A book review on The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi.
I came across a novella in the library that normally I wouldn’t pick up because I hadn’t heard of the author before. Because I paused and gave the book The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi the once over, it turned out to be the best decision I’ve made in a long time.
The story takes you to the city of Khaim which has been over taken by bramble, a deadly plant that takes the lives and livelihoods of the citizens. Bramble appeared because people used magic for everything, and because of its misuse it now comes forth as a punishment for being so wasteful. An alchemist, in an effort to bring back the better times for his 6 year old infirmed daughter, creates a device to destroy the bramble. His only thought is - to stop the bramble that has caused the sickness experienced by countless of people, some of whom have died, as well as his daughter who has the horrendous cough of the sickness. When he shows his device to the city’s mayor, he gets a weird feeling that no matter his good intentions his device will be used for greed and corruption. What will happen is why you must read this book.
Bacigalupi places you in the midst of the problem from the start and lets the reader discover the past even as he keeps the story rolling forward. You follow the alchemist as he almost loses his daughter through his doing what must be done in order to keep her safe. The descriptions of the city are immaculate. It makes one want to live there if the bramble hadn’t taken over. I was extremely enthusiastic to read the description of the balanthast, his device to rid the Khaim of the bramble. Through his descriptions, he weaves this fantastic story that is completely believable. It’s almost as if it happened in our past which keeps the reader wanting to read more of this fantastic world that has become devastated because of greed and corruption.
This story carries a heavy moral that has plagued our society for ages. Many items have been designed for the sheer desire that they be used to benefit society. Unfortunately, these items are used to cause death, destruction, and sometimes even plagues. In this story, it is the creation of the balanthast in order to destroy the bramble so that the citizens of Khaim can once again wisely use magic to help better their lives. The mayor and his associate decide that they can use this to their advantage and make others stop using magic so they may keep it for themselves. Like the great Dr. Seuss, Bacigalupi leaves the reader wondering what will happen to Khaim and the alchemist. I would absolutely love to see more from this, but at the same time, I think Bacigalupi did a wonderful job.
Now, unbeknownst to me, this novella has a companion novella to go with it called The Executioness and it is written by Tobias S. Bucknell. Bucknell collaborated with Bacigalupi in order to create this world and give us two perspectives on what is going on in the city of Khaim. After reading The Alchemist, I cannot wait to get my hands on The Executioness! So please, if you are in the library or book store and you happen to come across The Alchemist, please stop and give it try. After 96 pages, you’ll be wanting the companion novella, and maybe more.