The Executioness

When I heard that Tobias S. Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi had created a shared world in which both authors would write a novella, I knew I wanted to be in on this. Partly because both are talented writers, and partly out of curiosity to see what sort of world they would come up with. So when I received a package from Subterranean Press containing both novellas, they immediately ended up on the top of my "books to read" pile.

Here's the blurb for the shared world:

Magic has a price. But someone else will pay.

Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts, sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and threatening a poisonous sleep. It sprouts in tilled fields and in neighbors’ roof beams, thrusts up from between street cobbles, and bursts forth from sacks of powdered spice. A bit of magic, and bramble follows. A little at first, and then more— until whole cities are dragged down under tangling vines and empires lie dead, ruins choked by bramble forest. Monuments to people who loved magic too much.

In paired novellas, award-winning authors Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi explore a shared world where magic is forbidden and its use is rewarded with the axe. A world of glittering memories and a desperate present, where everyone uses a little magic, and someone else always pays the price.

And here's the blurb for the novella:

Magic has a price.

In Khaim, that price is your head if you’re found using it. For the use of magic comes with a side effect: it creates bramble. The bramble is a creeping, choking menace that has covered majestic ancient cities, and felled civilizations. In order to prevent the spread of the bramble, many lose their heads to the cloaked executioners of Khaim.

Tana is one of these executioners, taking the job over from her ailing father in secret, desperate to keep her family from starvation. But now her family has been captured by raiders, and taken to a foreign city.

So Khaim’s only female executioner begins a quest to bring her family back together. A bloody quest that will change lives, cities, and even an entire land, forever. A quest that will create the legend of The Executioness.

The worldbuilding is "top notch." So much so that the novella format prevents Buckell from doing justice to the universe both he and Bacigalupi created. Though the story arc comprising the tale that is The Executioness is rather straightforward, everything around it resounds with depth. It's in the details, the ambience set by the evocative narrative. The religious fanatism of the Southern Isles, Paika, and the Way added another dimension to a story that may have been better served with a full novel. In light of all that, it bodes well for Bacigalupi's novella.

The Executioness packs a good punch, no question about it. And yet, Buckell offers us glimpses of several fascinating concepts, but sadly the author can't truly elaborate on most of them. Hence, though the novella is a good read, you reach the end hoping there could have been so much more.

The characterization is well-done and Tana is a well-drawn protagonist. Again, the format precluded a more thorough fleshing out of the character, and I felt that the transition of mother, to executioness, to army leader was more than a little rushed. But I loved how Buckell showed how someone's legend can often be based on exaggerated half-truths and lies, all in the name of a common good.

Can't wait to read Paolo Bacigalupi's novella, The Alchemist. Here's to hoping that both authors will consider returning to this shared world for more tales. . .

Kudos to J. K. Drummond for the beautiful artwork for the two novellas' covers.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress.

4 commentaires:

Leaf said...

I'm starting to feel like the "magic has a price" concept is getting to be way too overdone.

Anonymous said...

True, but what are some better alternatives? Casting with no limits?

Leaf said...

The alternative is to treat it like any other skill: it can only be used for certain things and degrees of proficiency vary according to natural talent and training

Anonymous said...

Isn't that also a price though? I mean that would require time, energy, money, social status, a level of education and possibly genetics. All prices to be paid to reach a certain proficiency imho.