I enjoyed the Alchemist quite a lot! It had quite a range, both creating believable, sympathetic characters as well as creating a harsh world with pockets of tenderness. Khaim is a city on the brink of destruction in a world sliding towards catastrophe, and the daily struggle and the sense of loss is palpable. Nonetheless, people continue on as best they can. It was quite impressive how much the world shapes the societies, the societies shape characters, and the characters’ actions feed back in at each of those levels. I found the resulting scenes very impactful.
Bacigalupi handles the plot and pacing very well, although towards the last third of the story the pacing falters as the summary becomes too thin. However, the story’s climax and conclusion regain the excellence of the beginning, and also left me simultaneously horrified for and excited by the future of Khaim and the characters.
Bacigalupi’s writing is excellent. The narrator’s voice is gentle and easy to follow, the descriptions often lengthy but still sharp, clear, and vivid. The word choice was also an absolute joy.
Additionally, reading this story was a very strange experience, because I had an incredibly strong feeling that I had heard of these locations and nations and terms before. And then I connected it to Tobias Buckell’s novella The Executioness, but was uncertain until I realized what the bramble was referring to, and then I knew they were in the same world. Apparently these novellas were released together, but were listed as separate stories on my Kindle, and I happened to read this a week after the Executioness. This metafictional surprise lent a really odd feeling.
P.S. The concept of the bramble and its relationship to magic brought to mind Larry Niven’s short story “The Magic Goes Away”, a 1976 story / 1978 novella investigating the consequences of magic. I was excited to read another story that explores the consequences of magic.
Obligatory Kindle Notice!