The Tangled Lands

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Tangled Lands Book Poster Image
Related novellas have ecological themes, lots of violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Tangled Lands takes place in a land where the use of magic results in growth of a deadly plant. The book might stimulate discussion of the real-life dangers of climate change.

Positive Messages

Humankind needs the recognize the harm it has done to the natural world. Refugees deserve compassion and mercy. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Alchemist has a solution to the brambles problem and wants to share it with society for free. The Executioness undergoes harsh training in order to protect the women of her caravan. Mop will do almost anything to protect his sister Rain, just as the Blacksmith's Daughter will.


Written primarily for adults, The Tangled Lands contains many scenes of violence, including against women and children, Characters are beaten, tortured, stabbed, and killed in a variety of brutal ways, including being buried alive. Men sexually assault young women and girls who are drugged and unconscious.


A few instances of "hell" and "damn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Tangled Lands features four related fantasy novellas in the same setting, contributed by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell. Set in a kingdom where the use of magic generates a deadly plant that chokes the streets of the city, the book metaphorically explores ecological issues. The level of violence is high, with scenes of stabbings, duels with swords, poisonings, live burials, and scenes in which unconscious girls are sexually assaulted. There are a few instances of "hell" and "damn."

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What's the story?

As THE TANGLED LANDS opens, the Alchemist has devised an invention that will stop the deadly brambles from taking over the city completely. He learns too late, however, that powerful forces wish to maintain the status quo. As the point of view shifts in each novella, the reader is introduced to characters determined to fight against the brambles in their own way -- two women who take up weapons in defense of their families, and an orphan boy sworn to protect his sister.

Is it any good?

Collaborations between even the most accomplished participants are tricky, and this promising collection of related novellas demonstrates some of the difficulties. The Tangled Lands has a fascinating premise -- that the use of magic causes ecological disaster. Although they collaborated on the world-building, Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell worked separately on each of their two novellas, and that strategy results in some narrative disjointedness. There's not much connection between the individual stories, so it takes a while for each of them to become fully  engrossing, and the book ends without much resolution. There's much to like about The Tangled Lands -- its passion, its cleverness --  so older, more patient readers may find it absorbing and rewarding.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Tangled Lands uses magic as a metaphor for carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Do you think the environmental theme works well in this fantasy setting? 

  • The Tangled Lands features a women who becomes a feared and respected warrior. What is the history of women warriors in the real world? What challenges and advantages do women in the military face?

  • The Tangled Lands spotlights the plight of refugees. How are displaced people treated around the world? How do various governments deal with an influx of people without homes?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

Themes & Topics

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