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The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell

01/03/2011. Contributed by Richard Palmer

Buy The Executioness in the USA - or Buy The Executioness in the UK

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pub: Subterranean Press. 99 deluxe hardback. Price: $ 20.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-354-9.

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'The Executioness' is the companion piece to Paolo Bacigalupi's 'The Alchemist', also reviewed this month.

Tobias S. Buckell's novella is, of course, set in the same land. The brambles, which spring up through the use of magic, are a menace and people are brutally executed for the use of magic.

At the opening of 'The Executioness' we learn that one of the executioners, Anto, is dying. He is called to perform his duty but, unable to do so, he forces his daughter into doing it for him. Normally, had he had a son, he would have long before been readied to take Anto's place when he was no longer able to carry out executions.

Reluctantly, she does so. Despite her father attempting to convince her that she will cope, she finds that ending a man's life in this manner is difficult and unpleasant. Having done so, though, she returns home, thankful that she will probably never have to do it again.

On her return, she discovers that raiders from another country have destroyed her home, left her father for dead, killed her husband and taken her children.

Following the raiders, she manages to gain for herself a reputation as a woman not to be trifled with in fighting off some men who attack her, though on several occasions she tries to make clear that her role has been exaggerated.

She is taken on by a trade caravan and eventually her reputation becomes so fierce that she is able to form an army of women who have all lost husbands and children to the raiders. Here Buckell explores the idea that, though in these kind of wars it is the men who fight that get all the glory for their suffering on the battlefield, that the women's role is all too often ignored. They are forced to make huge sacrifices, as she has. Through the training she receives in warfare and the simple fact that the women she has gathered have little to live for, save vengeance, she makes a formidable and terrifying army.

Similarly to the Bacigalupi novella, this story is short and quite straight-forward, as befits a short story. It was interesting to see, however, a different writer's approach to the same society. Some of the consistency within the two stories was good to see, though. For example, both the main characters are essentially nameless, being referred to by their professions. Different sides of the problems related to the bramble are foregrounded in each novella.

Overall, I enjoyed this little experiment.

Richard Palmer

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