Tangled Lives

The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Publication date: February 27, 2018
Summary from front flap:

The Tangled LandsKhain, the last great city of a decaying empire, clings to life.  The living memory of the empire’s great city of Jhandpara is told in the hovels of the refugee camps across the river in Lesser Khaim; the other cities are buried under cloying, dangerous bramble.

It is a world where magic destroys.  Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and a poisonous sleep.  It sprouts in tilled fields and in neighbors’ roof beams, thrusts up from between cobblestones, and bursts forth from sacks of powdered spice.  A bit of magic, and bramble follows.  A little at first, and then more — until whole cities are dragged down under tangling vines, monuments to people who loved magic too much.  Teams of workers fight a losing battle to preserve the environment against the growing bramble,  To practice magic is to tempt death at the hands of the mob, yet the city of Khaim is ruled by a tyrant and the most powerful of defilers, the last great Magister of the world. 

Award winning authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell explore a shared world where magic is forbidden and its use is rewarded with the executioner’s axe; a world of glittering memories and a desperate present, where everyone uses a little magic, and someone else always pays the price. 



I want to start this with the awesome cover this book has.  I’m sorry that the picture just doesn’t do it justice.  The depth of the city is enhanced by the relief and the colors are really saturated.  Plus there is tons of detail in the city that just doesn’t come across in the photo.  Even if you don’t want to read this book, you must find a copy and admire the cover.  I think this is my favorite of the year.

I picked up a finished copy of this at ALA and I was thrilled.  I have loved Paolo’s other books and even though I didn’t know the other author’s work, I was willing to give him a chance.  I was not disappointed by either author.  This is an amazing and complex book that has a lot of depth and nuance throughout.  The format is a bit different though.  There are actually four short stories, but they are all set in the same world.  I kept expecting them to intersect at some point, but they never do.  They each show a different aspect of this world, but there is a continuum in the story as well.   

I don’t think I can pick a favorite story, they were all wonderful and fully fleshed out.  I usually have an issue with short stories because I feel like I don’t get enough of the story or the characters are superficial, but this certainly was not the case here.   There are new characters and plots but there is a fluidity to the way they go together.  I have made the decision not to tell what each story is about, because you really need to discover them for yourself to fully appreciate them. 

The world these two authors have envisioned is unlike anything I have read.  There is an environmental message throughout, but also one of social injustice.   I loved the fact that even the smallest use of magic would result in the bramble growing.  But the people in power always thought that it was okay for them to use magic, just not anyone else.  There is also a rich backstory to this world which you get a little bit more of in each story.  

This is being marketed as an adult novel, but I think older teens and new adults would be able to appreciate the stories and the messages.  This book may not be for everyone, but I think you should at least give it a try.  I also hope to see more stories from both of these authors about this beautiful yet somewhat ugly world they have created. 

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