The Alchemist

As I mentioned in my review of The Executioness (Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress), 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. And since Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl (Canada, USA, Europe) was awesome, I couldn't wait to read his novella.

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:

In the beleaguered city of Khaim, a lone alchemist seeks a solution to a deadly threat. The bramble, a plant that feeds upon magic, now presses upon Khaim, nourished by the furtive spellcasting of its inhabitants and threatening to strangle the city under poisonous vines. Driven by desperation and genius, the alchemist constructs a device that transcends magic, unlocking the mysteries of bramble’s essential nature. But the power of his newly-built balanthast is even greater than he dreamed. Where he sought to save a city and its people, the balanthast has the potential to save the world entire—if it doesn’t destroy him and his family first.

As was the case with Buckell's The Executioness, the worldbuilding in this novella is likely the most interesting facet of the tale. Rich in details, The Alchemist is vaster in scope than most short fiction works of fantasy. Though the characters in Buckell's novella moved around quite a bit, Bacigalupi's story mostly takes place in and around the city of Khaim. And yet, the narrative is filled with things that hint at much more depth than we discern at face value. Once more, this is a tale that may have been better served with a full novel. I for one hope that both Buckell and Bacigalupi will revisit their shared universe and expand on it.

I liked the way Bacigalupi elaborated on the bramble and its mysteries. The conception of the balanthast, a device created to destroy the bramble, was also interesting. The few glimpses of the universe's back story and its power players were a fascinating touch, and I'd love to learn more about the fallen empire of Jhandpara, the Majisters, etc.

The limited format precluded a more thorough fleshing out of the characters, but the author demonstrated a deft humane touch in his depiction of Jeoz the alchemist, his daughter Jiala, and Pila. You could tell from the blurb that the Mayor and Majister Scacz would try to wrest control of the balanthast. Still, I was totally unprepared by their scheme and its repercussions.

Both novellas were quality reads which barely scratch the surface of what this universe has to offer. Here's to hoping that Buckell and Bacigalupi will consider returning to this shared world for more tales in the near future. . .

Kudos once again 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

2 commentaires:

dalerobertweese said...

I wonder if they were inspired by kudzu. I also wonder if there is, at least on an emotional level, any allegory to real world issues like pollution and consumption. It sounds very engaging. Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...