Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis This book could have been a story arc in a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. In fact, I'm thinking that could be why I liked this book so much. You have British warlocks versus Nazi Germany's engineered super soldiers in an alternate history of World War II.

At this point in the story, the U.S. is still out of the picture and the Soviet Union only gets involved later in the book. The British have discovered that Nazi scientists have been developed a technology to create a group of "supermen" -- there's a guy who can manipulate fire, a woman who can turn invisible, another dude who can walk through solid matter, etc. The British know they're screwed unless they come up with something fast, so they end up recruiting a bunch of their warlocks to counter the enemy.

But the story is a lot darker than it sounds, or at least that's how I felt. There are parts that were really emotionally disturbing and/or upsetting to me; the whole book just has this heavy, gloomy vibe surrounding it, which isn't uncommon for books that explore the theme of whether the ends justify the means -- because there's a catch to the warlocks' power. Apparently, it comes only from a group of omnipotent extra-planar beings called the Eidolons, demon-like creatures who demand a "blood price" for their services.

Not to mention that the book's main antagonist, the Nazi's super-soldier pre-cog named Gretel is one crazy scary bitch. She's even crazier and scarier than the Nazi's mad scientist. The people on her own side are afraid of her. Heck, her own brother thinks she's nutters. And yet, her personality is handled just subtly enough so the reader doesn't simply brush her off as just another cookie-cutter psycho supervillain. Personally, I found her fascinating in a creepy, discomforting sort of way, because you're left wondering what could anyone with the perfect ability to see the future and manipulate events possibly have planned for the world? It hurts my head just to work out the paradoxes, and quite frankly I don't really want to think about it at all.

Like I said, there were parts of this book that really disturbed and upset me, but not in the way that would make me want to put it down. Most of the time, it was the penetrating feeling of dread that hit me as I was reading, the anticipation of impending disaster or of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's a good, suspenseful fear, and I suppose it speaks well of the author that he was able to make me feel this way, because it doesn't normally happen unless I get emotionally invested in the story or the characters.

I don't want to make this book sound all doom and gloom, though. It's beautifully written and Ian Tregillis has clearly done his homework on the historical period. Despite the occult paranormal and science fiction elements, you get a highly realistic sense of the war setting. The main characters are also very well done; we see the story play out through three main narratives -- Marsh the British agent, Will the warlock, and Klaus the Nazi super soldier -- and between them I got a pretty clear picture of what's happening on all sides.

It's probably true that the ideas in this novel aren't completely original; you can probably recognize elements of them from other works, but the way Tregillis has mashed them together and the context he uses made this a really intriguing read. I'm really looking forward to picking up the rest of the series if it means I'll be getting more of that good stuff.

Science fiction fans with an inclination towards alternate history should definitely check this out, especially if you have an interest in the WWII era.