Title: The Tangled Lands
Authors: Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckwell
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Release Date: February 27th from Saga Press
Format: Kindle ARC
*I received this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for review. All thoughts are my own always. Due to the request of the publisher, no quotes from the book will be used in this review.*
Synopsis: Told in four short stories, this fantasy novel is set in a world where bramble spreads and chokes the land, leaving all who touch it in a inescapable sleep. The different lands haven’t found a way to kill the bramble, causing people to starve, flee their homes and become refugees. In Khaim, the last city to not be consumed by bramble, is run a corrupted mayor and his magical right hand man. The spread of bramble and corruption causes the people to rise against him.
When I saw this on NetGalley and read the synopsis, I was very intrigued. I had never read anything by these authors before. But ultimately, while this had such great potential in some areas, it failed in others. Let’s break down the stories:
- The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi (originally published in 2010): This first story follows an alchemist and the struggle he goes through to find a cure of the spreading bramble while caring for his young daughter, who becomes sick. The corrupted mayor also learns of his alchemy skills and becomes intrigued to see if this man can be useful. This was hands down the best story in this novel. I felt so much for this man, who had lost his wife, wealth and dignity as this bramble almost takes his daughters life and trying to find a way to kill the bramble. The father and daughter bond was so touching as they supported each other through everything and their maid Pila, also by their side, was a great support to them to love them and protect them. Also, the way that this man described his alchemy was so fascinating; I had never read a novel where alchemy was described in such detail. The pacing was also great, as they fight against this corrupt mayor and also learning about their land and how they fear magic. It was very easy to read and I want a full length novel on this man and his story so bad! *4 stars*
- The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckwell (originally published in 2010): This story follows an older woman who married a drunk, has two boys and a father who is the city executioner and has never been kind. She has to take her father’s place to do a city execution after he dies and with her family needing the money. Since she had helped slaughter pigs to help make ends meet, she thinks this will help her with this execution. But then raiders from another country come into the city and her boys are kidnapped, which essentially kicks off the main plot with her trying to get them back. I didn’t enjoy this story nearly enough as the first one. The writing felt SO dry to me of any emotion as this woman meets other characters and keeps killing to get to her boys. I never cared what happened to her; her thoughts seemed a bit too simple and she also didn’t read like a well written female character either. While learning about the world outside the city of Khaim added to the world building, I had to skim a lot of this one to finish it. *2 stars*
- The Children of Khaim by Paolo Bacigalupi: This story follows two siblings, Mop and Rain, who come from a once wealthy merchant family in Alacaner. But now, they work in the fields trying to gather bramble as its burned for money. When Rain is struck with the bramble sickness, Mop will do anything in his power to save his sister from the pleasure markets after she’s taken. I did like this story more than the second one; I felt the same familial bond of these siblings like I did in the first story. I liked seeing how the author uses minimal paragraphs to describe so much of their backstory without infodumping everything. It started getting crazy with the measures Mop took to try and cure his sister; I had read the last half of this story quickly, trying to figure out what would happen next. But then…it just ended. While it had a good pace, delved into more world building and ideas of freedom and knowledge, the ending was anti-climatic. *3.5 stars*
- The Blacksmith’s Daughter: This final story revolves around a girl named Sofija, the daughter of a blacksmith who helps make armor for the duke’s son in Khaim. This was the darkest story as far as seeing the corruption in people that severely affects the poorer people. I did like that Sofija did what she could to protect her family and that she never admitted herself to be a killer, instead she did everything out of self defense. The writing was a bit better than the second story, but it just didn’t reach quite enough to being as good as the first and third stories. This final story also didn’t tie in anything as far as answering questions the bramble and its history, fate or creation at all. You also don’t learn the fates of any of the other characters; you just see Sofija’s small story arc and then it’s over. *3 stars*
Overall: While I loved seeing the original world building, the danger of the bramble, the ideas of knowledge, freedom, family and corruption and some of the descriptions of magic, I just wanted more from this book. I was hoping for things to either tie together or to have an actual ending. The afterword explains that the authors want to write more in this world and if they do, with answering some questions, I think I would read more. But so far, this is a standalone work and it felt unfinished and half the stories weren’t written as well as the other two stories. It was an okay book, just not quite satisfying enough for me. A big thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC for review!
Have you heard of this book? Do you think it sounds good? Have you read anything by either of these authors?