One day, Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi decided to write a pair of novellas set in a shared world. They obviously put a lot of thought into this fictional landscape, a place where magic exists, but its use carries a terrible price -- every time a spell is cast, a shoot of cursed bramble sprouts from the ground; one prick of its poison thorns will send you into a deep sleep from which no mere prince's kiss will awaken you. It's a neat idea, rife with juicy metaphorical implications to go along with the unusual fantasy trappings, and Bacigalupi clearly had a lot of fun playing in the sandbox with his half of the project, The Alchemist. Buckell, meanwhile, plays around in the sandbox for a few minutes but soon gets board, abandoning the game and the sandbox altogether to wander off to a nearby tree and play army. And sure, army can be fun, but sometimes you want something a little more engaging than "pew pew pew!" and I didn't quite find it here.That's not to say this is a totally bland story. Plus one point for an interesting protagonist, anyway -- a woman, a mother, an Executioness who inherited the trade from her dying father. Her children are kidnapped during a raid on her city (the shared setting in question), and she sets off, axe in hand, to rescue them. Along the way, she meets a predictably bland band of colorful characters and like-minded women, willing to fight for their destinies.The attempt at a feminist war story is admirable -- the women fighters aren't Amazons, but cooks and washerwomen and artisans, given agency and exercising a will to power -- but man, is it obvious where all this is going. It's the literary equivalent of the mousey girl with a ponytail ditching the specs and shaking out her flowing locks. The villains are suddenly all, "Pff, they are just women... oh crap, look how many there are! [dies]"There is also this bit about the fine line between fighting for a just cause and unbridled zealotry, but it was kind of shoehorned in there, and rushed at that (we've only got 104 pages to work with, and some of them are drawings). I think probably the best way to experience this would be as originally envisioned -- read aloud to you, interspersed with chapters of Bacigalupi's book (it's on Audible, check it out). The cerebral, brooding nature of The Alchemist would contrast nicely with the action-heavy, uh, action here. Or I guess you could just read one chapter of each at a time, but you aren't going to take two novellas in the bathtub, are you? Didn't think so.