Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
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 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of Founders
Publisher: Del Rey (April 21, 2020)
Length: 512 pages
Looking back at my review for Foundryside, it seemed I loved the book, so I was actually surprised at how little I retained from the story. Luckily, its sequel Shorefall does a hell of a job catching readers up, and soon I was feeling comfortably back in the magical world of the series. That said, the initial disorientation may have impacted my overall experience, not to mention the “wearing off of novelty” effect that commonly affects sequels, because I didn’t think this novel was as strong as its predecessor, though it was still a very good, solid read.
Once more, readers are transported back to the city of Tevanne, where magic and industry co-exist and work hand in hand. A few years have passed since the end of the first book when we last left our protagonist Sancia, who has given up her thieving ways to help her employer Orso Igancio make the world a better place. Their scriving firm Foundryside is growing in reputation and influence by the day, making great contributions to the knowledge of magic while helping the city by teaching people how to utilize it.
And yet, it is not enough. Tevanne may be large and prosperous, but its successes are only enjoyed by a few at the top, and not surprisingly, the leaders of the ruling merchant houses are not too keen on sharing. To prevent themselves from going under, the Foundrysiders hatch up a plan to stay in the game, and make previous inaccessible magical technology available to the public besides. So, okay, maybe Sancia’s thieving days aren’t quite over, exactly.
But no sooner do they start celebrating their triumph than a new threat appears on the horizon, and this is one enemy that not even the merchant houses can avoid, despite all their riches and power. A legendary hierophant named Crasedes Magnus has resurrected, scrived to the wazoo, and he is bent on shaping the city and its population into his vision. Only Sancia may have the guts and the skills to take him on, but unfortunately, Crasedes already has his eye on our protagonist and her little group, believing that they have what he needs.
I was so excited when Shorefall opened with the adventurous energy and tone of a bold caper. Pretty soon, though, the story begins shifting into darker and more suspenseful territory, edging slightly into horror. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t perceive this as a negative, but it did cause my expectations to change slightly. Speaking of which, one thing I did miss was the humor. I may have forgotten quite a few things from Foundryside, but what had always stayed with me were the laughs, most of them resulting from the banter between Sancia and the sentient golden key Clef. Shorefall, on the other hand, was decidedly lighter on these moments of levity, which made sense, seeing as how Clef did not feature as prominently in this sequel (though he still had a very significant role).
In addition to a more somber and direr tone, you should also expect the writing to place more emphasis on the characters’ relationships rather than their exploits. While we still have action and intrigue aplenty, where Shorefall shines is the story’s in-depth exploration of Sancia’s friendships, with particular attention to her loyalty. Her Foundryside crew is her family, and we get to see this in her respect for Orso and Gregor, and of course her love for Berenice. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that there are several developments in this book that cause each of them to reflect upon their trust for one another and bring them all closer together.
The world-building also remains ever impressive, but then, who’s surprised? Robert Jackson Bennett has always excelled in this area, and I find myself constantly recommending his books to fantasy fans who are looking for unique and interesting magic systems. In a nutshell, the concept of scriving involves using magical commands etched in the ancient language of the Hierophants to “convince” everyday objects to behave in a certain way. Following the same concept, talented scrivers like Sancia can also tap into these scrived objects and use magic to persuade them to be something they’re not. The idea is brilliant in its elegance and simplicity, but still, by expanding the magic system in this sequel, I think Bennett was forced to make it more complex. As a result, some of his explanations struck me as forced or too convoluted, and there were moments where I felt things got away from him. For example, certain solutions to magical problems were glossed over, and several times I felt like we were expected to just roll with whatever arbitrary explanations were given to describe how some new aspect of the magic worked.
But in the end, my criticisms were few, while reasons to love Shorefall were many. It’s a fantastic follow-up to Foundryside no matter how you look at it, with so much to add to the series’ story arc, characters, and world-building. If you enjoyed the first volume, you’ll likely find lots to love in this sequel as well, and after this be even more excited for the trilogy conclusion in the next book.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Foundryside (Book 1)