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.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of Founders

Publisher: Del Rey (April 21, 2020)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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)

37 Comments on “Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett”

  1. Every time I see a review for one of Bennett’s books I wonder anew if I should try his stuff. But so far, nothing anybody has said has ever really grabbed me. so maybe someday.

    That being said,glad you enjoyed this and I hope you have many more books from him that you enjoy 🙂

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  2. I’ve actually been pushing this back since I can’t remember really what happened in Book 1! There was a thief and some kinda magicky thing and… um. I remember that I really liked the innovative magic system, but retained very little more. I’m glad that it recaps and even more glad that you liked it. Great review!

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  3. Since I’m almost at the end of Foundryside (and loving it!), I’m glad to know that the sequel stands on an almost equal footing, so I can look forward to it. It’s true that sometimes the explanations about how the magic works feel far too detailed and seem to break the story’s pace, but still I’m already invested in this set of characters and will certainly enjoy renewing my acquaintance 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Lovely review, Mogsy:). I agree that there is more of a shift to horror and gore – and like you, I didn’t mind so much about that. Like you, I thought the worldbuilding was exceptional, and I enjoyed this one more than Foundryside – but I loved old Crasedes, who I think is a really wonderful villain:)).

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  5. I actually struggled a lot with the more complex parts of the magic system. While it’s a great idea, I think those sections really slowed down the story for me.

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  6. It’s always interesting to see how a sequel lives up to expectations when you’ve loved the first instalment. It seems rare, from the books I’ve read, to find one that does live up to expectations (rarer still to exceed them!) It’s a shame there’s less humour, I find that can really offset darkness within this sort of genre and make it more engaging, give it more of a human edge. Excellent review as always!
    Caz xx

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    • Definitely, at least for me, the “novelty” aspect is a common reason for a sequel not to live up to the expectations set by the original. That “been there done that” speed bump is tough to overcome for sure! RJB tried to up his game in the world-building department here in order to do that, but I think it got away from him because I thought it got too convoluted and bogged down in places.

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  7. I know a lot of people are really looking forward to this one so I’m glad it stands up to the first one. I kind of skimmed because I am considering reading the first one someday.

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    • Yeah, your review resonated with me, because I didn’t quite get the “wow factor” I expected from this one, given how amazing Foundryside was. As a sequel, it fell a little short of the original, but still, I loved it 🙂

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  8. Loving the sound of this series. I had to skim through the plot-summary-related parts but I love the sound of the magic system and world here. I really need to get around to picking up Foundryside as soon as possible. I’ll also take into consideration the lack of pizzazz of this sequel and try and not have TOO high of expectations for my own sake hahaha Great review as always, Mogsy. 😀

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  9. I forgot so much of the plot between reading Shorefall and Foundryside! I find that happens to me with so many books just because I read so many. Fortunately, I was able to get back into the groove pretty quickly! RJB just keeps writing awesome books!

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    • I know how that feels! This was exactly what happened to me here, sometimes it’s just too hard to remember all the details between books, which is why I always write a brief synopsis for my reviews, sometimes that’s enough to jog my memory when I read them again 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    • Was that his debut? I was under the impression he had been around a while, but I might be totally wrong. But for sure, that was definitely the book/series that put him on the map! The second one City of Blades is probably my favorite book of his 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right, it wasn’t! I was misled by what he had written at the end, about this being his first time, but he was writing about writing a trilogy 😉
        I still need to read City of Blades! 😀

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  10. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 04/25/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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