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The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell
Cover Artist: J.K. Drummond
Review by Gayle Surrette
Subterranean Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063549
Date: 31 January 2011 List Price $20.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell takes place in the same world as The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi, where magic is pervasive and feeds bramble which is growing unchecked and taking over the more magic that is performed. It's already destroying much of the crop land and in Khaim the mayor has decreed that all who do magic be killed.

It's in such a world that Tana finds herself struggling to keep her family together. Her father is one of the city's executioners, only he's dying and the loss of his income could mean the death of her family. She has two children and her husband is a charming drunk with no job. Tana has been working as a butcher. Then fate steps in and the executioner bell rings for her father and he answers, forcing Tana to take his place under the hood and to do his job.

It's not just taking her father's place and killing her first man, but she returns home to find the town in flames, her father burnt and barely alive, husband killed, and her children taken by raiders. It's then that Tana becomes more than a mother searching for her children, but a hero representing hope to all who have had their lives ripped apart by the raiders.

She's a mother. A worker. A normal woman with a normal life. Now suddenly she's doing things she never imaged she'd do, traveling into a future she hopes will include her children alive and well. While Tana is not the usual heroine, she's much more real than the usual perfect bodied, feel no pain, expert in all forms of weapons and hand-to-hand combat type. Tana is believable because she's a woman just trying to find and regain her children. She's got a goal and will do everything in her power to achieve it. However, as time passes she also comes to realize, whether she wants to or not, that she's also a symbol for others and she has a responsibility to those who have come to hope because of her.

According to the introduction, Bucknell wanted to have a heroine for all of us who are middle-aged and no longer as healthy or as strong as we'd like. He succeeds admirably; Tana is very real in the context of the story. He also manages to deal with the responsibility that accrues to any hero as they are looked up to by others who follow their examples.

The Executioness is published by Subterranean Press, and is a lovely volume that would, even if the story wasn't exceptional, be a great addition to any fantasy reader's library.

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