Review: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Also by this author: City of Stairs
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on August 21, 2018
In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself--the first in a dazzling new fantasy series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.
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 want to start this by clearly stating Foundryside was a very enjoyable read. I was pulled into the story within the first page because it starts strong and I was immediately curious and captivated by Sancia, a thief in the middle of a complicated job.
The strengths of this book get ramped up more as we learn about what she stole, and get to know not just more about it, but to know it as well. It turns out the item she was sent to steal not only puts a price on her head, but it becomes a bit sentient, as well as and has quite an amusing personality. She takes to calling it Clef, because if you exchange words/thoughts with a thing, it makes sense it should have a name.
As much as I really did enjoy this book, I feel like I am forever destined to just not love books by Robert Jackson Bennett quite as much as everyone else. My reading experience with him seems to be that I can without a doubt recognize the books are well written and understand why people love them the way they do. But there always seems to be one hang up for me. With City of Stairs is was ultimately just personal preference and not doing as well with crime mysteries. That aspect of the story is what help me back.
Foundryside is considerably different from his previous trilogy, and it while there’s a bit of mystery in the plot (I mean what book doesn’t have a bit of mystery), I could immediately tell that my concerns with the last book would absolutely not be an issue with this one.
Where the book failed to quite live up to the hype for me was with the magic system. As Sancia and Clef interact more, we start to learn more about scrivings and how they work. The scrivings function by “convincing” an object to behave a certain way, suggesting it is something other than what it is until the object believes it. The closer an object actually is to what the scriving is trying to accomplish, the easier it works. It makes sense, and the logical part of me feels like I should appreciate this, but for some reason the more this system was used and explained, and the more powerful the scrivings became, the more my willing suspension of disbelief crept away. I think I would handle a simple magical fairy dust better than this attempt at a rational explanation of magic for some reason. I know this is completely silly on my part, that my hang up seemed to be the system seems so logical that I have a hard time accepting it, especially as it becomes more powerful. I think perhaps I wanted stronger restraint on the capability of it? I’m not sure. But I feel like while this one thing didn’t work as well for me as I hoped, I did still enjoy the book and I expect most readers will enjoy it without concern about the magic system.
I still highly recommend this book. I feel like this is likely a personal hang up for me, because without a doubt, the book is well written. The characters were fun and the pace was good and the story was intriguing. It’s hard to argue against a book that accomplishes those three things.