Ian Tregillis's stellar debut novel Bitter Seeds hits shelves today. It's a beautifully written and thoroughly researched alternate WWII history, the twist being that a mad German scientist has discovered a way to endow a group of sociopaths — raised from WWI orphans — with X-Men-like powers that have made the Wehrmacht unstoppable.
To counter this, a desperate Great Britain establishes a secret division composed of a tiny number of British warlocks — shades of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — men who use speech in a mystical Ur-language, accompanied by blood sacrifice, to call up vast, brutal elemental forces. These forces, the Eidolons, loathe humanity and tremble in barely restrained rage at the stain we spread on the universe, but they can be bargained with, blood traded for elemental magick.
Tregillis writes and plots beautifully. The characters — twisted German psychics, bitter warlocks, the brutal calculators of the British intelligence apparat — are complex, textured, surprising. The physical descriptions are wonderful. And the plot is relentless, a driving adventure story with intrigue, battle, sacrifice, and betrayal.
I had the extreme pleasure of teaching Ian Tregillis at the Clarion Workshop some years ago, and he was one of my most promising students, a standout in a year of standout writers. So I am unsurprised — but totally delighted — to find myself reading such a tremendous debut from him. This is the first volume of the Milkweed Triptych, and I'm extremely eager to read the rest.