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Editorial Reviews

Two acclaimed science fiction authors bring us two separate stories about magic and its consequences in the shared fantasy world of Khaim.

Magic exists and is available to all, but every use of it produces the dreaded bramble, a poisonous plant that kills any human who touches it. In the bramble-choked lands of Khaim and Lesser Khaim magic is outlawed, and anyone caught practicing it does so at the risk of facing the executioner. The people live in poverty and fear — fear of bramble, of the Jolly Mayor who controls the people with the executioner's axe, and fear of the raiders of Paika, who slaughter their men and kidnap their children.

The Alchemist, written by award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi and narrated by the estimable Jonathan Davis, grounds us in this shared world with the story of Jeoz the Alchemist, who has committed his life to finding a way to eradicate the bramble once and for all. Through 15 years, the death of his wife, and his daughter's illness, Jeoz has persevered. He experiments in secret, lest he be caught bringing Bramble inside the city walls. If he succeeds in his trials with his invention, the balanthast, he will surely be a hero. But power and politics may stand between the balanthast and humanity's salvation.

Those familiar with Jonathan Davis' narration will not be surprised by his evocative performance here. The desperate but gentle Jeoz, his charming daughter Jiala, the pitiless Magister Scacz — Bacigalupi's varied cast is voiced with Davis' usual convincing care.

Best-selling novelist Tobias Buckell gives us The Executioness, the story of Tana, the executioner's daughter — a middle-aged mother of two whose entire life is thrown into upheaval with the swing of an axe. When she is forced to stand in for her father she earns the title of the Executioness, a name which will follow her when her children are taken by Paikan raiders and she alone must find them.

Narrator Katherine Kellgren brings an exotic flavor to her performance of Tana's tale with a fantasy dialect, perhaps inspired by the spice road that the Caravan travels. Kellgren's performance makes the dialog ring true in a way that a less creative narration might not.

The two stories are vastly different in tone. The Alchemist is a darker fantasy, where magic is so prominent it is nearly a character in the story, while The Executioness eschews magic and intrigue in favor of action and adventure. Both are rich tales performed by gifted narrators. You won't find The Alchemist and The Executioness in print--it is an exclusive, and one you'll want to listen to again. —Christie Yant

Publisher's Summary

It is a world where magic is forbidden – yet practiced in secret every day. But each small act of magic exacts a dreadful price – for it brings the bramble, which chokes farmland, destroys villages, and kills with its deadly thorns. In this world, an alchemist believes he’s found a solution to the curse. But will the cure be worse than the disease? And a woman is forced to take up the mantle of her father, the Executioner. But it will not be the only death that she faces.

Available exclusively in audio, The Alchemist and the Executioness is the unique collaborative effort of two leading science fiction authors, Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell. Working together for the first time, the authors stepped out of their comfort zone (both primarily write science fiction) to delve into fantasy, producing these linked stories that share the same captivating world.

About the Authors

Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of the Nebula Award-winning novel The Windup Girl. His short fiction has been honored with the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award as well as nominations for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Tobias S. Buckell is the New York Times best-selling author of Halo: The Cole Protocol, Ragamuffin, and other novels. He is also a contributor to the Audible production of METAtropolis.

BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction written and read by the authors.

©2010 Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias S. Buckell (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Audie Award Nominee - Best Original Work, 2011

"[Bacigalupi's] bite-sized tale is charming, lyrically written, and thematically rich....Fantasy fans will love [Buckell's] lush narrative and... endearing and unconventional heroine." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

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Not What I Expected...

I’ll be honest the reason I bought this story was because I figured if it was bad, it was still cheaper than seeing a bad movie and the premise seemed rather intriguing too. Well, it didn’t disappoint; I enjoyed “The Alchemist” immensely and wanted to listen to it again right after I finishing it. However, I didn’t want to listen to “The Alchemist” again without listening to “The Executioness” story at least once, unfortunately I was dredging that part. The first part of the story mentions executions a lot and all I could think was “Great, now I have to listen to someone deal with all the killing they have done”. As you listen to “The Alchemist” you cannot imagine how one is supposed to be enthused for the upcoming story, but I continued to listen and to my astonishment the story turned out exceptional. I can’t say much about the story without ruining… things (that may not be the right wording for it, but naming it anything else would spoil it); if Audible will not tell you much then neither will I. Jonathan Davis and Katherine Kellgren do a fine job of narrating the story and I especially enjoyed Katherine Kellgren who seemed perfect for this narration. Both stories are wonderful in their own way and equally evocative.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Betty
  • Saucier, MS, United States
  • 07-11-10

Great story!

I would recommend this audiobook for several reasons. If you've never read these authors, this is a good chance to see if you like their writing style, the price is right, and the narrators are excellent (Katherine Kellgren is one of my favorites). But they are also excellent adventure stories (fantasy/sci-fi?). After listening to the entire book in one sitting, I've added these authors to ones I'll definitely read again.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Katherine
  • St. Johns, FL, United States
  • 09-12-10

Immediately caught my eye

Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell offering linked fantasy novellas that take place in a shared world? Bacigalupi's story read by Jonathan Davis? What could be more promising? (It turns out that had I been familiar with Katherine Kellgren, who read Buckell's story, I would have been even more excited about this one!)

In this shared world, the use of magic causes the growth of bramble, a fast-growing, pervasive, and deadly plant that has taken over cities, making them uninhabitable. Crews of workers must fight back the bramble daily, burning it and collecting its seeds. Magic is forbidden and those who are found using it are executed, yet some citizens are willing to risk their lives if a bit of magic might help them. Who cares if a patch of bramble sprouts in a stranger's garden if a magic spell might heal their only child?

