REVIEW: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

This review originally appeared on Around the World in 80 Books.

5 out of 5 stars   ★★★★

Foundryside RD4 clean flat
Crown Publishing, August 21, 2018

Synopsis:

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

*I received a copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.* 

You must know by now that I am a huge fan of RJB’s writing. The worlds he creates are intricate and fascinating. Check out my reviews for City of Stairs and City of Blades on here. And check out the rest of the Divine Cities Trilogy if you have not read it already!

Foundryside is a new series by Bennett and like his Divine Cities, the world building is absolutely fabulous. The magic system is based on the idea of programming reality and honestly, it’s the coolest form of magic I’ve read in a long time. It has a certain set of rules, but the conflict and tension come when we realize that the rules are not always as they seem, they can be broken, and there are those who are determined to reach ultimate power.

With that in mind, the synopsis doesn’t even cover the best part, the character Clef, who is a “talking” key. Sancia is a person who is scrived, or has the ability to “see” or “hear” scrivings in the world, which is unheard of in Foundryside. She meets Clef an enchanted—for lack of a better word—key that is able to open any locked object. Clef can speak to Sancia because she has the scrived ability. The part I appreciate most about Clef is how his introduction is so unexpected. The beginning chapters are about this “strong woman” character and it feels like it’s heading in a dark, but expected direction, but with the introduction of Clef, I didn’t know what to expect.

Sancia is a force! She is complex. We find out that she had been a slave in her early life and the reason she is a scrived human, literally the only one, was because she was part of experiments the foundry houses were doing in secret. She’s adept at thieving because of her scrivings, but it comes at a cost: paranoia, malnutrition, loneliness. This Twitter thread by Bennett provides exemplary backstory to Sancia.

Gregor was also a surprising character for me. Like my initial impression of the novel, I though he would be a typical police “tough guy” type, but I was quickly surprised by his overall character, sense of justice, and his interactions with Sancia, plus his backstory is really the surprise of the climax, IMHO. He and Sancia come from different backgrounds, but they find commonality and work well together, each having resources the other doesn’t. (They work well together because they are becoming friends, not because of a romance. In fact, Sancia is building a romance with a woman named Beatrice–it’s very sweet!) About halfway through the book we reach a major plot point and I was concerned that the book was coming to an end, but in true RJB fashion, the plot dives into more complex construction. I didn’t want it to end! The plot was fast paced and the stakes were constantly raised, I was enthralled the whole time I was reading. This book is not a standalone, so I’m very excited for the sequel!!

Happy to recommend this to all fantasy fans. If you’re looking for something that has old school fantasy structure with a original and compelling magic system, you’ve come to the right place.


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