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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
I've reviewed both The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Executioness by Tobias Buckell here since they are being published together as novellas set in the same world. The audio version contains both stories. Please note that these are short novels.

Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell offering linked fantasy novellas that take place in a shared world? What could be more promising?

In this shared world, the use of magic causes the growth of bramble, a fast-growing, pervasive, and deadly plant that has taken over cities, making them uninhabitable. Crews of workers must fight back the bramble daily, burning it and collecting its seeds. Magic is forbidden and those who are found using it are executed, yet some citizens are willing to risk their lives if a bit of magic might help them. Who cares if a patch of bramble sprouts in a stranger's garden if a magic spell might heal their only child?

The Alchemist is about a metal and glass worker who has given up all of his riches and is building an instrument which he hopes will destroy the bramble, restore his fortune, and give him the license to use magic to cure his daughter's wasting cough. When he presents his invention to the city government, things start to go wrong.

I liked Bacigalupi's characters -- the focused scientist who's so task-oriented that he misses important social cues and the strong woman whose support is crucial but mostly goes unnoticed -- and I enjoyed the laboratory setting because it reminded me of my own frustrating days at "the bench." It was intriguing to explore the idea that small and secret lawbreaking, even for a good cause, can accumulate to destroy a nation or, as one of Bacigalupi's characters says: "If we grant individual mercies, we commit collective suicide." That got me thinking of all sorts of current political, economic, and social parallels.

With The Executioness, Tobias Buckell becomes the hero of middle-aged mothers everywhere. Since I'm now one of those, I loved this story about a mom who loses her family and finds herself. Tana is a desperate woman who just does what any mother would do in the same circumstances. It's hard for me to imagine becoming a hero, but Tana's story is completely believable and after hearing it, now I wonder if maybe I could be...

I can highly recommend The Alchemist and The Executioness to fantasy lovers of all ages. I wish they had been longer.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2012
...fro this world, Mr Bacigalupi!

Having read the The Windup Girl written by this author I was intrigued.
And this short story didn't disappoint me.

The history of the city of Khaim, about to be invaded of the inhabitants of Lesser Khaim, is also the story of him, the minor magician but also handyman and alchemist that only wants to stop the Bramble to progress.

Bramble - a plant that is feeded by the use of MAGIC.
The Elder Ones lived with magic - and condemned their world to a life always more and more constrained by that Bramble...

Jeoz the Alchemist has constructed a Balanthast - an apparatus able to burn the bramble and its evil roots.
But the Merry Mayor with the help of Scacz the Magician will find a wholly new use for this invention.
Our Alchemist will held prisoner, daughter and girlfried in the hands of the mighty ones. Until ...

Yes - that You will have to disvover ...

I enjoyed the story very much - together with the "twin story" The Executioness written by Tobias S. Buckell, placed on the same world and likewise a fantastic read!

Try something new sometimes - It's worth it...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
After finishing this short story, my first thought was "this would have made a fantastic novel"! As it is, it made for an enjoyable read, but one not worth the price of admission. Subterranean Press issued two companion novels, this and The Executioness, set in the same fantasy world. Each hardcover of about 96 pages is $20 retail. That is way too much for what you get. Why not combine them in one hardcover?

Magic has a price; whenever it is used, a bit of deadly bramble pops up somewhere. Eventually, bramble brought down an entire empire and is creeping upon those few cities left. This story had an interesting undertone about personal and collective responsibility. Jeoz is one of those people who uses a bit of magic, only to stop his daughter's terrible illness. Other people surely have their own important reasons for using a bit of magic. But, those bits are destroying their society. Quite a moral dilemma. When Jeoz develops a machine that destroys bramble, he expects the leaders of his city to reward and praise him. He couldn't be more wrong.

Though I enjoyed this story, I think the idea was short-changed. Time is rushed and the ending is fade-to-black without knowing the future of the characters, let alone their world. This would have made a brilliant novel and I hope the author considers expanding it someday. It is definitely worth reading, and I will read the companion story. But, I recommend borrowing it from the library if you can find it, or get the audible version which is only $9.95 for BOTH stories (The Alchemist and the Executioness).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 24, 2011
Like its sister novella "The Executioness" (by Tobias Buckell), "The Alchemist" takes place in a strange world, one in which magic is illegal as a result of its deadly side-effect. Unlike that novella, which mostly distanced itself from any actual use of magic, "The Alchemist" places the use of magic - and the question of what qualifies as justification for use of magic - at its centre. This makes for a complex and curious read.

