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The Alchemist (Khaim Novellas)

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,855 ratings  ·  224 reviews
Magic has a price. But someone else will pay. Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts, sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and threatening a poisonous sleep. It sprouts in tilled fields and in neighbors' roof beams, thrusts up from between street cobbles, and bursts forth from sacks of powdered spice. A bit of magic, and bramble follows. A little at firs ...more
Hardcover, Deluxe Trade Edition, 95 pages
Published January 31st 2011 by Subterranean Press (first published January 1st 1994)
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C.J. Mugleston I heard the same thing, so I read The Windup Girl first thinking it'd be the best. It is an awesome book but Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities are…moreI heard the same thing, so I read The Windup Girl first thinking it'd be the best. It is an awesome book but Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities are exquisite. Just not quite as sexual or violent because they're YA.(less)
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Chances are good that you checked this book out of the library accidentally, and you actually wanted The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I mean, it is understandable: slim novellas of the same name by two dudes with similar Italian-sounding names (Paolo/Paulo! What are the odds?). Count yourself lucky -- you got the good one. The other one is full of bullshit, no matter what that lady at work keeps telling you.

Paolo Bacigalupi loves to remind you how much people suck. Indeed, that could have been the
3.0 to 3.5 stars. Paolo Bacigalupi is one of my favorite SF writers working today and his first novel, The Windup Girl, is on my list of “All Time Favorite” books. So when I heard he was going to write a fantasy story, I was like:
Add to that wonderful piece of news that Paolo was going to team up and create a shared fantasy world with another of my favorite authors, Tobias Buckell, and all I could think of was…
Well in the first of these shared world stories, Mr. Bacigalupi introduce
Okay, that's it, I'm offically a fan-girl for Paolo. The Alchemist is one of a pair of novellas (the other by Tobias Buckell,) set in the same fantasy world, where magic is destroying the Kingdoms by fueling the growth of a magical and deadly bramble.

The titular character devotes his life to finding a way to defeat the bramble and restore the ability and right for all to use magic. Unfortunately, he runs afoul of those in power who use the threat to carry out their own bloody agenda.

It all fol
I didn't expect to like The Alchemist more than The Executioness, since I didn't like Paolo Bacigalupi's work when I last encountered it, but actually I preferred it by quite a bit. It has a male main character whose life revolves around taking care of his daughter, so in this case I actually enjoyed the protective parent trope. The whole world felt more real to me, too -- I caught on to the ideas quicker. It probably doesn't help that apparently this one is meant to be read first and I did it t ...more
Olga Godim
I loved this short novella, my first book by Bacigalupi. Written in the expressive, lyrical language, it depicts a world rich in detail and traditions that have a slightly Eastern flavor. Although the plotline is rather uninspiring, the magical system is original, the pacing fast, and the protagonist as real as my neighbors.
Vulnerable and weak, naïve as a dreamer and definitely not a hero, the main character in this story cares mainly for his six-year-old sick daughter. He would do anything for
Paolo Bacigalupi's quick little novella tells the story of a world trapped in the midst of a rather difficult quandary: while magic is possible (accessible, even), it has a price. Every time it's used, it spurs on the growth of a deadly bramble that has already destroyed a good part of the world and continue to threaten to overrun the city of Khaim. Magic has consequently been outlawed, but it's use is still widespread and justifications abound. The Alchemist tells the story of Jeoz, the titular ...more
In all my reading, I do my best not to compare books unless they are written by the same author. Despite mentally bludgeoning my brain with punches, I couldn’t help it. The fact that I took to reading this book within minutes after finishing a novel that left me disappointed, Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist unexpectedly lifted my mood. I was charmed by the contrast in plot, characters, and writing style—so much so that I might suggest you consider the influence this has over my four-star rating. (Alt ...more
Althea Ann
An alchemist has been working desperately to discover a solution to the fast-growing bramble that is engulfing his nation. He's bankrupted his family in pursuit of his research - but finally, he may be on the verge of a breakthrough.

