The Tangled Lands
WINNER OF THE WORLD FANTASY AWARD FOR BEST COLLECTION
From award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell comes a fantasy novel told in four parts about a land crippled by the use of magic, and a tyrant who is trying to rebuild an empire—unless the people find a way to resist.
Khaim, The Blue City, is the last remaining city in a crumbled empire that overly relied upon magic until it became toxic. It is run by a tyrant known as The Jolly Mayor and his devious right hand, the last archmage in the world. Together they try to collect all the magic for themselves so they can control the citizens of the city. But when their decadence reaches new heights and begins to destroy the environment, the people stage an uprising to stop them.
In four interrelated parts, The Tangled Lands is an evocative and epic story of resistance and heroic sacrifice in the twisted remains surrounding the last great city of Khaim. Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell have created a fantasy for our times about a decadent and rotting empire facing environmental collapse from within—and yet hope emerges from unlikely places with women warriors and alchemical solutions.
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.