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Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: The Tangled Lands

The Tangled Lands belongs to Paolo Bacigullpi's peculiar brand of ecological fiction: the environmental allegory. This time, he teams up with Tobias Bucknell to bring us the world of the Tangled Lands, a fantasy world where magic exists, but the use of magic makes bramble grow, but not necessarily in the immediate vicinity. This bramble is a particularly evil plant: anyone pricked by it falls asleep (think Cinderella), but unlike in Cinderella, this doesn't put the person into suspended animation: the flesh can still be preyed upon by various creepy-crawlies, etc. In any case, since the fantasy world doesn't have advanced technology, healing, etc has to be done by magic, and this puts the inhabitants of the world in a dilemma. Use magic, and cause bramble to grow (and it's very difficult to cut back), or live without the conveniences and (occasionally) life-saving magic and watch your neighbors do it.

The 4 short stories (2 contributed by each author) in the book explore the implications of this world: the wealthy and powerful use their privilege to crush the less well endowed, and even suppress technologies that could resolve the dilemma. Disappointingly, there's no overall arc in the stories: they're all unrelated to one another, and the result is that while each story is individually in and of itself relatively well-written with good characters, by the end of the second story you feel that the authors of exhausted the implications of the world they've created and are just committed to showing you how desperate the folks who live in it are.

While this in itself isn't a bad thing, I feel like the world has much more potential, and the authors could have made better use of the reader's time and theirs in crafting stories set in it. Perhaps a follow up novel would be much more worth your time.

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