Currently available only as an audiobook, this novella consists of two short stories set in the same world. It's very good, set in a world that is late Middle Ages or early Renaissance technologically, but resembling India or Southeast Asia culturally. In this world, magic is a powerful tool that anyone can use, but every use causes Brambles to grow in the area. Brambles are a deadly, magical weed that poisons and kills anyone who touches it, and they are slowly choking the entire continent; empires have fallen to the Brambles. The only solution has been to make magic a capital crime.
The parallels to our world are obvious, and echo familiar themes in Bacigalupi's other works (the ease of using powerful tools to make life easier, at the expense of the environment, with mostly the common people suffering the consequences). Both stories -- "The Alchemist" and "The Executioness" -- are about ordinary people forced to take on the powers that be for the sake of their families. The characters (heroes and villains alike) are all interesting and three-dimensional, and there are no easy resolutions. If you like audiobooks, this is a great pair of contemporary fantasy short stories.