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The Executioness
Tobias S. Buckell
Subterranean Press, 104 pages

The Executioness
Tobias S. Buckell
Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born writer who grew up in Grenada, the US, and the British Virgin Islands. He was a first place winner for the Writers of the Future, and has been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Nebula Award. He is also a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshop He now lives (through many strange twists of fate) in a small college town in Ohio with his family.

Tobias S. Buckell Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Tobias S. Buckell has published some first-rate Space Opera over the past few years, a linked series of novels (and a few short stories) such as Ragamuffin. The Executioness is, then, something of a departure for him. As revealed in the introduction, by Paolo Bacigalupi, the two newish writers, both mostly SF-focussed, have collaborated on building a world in which to set fantasy stories.

The world here revealed is a promising setting. Based on the briefish glimpse we see in this novella, the tech level is roughly Middle Ages, with, of course, magic. The kicker is that magic use has terrible consequences: it fosters the growth of a poisonous bramble. There was an "Old Empire" which seems to have mostly collapsed, and the rump of that Empire, apparently city-states, is under attack from the Paikans, who seem to be slavers.

The title character is a middle-aged woman, Tana, whose father is an Executioner. It seems that executioners are hired by the Mayor mainly for killing magic users, who endanger the people by allowing more bramble to grow. But he is dying, and Tana is the only possible replacement, albeit a reluctant one. The family needs the money, and her husband is a drunk, her two sons too young. As the story opens, she is called to kill her first man -- but as she fulfills her duty, the Paikans come, and she returns home to find her father and husband dead, her house burned, and her sons taken into slavery.

The rest of the story follows her attempts to chase down the Paikans, for the hope both of revenge and of recovering her children. She gains a certain, not entirely deserved, reputation for ferocity, and a nickname, the Executioness. Eventually she joins a trading caravan, meets up with a group of resisters to Paikan domination, helps form an army, and finally encounters the Paikans. Along the way she learns something of the Paikans' reasons for their slaving ways, which are both religious and somewhat practical; and she also becomes a more important figure than she had ever expected, or wanted.

It's an interesting story in an interesting world, but it doesn't really fully work. Tana's path to becoming leader of an army comes off as rather too easy. Her character is well-portrayed, and her choices and tragedies feel mostly real, but the events in which she is caught up feel a bit forced. The central problem facing her world -- the apparent near hopelessness of the bramble infestation -- will presumably be addressed further in future stories, but is only introduced here. So, a story I'm happy to have read, in a world I'll be glad to visit again, but not a brilliant piece.

Copyright © 2011 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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