Literature / Bitter Seeds
Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
Habakkuk 1:5 (KJV)
The novel Bitter Seeds
by Ian Tregillis depicts an Alternate History
World War II where a Nazi Mad Scientist
figures out how to turn children into powerful psychic soldiers. As a result, the Nazis are indisputably winning the war. A clever British spy witnesses one of these kids doing their thing and realizes his countrymen need a paranormal equalizer of their own. Fortuitously, his best and oldest friend Lord William Beauclerk knows a thing or two about the supernatural
and is willing to bleed
for king and country. Thus, the Milkweed project is born and things then proceed to get worse.
The first book of The Milkweed Triptych
. Followed by The Coldest War
Bitter Seeds provides examples of the following tropes
- Awesome, but Impractical: The Nazis in charge of the psychics project are more focused on the more flashy psychics, than they do on the more subtle ones despite having a wider range of applications. Best exemplified when needing to eliminate a defector in a public area, instead of sending intangible Klaus, they send out the pyrokinetic Reinhardt to make the defector spontanously combust in the middle of a crowded hotelbar, despite it being a covert mission.
- Black and Gray Morality: Granted, they're fighting Nazis but still, the British do some exceedingly evil things in the name of king and country.
- The author explicitly described the book as "a novel in which good people do bad things".
- Interestingly while the Nazis are pretty much as bad, even if you only talk about the two side's respective supernatural weapons program. The British atrocities get more screen time than their Nazi counterparts.
- Blood Magic - required to summon the Eidolons. Beyond that, it takes more and more blood to summon them each subsequent time.
- Body Horror: You get psychic powers. Great! Too bad you have to have giant WWII-era batteries wired directly into your brain to fuel them.
- Brother–Sister Team: Subverted with Gretel and Klaus; thanks to her precognition, he's always responding to her gambits.
- The Chessmaster: Gretel. A sociopath with perfect precognition.
- Conditional Powers: The kids' powers only work as long as their batteries are charged.
- Creepy Child: All the Nazi psychic children but Gretel is creepy even to the other Tyke Bombs. She even was one before she was taken in by Doctor von Westarp.
- Cool vs. Awesome: Battery-powered Nazi psychics vs British warlocks summoning Eldritch Abominations.
- Downer Ending: The book ends with Marsh's wife pregnant with an unholy child, and the British government taking children and putting them in total isolation to turn them into warlocks.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Eidolons. They're so alien that they find our existence impossible and very much want to wipe us out.
- Pixies, designed by the British to knock out the batteries.
- In the short story "What Doctor Gottlieb Saw" Gretel creates an improvised EMP device by sabotaging a diesel generator.
- Fingore: When Will mucks up a negotiation, Marsh has to cut off one of his fingers with garden shears to appease the Eidolons.
- Before the events of the novel, Klaus had his fingertips stuck inside a granite wall when he lost concentration, and had to have them amputated with a bone saw.
- For Want of a Nail: Happens literally in "What Doctor Gottlieb Saw" — Gretel arranges a fatal accident and proves her abilities as a seer making her indispensible to the Nazis, all by arranging for a single nail to end up inside a generator.
- Gentleman Wizard: Lord William Beauclerk
- Ghostapo: The Götterelektrongruppe started out as Thule Society occult hogwash, then Mad Scientist Doctor Von Westarp applied the scientific method to things and got his battery-operated psykers.
- Got Volunteered: After Klaus breaks Gretel out of the Admiralty, the British kill two birds with one stone by recruiting everyone who saw him use his supernatural powers into the new section set up to combat them, which at the time was short of recruits.
- Heroic Willpower: How supermen's powers function.
- Innocent Flower Girl: Subverted; Gretel likes to gather wildflowers, but it's only a sociopathic facade.
- Intangible Man: Klaus' Willenskräfte. Can only use it as long as he can hold his breath but doesn't have to worry about falling through the floor.
- I Love the Dead: Reinhardt is so obsessed with Heike he has sex with her corpse after she is Driven to Suicide.
- Mind over Matter: Kammler is an extremely powerful (and extremely brain-damaged) telekinetic.
- Mundane Utility: Reinhardt comes up with a way to make roads in the desert with his pyrokinesis. It works — barely. The groups efforts are more effective when clearing a path through snowfields and the Ardennes forest.
- One Person, One Power: Each child gets one power and one power only.
- Playing with Fire: Reinhardt is a mean, bullying pyrokinetic.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: The means by which the Enochian lexicon was derived.
- Prophecy Twist: Gretel predicts that Reinhardt will get everything he wants. He gets Heike (after she's dead), and gets to use his powers in a glorious Last Stand ("Poor junkman.").
- Psychic Powers: The Willenskräfte wielded by the children. Pyrokinesis, telekinesis, phase-shifting, invisibility and, scariest of all, decades-range precognition.
- Race Against the Clock: Doctor Gottlieb has one day to prove that a test subject's death wasn't accidental (the time it takes for Doctor Von Westarp to return from Berlin) or he'll be executed as The Scapegoat.
- Spy Fiction: Of the Stale Beer variety.
- Summon Magic: the British Warlocks can summon the Eidolons. Then the negotiations begin.