“Magic makes bramble, and bramble makes kisses, and kisses make sleep that lasts until Kpala’s children tear us to pieces. It was always thus. And yet you put yourself above the rest of us, and now all that magic blows in the breeze and brings bramble calling.”
The Tangled Lands took me a bit by surprise. I was expecting a novel full of magical intrigue and fierce women warriors fighting against a tyrannical power. Which it is. Just not in the context I first imagined.
Instead of a traditional novel, The Tangled Lands is a collection of four short stories all set in the same world.
The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi
Jeoz was once a wealthy merchant. Before bramble took over the great magical cities causing the people to flee. Now Khaim is one of the last cities standing. A city of refugees fighting to keep the bramble at bay.
When Jeoz successfully creates a device that kills bramble without using any of the magic it feeds on, he thinks he will be celebrated and revered. Instead, the mayor and magister, wanting to keep magic use for themselves, alter the device so that they can detect magic use within the city.
Imprisoning Jeoz to ensure his continued cooperation, they begin ruthlessly eradicating anyone using magic in any form. Except for themselves. With magic use under control, they are able to fight the bramble back while still using magic as they desire. Their power grows, while Jeoz plots to escape.
The Executioness by Tobias Buckell
Forced into taking over the role of executioner for her dying father, Tana only wants to care for her children. Returning home after her first execution, she finds her home burned and her children stolen. She sets off on a one woman quest to pursue the raiders and kidnappers of Paika.
After being injured from fighting a group of four Paikan warriors, Tana is picked up by a traveling caravan on the spice road. There she learns how to fight not just a single fight, but becomes a warrior in her own right.
Her unique perspective lets her see that an army of just men will never be enough to defeat the Paikan. But perhaps an army of angry women tired of losing their husbands and children would be.
The Children Of Khaim by Paolo Bacigalupi
Mop is one of the refugee children torn from his wealthy home and forced to live on the streets of Khaim. He and his sister, Rain, are the sole survivors of their family. When Rain gets bramble-kissed Mop knows he needs to give her a merciful end. But in a moment of weakness, he can’t do it.
His horror is compounded when his plan to take care of her while she sleeps derails. He can’t find her body. In a moment of desperation he turns to the outlawed magic and risks everything to find her body and save his sister.
The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Tobias Buckell
When a powerful Duke commissions a unique and expensive set of armor for his son, Sofija knows her father should have turned him down. But the risk was worth the potential reward in his eyes. Down to their last meal, all of their hope lies in the Duke’s approval.
Too late, they find out that the Duke has other plans for their family. Everything is left to Sofija to find a solution that saves their lives, and time is running out.
It took me until the third story before I realized that these were separate stories. I kept expecting them to merge, or for characters to appear in these new perspectives. While The Executioness is mentioned, and the mayor and magister do appear in multiple stories, on the whole these stories do not intersect.
The stories themselves are good, if a bit dark. They end in places that sets them up to be continued, whether in another collection of stories, or a larger novel in the future. I don’t know if they have either planned, but it would make these stories more enjoyable to me if they continued. I’d like some sort of ending for any of these characters. It would also balance the dark nature of them to have some more resolution.
All of the stories seem to build towards coming together, introducing the back stories for these characters, rather than offer any conclusion. By themselves, these stories left me a bit unsatisfied. I wanted more of the world, along with more from the characters. I wanted to see them come together, I wanted to see them take on the mayor and the magister. In short, I wanted more. I truly hope that there is a plan to continue the story, in one larger novel, or another set of stories.
Thank you Wunderkind PR for sending me a copy to read and review!
The Tangled Lands was published February 27. See the links below for Goodreads, along with your favorite retailers!