"The Alchemist" revolves around the story of a father, an alchemist, who driven by his own desperate need to see magic used once more. Unlike "The Executioness" which delves little into the inner workings of the magic-vs.-bramble world, "The Alchemist" goes into much depth, despite the short number of pages. Using only a few words, Paolo Bacigalupi successfully brings the reader into a new and bizarre world. The reader never fully understands the backstory (indeed, neither Bacigalupi nor Buckell go into much depth regarding the history of their world...) but enough is made clear. More important to Bacigalupi are the messages and morals he inserts into his story, well-written and wonderfully thought-provoking.

Bacigalupi's writing is brisk and concise, wasting little time on unnecessary descriptions and overwriting. The characters are introduced right away and though I didn't feel that all came out of the story necessarily fully fleshed (Jiala, for example, remains something of a childish cliche through the end, possibly due to the fact that the majority of her screen-time is seen through her father's eyes...), I felt an immediate connection. These are not perfect people - Bacigalupi's world is neither black nor white, but firmly in the grey. Even the "villains" make some good points about human nature.

"The Alchemist" has a strong, exciting story with a lovely and somewhat open ending. It's a well-written book, one that sets itself in a fascinating and enjoyable world. It can be read either as a standalone novella, but in my mind the reading experience is enhanced by the coupling with the very-differently styled "The Executioness". As a set, the books are starkly different yet inhabit the same fascinating and attractive fantasy world.

Very clever and enticing fantasy novella in an intriguing and attractive world. Warmly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
*Mild Spoilers*

This is a shared world story between Paolo and Tobias Buckell, who both wrote these novellas at the same time for an audio project for Audible. The most glaring aspect of this fantasy world is the bramble. The bramble is a chocking plant that is taking over the world by covering it, and why it is happening is because magic causes it to grow. The citizens have fled cities to be consumed by the bramble, and in this story the city is Khaim, and is ruled by a Mayor and his magician. All magic is prohibited because it causes the bramble to advance, and as a result people are executed who use it.

This story is about an alchemist named Jeoz who used to be very wealthy crafting copper urns and other items, but now he is driving himself into poverty trying to invent a way to destroy the bramble. This has become an obsession and his daughter hates him and he has lost all his servants except his assistant. But all looks good when Jeoz does come up with a solution and presents it to the mayor. But not everyone dislikes the bramble, and this becomes a tragic tale. This was simply told but flowed very well and was a nice story that had elements of an old fairy tale. This was a good little story that was a pleasure to read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2011
Well-written and interesting book notable for beautiful prose and evocative descriptions. Enjoyable to read, and worth reading. The style reminded me a bit of The Etched City at times. It's long sentences and baroque vocabulary mirror the winding brambles of the city.

The characters for me lacked a certain depth; the sickly daughter in peril seemed cliched; even the alchemist struck me as sanctimonious.

The book design was extremely impressive, with the typography and graphic design complementing the pace of the plot. Although executed skillfully, I felt that pictures were at times at odds with the book's descriptions; for example, I felt the daughter would have looked more brambled-covered and in direr straits than she appeared in the picture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2013
I have been wanting to read this book for quite awhile now. I ordered it on Kindle and had just begun getting into the story when I realized I was already at the 50% mark. I guess with all I had heard about it I expected more but I still enjoyed the book. The story is fantasy and heartbreaking. Lots of great quotes and ideas to reflect upon even after reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2012
I read this book thinking it was the other Alchemist by the other Paolo which my friends had recommended I read. I realised part way through that I had the wrong book but I was actually enjoying the storyline. I think it is well written and is easy light reading.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2013
I thought I was downloading "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho, so I was briefly confused to start reading this story. It is vivid and colorful, if lacking the philosophical depth of what I thought I was going to read.
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on May 23, 2011
LOVED IT!! I just had to read this book after reading The Executioness by Tobias Buckell which is the paired novella to this one. I reviewed Executioness about a week ago.

Like Tobias Buckell, this is my first time reading Paolo Bacigalupi and like Tobias, Paolo has just gained another huge fan. I know of the others work by Paolo, but just have not had time to read the books. After reading this I am going to read through all the works.

I was hooked right away with the storyline. The pain and heartbreak of the opening scene where Jiala has to lose the bed just grabbed me by chest. I never gave much thought to a bed until this story, but I could not imagine having my bed taken from me. This was the key ingredient to me loving this story. Paolo took an item that everyone has and made it relatable to understand what was happening in a few pages.

Having already read the over novella I understood the bramble and the use of magic. This helped me relate to the story even more than if it was my first read of the pairs.

Being a novella, it was short. I do hope and pray they revisit this world and write a full length novel. There is so much that could be developed.

The story just jumped off the pages to me. I was engaged in the events that I was actually angry when certain things developed.

You have to read this novella along with the other one. You will not be disappointed. It might be short on words and pages, but not in story.

This novella was nominated for the Nebula Awards.

I cannot wait to enter the other worlds created by Paolo Bacigalupi.
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