A woman whose father worked as the city executioner is on his death bed, and his daughter is forced to take up his axe to execute a criminal to continue putting food on the table so her children don’t starve. Things get more interesting when her family are captured by raiders, and Tana is forced to leave the city, axe in hand, to track down her lost children.
Set in the same world as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist, Buckell’s novella was released at the same time and is complimentary to the other work. Despite the strength of development of this world remaining, The Executioness doesn’t end up having the same strength of narrative or general impact of its companion. Buckell writes good prose and dialogue, but the plot is a bit paint by numbers by comparison. Although there is nothing necessarily wrong with a pissed off mother going after her kidnapped children, I can’t help but think it’s a gender-reversed fantasy adaptation of a certain Liam Neeson film.
This novella still has redeeming qualities; Tana is a strong protagonist that it is not only likable, but very well developed considering the rather small word count involved in a novella. Buckell does an extraordinary job of giving the reader a good sense of who Tana is, including some real change over the course of the story. It is a real feather in one’s cap as a writer when you can develop a character more over the course of about one hundred pages than many science fiction and fantasy writers manage to do over the course of a novel three or four times as long.
Despite not being able to live up to the quality of Bacigalupi’s work, the strength of its character development and the fact that it still shares that perfect fantasy world make The Executioness a worthwhile read. Buckell has, at the very least, established himself here as a writer that is worth taking notice of in his future endeavors. This world deserves revisiting by either of its writers, and it would be a welcome read to see further adventures of Tana.