Book Review: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett + Giveaway
***The giveaway is now over, thank you to everyone who entered!***
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Founders
Publisher: Crown (August 21, 2018)
Length: 512 pages
A new novel by Robert Jackson Bennett is always cause to celebrate, as he is the author of one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, The Divine Cities. Needless to say, I went into Foundryside with sky-high expectations, and once again I was rewarded with a remarkably good read.
This book, the first in a new series, takes place in the industrialized magical city of Tevanne. Almost everything here runs on a magic system called “scriving”, which utilizes a complicated process involving ancient sigils left behind by a long-lost race of people known as the Hierophants. Using this method, the characteristics of everyday objects can be altered magically to perform other functions or to behave in different ways. With the business of scriving, the leaders of the four merchant houses that govern Tevanne have become fantastically wealthy, while the rest of the populace is left to bear the burdens and shortcomings of the ruling elites’ power games.
Our story’s protagonist is a young woman named Sancia Grado, an expert thief who has been hired by an unknown client to steal a mysterious box from a heavily-guarded dockside warehouse owned by one of the merchant houses. After pulling off the heist, however, Sancia’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she opens the box to catch a glimpse of the object she was paid an exorbitant amount of money to steal. It turns out to be a key—but not just any ordinary key. As soon as it makes contact with Sancia, she hears it in her mind. Calling itself Clef, the sentient golden key explains to our flummoxed protagonist exactly what it can do, and the implications of it are beyond anything she can imagine. If the secret of Clef is made known, it can revolutionize everything the world knows about scriving. It can also be extremely dangerous for Sancia. Already, she has painted a target on herself by disrupting the plans of someone very powerful. Unwilling to let Clef fall into the wrong hands, she decides to keep it to herself while she attempts to uncover the identities of those who want to kill her and anyone else who knows about the key.
With Robert Jackson Bennett, you never know what you’re going to get. His speculative fiction work has been tagged in a wide range of categories, including but not limited to horror, fantasy, steampunk, mystery, and even spy thriller. Hence, when I picked up Foundryside, I thought I was pretty much prepared for anything. However, what I did not expect was humor. In some ways, this might be the most lighthearted novel I’ve ever read from the author, though to be fair, most of that levity is the result of Clef. That key sure has one hell of a personality, but more on that later. First, I just want to say how delighted I was again at the wonderful blend of genre elements featured in this book, and I make it no secret how much I adore a good heist story. Bennett always excels when he is writing mystery and adventure, and once more he delivered in a big way.
Of course, fans of Bennett also know he is an exceptionally talented and imaginative world-builder, and Foundryside is another stunning testament to his skills. Everything about this story and the world is full of wonderful and creative magic, starting with the process known as scriving. The concept behind this magic system is elegant in its simplicity and natural in its execution, belying the tremendous amount of work and thought that was likely put into its development, for everything about this novel—plot, characters, setting—is centered around scriving. Using the ancient language of the Hierophants, scrivers etch magical commands onto metal plates that can “convince” normal objects to be something they’re not. For example, wheels can be scrived to behave as those they are on an incline, causing them to roll even when they are on flat ground. Materials can also be scrived to become something more, so that the metal edge on a sword can be made to act sharper and cut more effectively.
As for the characters, Foundryside features a pretty large cast, but at the core of it is the relationship between Sancia and Clef. They are the heart and soul of this story. Readers will care about what happens because they care about them. Scrappy thieves with tragic pasts trying to eke out a living in an unjust world are a dime a dozen in the fantasy genre, but ultimately Sancia proves herself different from the norm by way of her mentality and highly individualistic reactions to certain situations. Her personal journey is fascinating is watch, and it is made even more interesting with Clef thrown into the mix. As mentioned before, Clef is a force unto itself. Would you believe me if I told you the strongest personality in this novel belongs to a sentient key? Clef is a scene-stealer, dominating the attention whenever it appears on a page. Obviously though, there is more to this book than just Sancia and Clef. Many other characters add some flavor and liveliness of the supporting cast, and they are all as deliciously complex as our main protagonists.
All in all, Foundryside is a superb series-starter and another magnificent creation from the masterful mind of Robert Jackson Bennett. Like all good beginnings, it promises to bring his readers even more adventure and glorious excitement in future volumes, and the rest of this series is a journey I can’t wait to experience.
And now time you’ve all been waiting for! I have an extra copy of Foundryside that I’m putting up for giveaway. With apologies to our international readers, due to the costs of shipping, this giveaway is only open to residents of the US. One winner will receive a hardcover of the book. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “FOUNDRYSIDE” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Wednesday, September 5, 2018.
Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!