The poisonous bramble is fed by magic - every time someone casts a spell, the dangerous plant grows a bit more. And everyone uses magic, even though it's illegal. Even the alchemist uses spells - without them, his beloved young daughter would die of her tubercular il
Joel Neff
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
J.j. Metsavana
Mulle meeldivad fantasy zanrist kõige rohkem jutud, kus leitud maagiale ka tasakaalustav punkt. Mingi konks, mis ei lase süüdimatult lõputus kogustes spellida vaid asjal on taga ka omalaadne konks või tagasilöök. Siin jutustuses oli olemas nii nutikas tagasilöök, kui ka samavõrra lahe idee selle neutaliseermiseks. Kõik see lahedas tumedates toonides kirja pandud ja tõlgitud Tartu ulmekirjutamise töötoa veterani Martin Kirotari poolt.
Jul 24, 2012 Tatiana marked it as abandoned
Rather flat and lifeless. I expected more from Bacigalupi. Actually, EVERY short story of his is better than this, IMO.
I've wanted to read one of Paolo Bacigalupi's books for a while, but the high-concept, dense writing I heard about really intimidated me. This, a bite-size, shared-world novella, went down easily, and convinced me I want to read more by this author.

The world, shared between Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell, is one where magic produces a nasty invasive vine that is slowly choking out the entire world. The hero of The Alchemist was once wealthy and much sought after in his life as a craftsman, but no
Aunt Edie
This novella was nominated for a Nebula and it is easy to see why. Although I think there are better stories in the Pump Six collection, this is a fine and entertaining read. If you like novellas or fantasy or want to read something quick to cleanse your palate then pick this up. It is available electronically super cheap.

Bacigalupi has become one of those authors whose books I read just because his name is on them. Even his not so great stuff is worth the time and effort, IMO.
Carbunkle Flux
This is the companion book to The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell. You can read my thoughts on that here.

Last we left off, some butcher woman turned Executioness was off to start a revolution. But what about her home town of Khaim? What happened there?

The Alchemist stays firmly rooted in Khaim and concerns a...well, an alchemist, who is obsessed with destroying the bramble. The bramble is a fatally venomous pest that sprouts in response to the use of magic. It is spreading like wildfire and th
This novella takes place in the same world as The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell. It is a world where the use of magic has had dire consequences. Whenever someone uses magic, a deadly, unstoppable, invincible plant called the bramble feeds off the magic and begins to grow. Not only is bramble taking over the world, but it is also deadly. The plants are covered with sticky filaments that contain a deadly venom that is absorbed into the skin when touched. The poison quickly results in a coma th ...more
Marcelo Sanchez
Escriba en la pizarra: "Paolo Bacigalupi no es Paulo Coelho".
Es más una historia corta sobreextendida que una novela corta. Tiene un muy buen ritmo y es de fácil lectura.
Este libro trata la tragedia de los comunes en formas diversas, pero más notoriamente en la forma de la zarza (espinas tipo bella durmiente), una planta venenosa que aparece cuando alguien usa magia. Si usas magia, alguien más se lleva la planta y los peligros que esta conlleva. Ciudades enteras han caido ante esta planta, por l
Denise "Mika" Hutchins
While I feel it unfair to simply compare this book to its counterpart (“The Executioness” by Tobias S. Buckell) I must say I felt more connected to this one and therefore enjoyed it more. I was able to understand the characters, I felt their emotions and resonated with their triumphs and perils, something that just didn’t happen with the other book. It was also very cool to read things here that were references of (or were referenced in) the other story. That really helped make the two books see ...more
This was far too short, and might be called a parable more than a story.

Bacigalupi has once again found a new way to create a dystopia on the back of too much societal reliance on taking easy solutions. In this case, magic replaces technology, but this allows him to tell a parable more truthfully than he might have been able to do had he directly said oil/electricity/technology.

The Alchemist is the story of a father determined to use science to save his society from from an encroaching death th
I *really* liked this one. A few things off the top of my head:

1. It was first-person, and I don't usually like first-person stories because you're stuck looking at the story from just one person's perspective, and if that person is annoying/boring/unlikeable for some reason, it makes the whole story less enjoyable. The narrator in this story (who is just "the alchemist" - I don't think he ever tells us his name) is not any of these things - he's likable and sympathetic, and exactly flawed enoug
Timothy McNeil
It is fine for what it is (which is a short story stretched to a lite novella), but Bacigalupi missed an opportunity to better frame the setting and the Alchemist's dilemma. He could have used a brief chapter to show the Halizak Prison in action and then let the subsequent references to it have (visceral) resonance. Instead, there is an awkward bit of exposition explaining it (by the narrator/protagonist, the same character who keeps referring to the self-same dilemma).

