cover image The Tangled Lands

The Tangled Lands

Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell. Saga, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4814-9729-9

Buckell and Bacigalupi’s shared setting has some solid worldbuilding, but the four novellas that comprise this collection (two by each author) vary in quality. Bacigalupi’s “The Alchemist” has the most difficult task: introducing the city of Khaim, where magic has been outlawed because it attracts bramble. The plant grows relentlessly, can barely be contained, and sends people into a coma or kills them with the slightest thorn-prick. The story succeeds on all fronts by focusing on the titular Jeoz, a widowed alchemist working on a way to destroy bramble whose invention becomes corrupted by the villainous magister Scacz. Scacz consolidates power so that only he may use magic, and all others who use it are put to death. That’s the background for the other tales, which all embrace the grimdark vibe with varying degrees of success. Buckell’s “The Executioness” involves war, revenge, and motherhood, and its bleak ending offers at least the sliver of hope against potential tragedy. There’s less of that to be found in either Bacigalupi’s “The Children of Khaim” or Buckell’s “The Blacksmith’s Daughter,” both of which take their tragedies almost to the level of absurdity without any sense of irony. Without an emotional payoff or overarching plot resolution, these gloomy works serve the book poorly. Even staunch fans of the authors will wish there were more to this collection. (Mar.)