing and love for his sister. What makes it worse is the guy clearly can’t see how abusive and awful his life has been, all he wants is to impress the man who inflicted much of the suffering upon him. It’s a clever way of making the reader actually care about what happens to a nazi character, without having to make them secretly all noble and good inside. His sister, who has see the future, is a more mysterious character. Tregillis takes full advantage of her abilities and it’s a lot of fun watching her be twenty steps ahead of everyone. He also wisely never lets us inside her head, making us view her through the eyes of others and thereby preserving her mystery.

So, prose, plot and characters can not be faulted. But sadly this book is really, fatally, let down by the pacing. It’s too short, for a start. The whole war is blitzed over in this relatively short volume. But that could have still worked, if it weren’t for Tregillis’s maddening habit of only showing us the aftershocks of events. None of the major decisions were made “on page-” we only ever saw the characters discussing things after they had been implemented. There are few action scenes, instead there are scenes where the characters deal with what has already happened. For example; we have one sentence of Marsh saying hello to a girl, and then the next scene he is in is their wedding. It’s very jarring.

These jumps in time also means that instead of smooth character progression the characters appear almost like new people each time we meet them, Will especially. Of course it’s a good thing when characters change- that’s what we want! But the whole point is for the reader to see it happening, not to jump from a to c with nothing inbetween. It keeps the characters at arms length, which is a shame because like I said they are very well crafted and it would have been easy to get really attached to them, which would have given the book’s ending a much bigger impact.

I think when you out the pros and the cons together what you're left with is a book that’s not bad, but not entirely good either. I think I will read the next one (even though the cover the new publisher has gone with lacks all the grace and charm of the original cover of Bitter Seeds, which is what drew me to the book in the first place), if only to see if Tregillis can bring his pacing up to the same level as everything else. 

I bought this book

1 comment:

  1. I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation.
    Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts.
    Heirloom seeds