It does feel like a fanta
I enjoyed this book 1 of a series. The premise is interesting and new. Everyone here has at least a bit of magic. Problems arise when brambles start taking over everything because any use of magic nourishes this plant. It's like kudzu on steroids and is harmful/fatal if it touches you. Brambles are covering cities, farm land, homes, everything. Our hero Jeoz is working to find a non-magical solution to the bramble. He's worked so long at it that he's lost almost everything, except his sickly dau ...more
Apr 21, 2011 Flissy rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: ?
Shelves: 2011
In spite of the fact that I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I feel like I should give Bacigalupi another chance. This little novella had potential in presenting a philosophical dilemma, but it just ended up feeling a little too quaint and contrived.
Robert Kennedy
I'm torn with this book. I love the setting. A world being taken over by bramble that is near invincible and incredibly poisonous has so much potential. However, I found the characters to be unbelievable. In the beginning of the book the primary antagonists have control over a single city, and by the end it doesn't seem like their influence expands outside of the city of Khaim. The author paints them as driven by ambition, but it seems like they could have easily taken over the world had they ju ...more
The Alchemist is a very charming novella about an alchemist and an empire in ruin. In a world plagued by Bramble--a poisonous, constantly growing, self-propagating weed that is drawn inexorably toward magic, an alchemist toils in the gutted emptiness of his mansion, trying to find a way to destroy it.

This is a very straightforward fantasy novella about the price that society pays when everyone wants just a little magic for all the right reasons. It's extremely simple story. There are no big surp
Ali Golightly
The Alchemist is a book of intrigue and values. Set in a land leftover from the ancient dreams of its own past, the main character gives his life to restoring the grandeur of a kingdom long discarded to the destructive impacts of magic. The hearts of men can be so strong and so cruel. The MC discovers this along his journey to his dream of making his city the gleaming pride he knew it as before the bramble threatened to destroy every bit of magic ever created. It is a story of courage, hearts, a ...more
It had potential and some good writing but the ending... was disappointing and somewhat anti-climactic and most of the action felt too rushed and told rather than experienced or described. I liked the ideas, but the execution was a disappointment.

The author developed a clever world and interesting plot twists. But at times it felt like a fable... like it was a short punchy tale meant to teach a lesson rather than a story. The characters weren't adequately developed and there wasn't enough action
Dione Basseri
A unique fantasy story with a distinctly Middle-Eastern inspiration.

The city of Khaim is threatened by the spread of bramble, a deadly plant that feeds on magic. Generations of spell-work have led to its spread, and now all of civilization is on the brink of destruction. Magic is outlawed, on pain of death, and without magic, Khaim is crumbling. The titular alchemist seeks to bring the people back to glory by creating a machine that destroys bramble...and succeeds. All he must do now is convince
I like this one much better than the paired novella, The Executioness. This one follows an ill-fated alchemist whose noble goal was twisted into a horrific purpose and being forced to take part in it.

It is set in the same city, and the events happen more or less simultaneously with the other novella. There's two or three places that hint at the events that happened in the other novella.

The reason I preferred this treatment of the world is because it goes down into a more personal level. It follo
Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

I rated other Paolo Bacigalupi novels at 4 and 4.5 stars. The Alchemist is a lesser work, and I was disappointed in it. The writing is up to snuff, but the story itself if very short (I read it in an evening) and I kept feeling there should be more. Bacigalupi's other novels are based on solid environmental science and present believable future societies and worlds. This one is a fantasy, an Arabian Nights tale about a world where magic (literally, flying carpets and clo
The "Alchemist," is the story of a kingdom besieged by the unending and erratic growth of brambles whenever someone decides to use magic. The bigger the spell the worst the growth of brambles as they engulf everything from houses, to land and even food. You see, brambles are attracted to magic, and thrive on it's use, spreading their pods when they are cut or burned; their needless will even kill those who are pricked by them. As a result, the evil mayor of Khaim has banned magic use of any kind ...more
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Paolo Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in High Country News,, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It has been anthologized in various “Year’s Best” collections of short science fiction and fantasy, nominated for three Nebula and five Hugo Awards, and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best sf short story of the year.

His debut nov
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Other Books in the Series

Khaim Novellas (2 books)
  • The Executioness

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