The Alchemist is about a metal and glass worker who has given up all of his riches and is building an instrument which he hopes will destroy the bramble, restore his fortune, and give him the license to use magic to cure his daughter's wasting cough. When he presents his invention to the city government, things start to go wrong.

I liked Bacigalupi's characters ??? the focused scientist who's so task-oriented that he misses important social cues and the strong woman whose support is crucial but mostly goes unnoticed ??? and I enjoyed the laboratory setting because it reminded me of my own frustrating days at "the bench." It was intriguing to explore the idea that small and secret lawbreaking, even for a good cause, can accumulate to destroy a nation or, as one of Bacigalupi's characters says: "If we grant individual mercies, we commit collective suicide." That got me thinking of all sorts of current political, economic, and social parallels.

With The Executioness, Tobias Buckell becomes the hero of middle-aged mothers everywhere.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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The great and the good.

Everyone's mileage may vary, but for me The Alchemist hooked me from the start. A father deals with a daughter's tantrums, her reluctance to let yet more of the precious things from a more prosperous past go quietly out the door. It is a story of a father and his daughter, of a world where the use of magic has its consequences. I found it a wonderful story, wonderfully narrated by Jonathan Davis. (It was a bit like "coming home" to another episode of Bacigalupi storytime, as Davis was also the narrator for The Windup Girl.)

The Executioness was still very much a good story, but a notch or two down the ladder from The Alchemist. Taking place in the same, solidly-rooted world but with a new slate of characters, The Executioness concerns a mysterious and more ruthlessly anti-magic sect, caravans, and a mother's love for her daughter. Unfortunately for me the narration here was done in a harsh accent, and while Kellgren is incredibly accomplished and enjoyable, and remains "in accent" throughout, the harshness of the assumed accent wore on me a little; meanwhile the plot's execution had a few lulls, a few holes, and a few points of incredulity where the fantasy world didn't quite seem to hold together both as constructed and as needed to push the story, a bit awkwardly, to its conclusion.

Still, as a $7 title it is more than worth the purchase, and The Alchemist is one of the great fantasy (or otherwise) stories of 2010.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 08-04-10

Great contemporary fantasy for a great price

Despite being fantasy instead of SF, this novella echoes Bacigalupi's other works with familiar themes: magic is something that makes life easier at the cost of environmental catastrophe and eventual destruction, and while some greedily seek to control it all for themselves, others fanatically destroy anyone who uses it at all. The novella is actually two short stories set in the same world. "The Alchemist" is about a man who devises a solution to the destructive Brambles threatening to swallow civilization, only to learn that their rulers don't really want the Brambles destroyed. "The Executioness" starts out as a story of a woman trying to recover her lost children, but she becomes a warrior, and then a legend. All the characters are complex and there are no simple resolutions; these are two great tales.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Beautiful lyrical tale

This was a most enjoyable audiobook. I really liked the concept of strong female characters. It is about the consequences individuals and societies must deal with as a result of their actions. A cautionary fable set in a fantasy/medieval setting. Since I mostly enjoy fantasy and historical fiction this was just the right type of story for me. The narrators where a delight to my ears. Perhaps the authors will continue with episodic chapters in this story, building on the stories of other characters, since the story does seem to be not quite finished.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Entertaining with a touch of the profound

I would recommend this audio to anyone who enjoys or is open to enjoying fantasy/sci-fi. The narration is excellent, the stories are engaging, and the message is "Bramble" is a superb metaphor for the choices we face as a technologically advanced society.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • Oswego, IL, United States
  • 07-22-10

Loved it!

Great narrator for a great concept. Only complaint was the book was too short. I wanted it to go on. Loved the lead female character...It's about time.She was strong, but not overdone with a chip on her shoulder like an actress in a bad movie that overdoes her part. She reminded me a bit of the male lead in the movie "American Beauty"..." I'm just a regular guy with nothing to lose". Those types of people can do amazing things and that's exactly what she did. Juxtapose her with the male lead who was brilliant but a bit of a twit who had me pulling out my hair and screaming ,"Stupid, Why did you do that!" Great book.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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"Biopunk fantasy"

This novella consists of two short stories set in the same world. It's very good, set in a world that is late Middle Ages or early Renaissance technologically, but resembling India or Southeast Asia culturally. In this world, magic is a powerful tool that anyone can use, but every use causes Brambles to grow in the area. Brambles are a deadly, magical weed that poisons and kills anyone who touches it, and they are slowly choking the entire continent; empires have fallen to the Brambles. The only solution has been to make magic a capital crime.

The parallels to our world are obvious, and echo familiar themes in Bacigalupi's other works (the ease of using powerful tools to make life easier, at the expense of the environment, with mostly the common people suffering the consequences). Both stories -- "The Alchemist" and "The Executioness" -- are about ordinary people forced to take on the powers that be for the sake of their families. The characters (heroes and villains alike) are all interesting and three-dimensional, and there are no easy resolutions. If you like audiobooks, this is a great pair of contemporary fantasy short stories.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Curt
  • Vancouver, WA
  • 09-10-10


This was a joy to listen to. I was a little aprehensive after reading the description, but after hearing great things about this book, I decided to give it a try and was glad I did. It was a great listen, moved right along and kept you hooked right to the end.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 09-17-11


You become absorbed very quickly, setting you up with a sense of intrigue. Doesn't rely on endless charactors and at no time does it seem to drag. Imaginative, compelling, dark and even a little shocking in places. An effortless read or listen.