Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregillis
The last time I reviewed a book which smashed together the second world war and magic I was not very polite about it. I can say far nicer things about this one. To start with, the cover art is better. It's still not great, but it is at least better. It also has sympathetic characters with real relationships and the story makes sense. Well, it makes as much sense as any story involving magic can.
The broad outline is that Evil Nazis created one of the Wunderwaffen before the war, by using training and electricity to create a handful of super-soldiers who have magical abilities. They all have different abilities, and look suspiciously like a comic book superhero team: there's the one who is super-strong, the one who burns things, the seer etc. The war goes badly for the good guys who have to, in turn, use magic to defend Britain. In a very nice twist which differentiates this from just about every other story involving magic, magic is not just something that some people can do like running fast or being good at drawing. It has costs. Very serious costs, which we see eating away at characters' consciences, bodies, and even sanity.
I do have a few bones to pick though. The book suffers from American Author Syndrome. Much of it is set in London, but he gets enough little details wrong to be very jarring. In particular there is the mortal sin of not using road names properly: a character talks of "Shaftesbury" and not Shaftesbury Avenue, and of "Trafalgar" but not Trafalgar Square. If the people speaking were Yankees this would be acceptable - it's an error that they make in real life. But they're not. These characters and English and German, both of whom speak of their streets by their full names - and Germans speaking English carry this excellent habit over into the foreign tongue.
I also have a problem with the inconsistent treatment of the seer's abilities, and what is done with them.
She is shown as being able to foretell the future, but somehow this also manages to let her know what the Chain Home radar stations are. Her intelligence is passed to the Luftwaffe, who promptly destroy them, thus winning the Battle of Britain, hence the British use of magic to defend the isles. But this is all rubbish. In reality the Germans had some idea what Chain Home was, and they did try to destroy it. They failed, because the open lattice structures were just about impossible to destroy using 1940 era bombs and bombing accuracy. And even if they had succeeded, Chain Home was but a small part of the air defence system. It's loss would not have lost the battle.
However, these are minor matters, the latter being necessary to set up the great struggle between evil and ... good corrupted into evil. I enjoyed it immensely, and will be reading the two sequels which deal with the cold war, in which the Soviets have captured the German super-soldiers and didn't stop at the Elbe but carried on to the North Sea.