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.
In the beleageured 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.
This review is actually review one of two novella audiobook The Alchemist and The Executioness. Authors Tobias Bucknell and Paolo Bacigalupi teamed up to write two short stories that take place in the same world but focus on different characters. My review for The Executioness will come later.
In a world where magic once flourished, its people now pay the price. For every time magic is used, bramble grows. At the slightest touch, the poisonous thorns place its victims in a deep slumber. And for many, it’s needles have brought death. Beyond its poison, the bramble threatens more than the lives the people of Khaim. Its invading the city and has brought poverty to land. For years nothing has been able to stop it, until the alchemist discovers a way.
The Alchemist is a short fantasy set in a bleak and burdened world. Despite being a short story, Bacigalupi doesn’t cut back on the details. He vividly describes each scene, making it easy to envision the world and the characters. I recently read Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, and once again, Bacigalupi delivers superbly crafted world. Proving yet again that he is highly skilled at world building.
The alchemist does not have things easy. He’s gone from riches to rags and is trying to make ends meet. We meet his character when he is trying to sell his daughter’s bed to help support his family. His daughter clings to her bed with everything she has and refuses to give up her beloved bed. You learn so much about the characters in that first chapter. Their struggle tells the reader that the downsizing has been going on for awhile. His daughter is young but smart. The Alchemist is resourceful but proving a little selfish, as he refuses to sell the tools in workshop to support his family. After their scuffle, the alchemist retreats to his workshop feeling guilty and the need to work. Bacigalupi’s characters are easy to empathize with and, shortly into the story, I found myself routing for the alchemist.
The one downside to the short story is the reader is left wondering what’s going to happen. It was too short, or more so, didn’t have enough to it. Overall, The Alchemist is a great short story. Fantasy lovers and Bacigalupi fans will no doubt enjoy this book. Many I’m sure will be left wishing for more.