Sunday, August 21, 2011
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Novellas are like jello shots. Some are great and some aren't. Most people say you get what you pay for and it makes sense but it doesn't always have to be true. I enjoy novellas because they leave you wanting more. It can prove how good a writer is by what he or she leaves out. It also forces to writer to flesh out a story without having to do a novel but giving the reader enough to get the story. For a novella based in a fantasy world, it is difficult for the writer to do this with ease unless it's a world the readers are familiar with.
Paolo Bacigalupi does a wonderful job in his novella "The Alchemist." In the city of Khaim, all sorcery is forbidden and punishable by death. At one time, magicians were a dime of dozen until the scourge of the bramble, a dangerous plant like weed that continues to spread into the cities with each use of magic. The only way to slow down it's growth is to prevent magic from being used.
Jeoz, our protagonist, is an alchemist. Jeoz invents a machine through alchemy that destroys large swaths of bramble in an instant. His invention borders on sorcery since he uses a particular ingredient used by magicians. When Jeoz approaches the mayor of Khaim and his chief sorcerer, Jeoz is caught up in Mayor's scheme for power. Jeoz is imprisoned along with his daughter whose sickness can only be hampered by sorcery.
The story is more about the love between a father (Jeoz) and his daughter (Jiala). It's a timeless tale that resonates even in the terrific fantasy world Bacigapuli introduces us to. Bacigalupi sets up the reader with enough of a back story to flesh out the universe of Khaim but not drowning out the story in details. It's no lie that Bacigalupi has several awards under his belt as a new comer. I am sold on Bacigalupi and plan on checking out his other work. "The Alchemist" left enough to leave this reader wanting more.