Warning! May Contain Spoilers!
The Alchemist And The Executioness is two stories by two authors which share the same world. As such, I have reviewed the two portions of this story separately.
The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Alchemist is a story which follows a beleaguered Alchemist who, after years of failure and financial ruin, discovers a way to destroy the menacing bramble that is plaguing the world and closing in around Khaim. Magic, forbidden except by those approved of by the local mayor brings bramble, a dangerous plant which poisons those who become entangled by it. Instead he learns that his invention is going to be used to discover who is violating the ban on magic use using the same principles by which it destroys the terrible plant.
This story is told from a first person perspective and normally I do not like such stories. However The Alchemist is a delightful read and a surprisingly compelling story with good plot twists which, even though half-expected, are still well incorporated. The Alchemist is one of those stories that shows you do not need to have action after action after yet more action to have a compelling story. This story is mostly low key but still well told.
I give The Alchemist four out of five stars and highly recommend it. The thing I did not like about this story is that I felt it was incomplete and when you read it you will know what I mean.
The Executioness By: Tobias S. Buckell
No mincing of words from me on this one. For as much as I loved The Alchemist portion of this story, I absolutely hated The Executioness. Again, told from a first person point of view, The Executioness exemplifies everything I normally hate about the way these types of stories are told. The text is droning, like a journal told as it is being written and never gets started while skipping and hoping through the story of Tana as she tries to avenge her boys who are kidnapped by raiders. The story was just not believable and it was a struggle to complete.
It seemed like there was so little story to tell that the author was compelled to skip forward in leaps and bounds to simply get to the end, and that was anti-climatic to say the least.
I do not recommend The Executioness at all and give it just two out of five stars