So my first whiff of this book came last February while I was sitting in a group of friends at LTUE, which is a writer’s conference that meets in Utah every year, and Brian McClellan (EBR Archive) casually said that he was reading Robert Jackson Bennett’s new book and that it was really good. I was immediately jealous and began wondering how I might be able to find my way into Mr. Bennett’s in-group. To say the least, I was excited to hear that the next book from this great author was coming along smashingly. After sailing my way through his Divine Cities series (EBR Archive), I was really looking forward to some more goodness from his direction.
FOUNDRYSIDE (Amazon) is the first in a new series, and it looks like it’s going to be a crazy-good one. The funny part is, I had to go looking across the internet to find out that it was actually going to be a series. Well, by the time I got to the end, I knew that it had to be a series too, but I thought it worth mentioning that there’s nothing on the cover that even remotely suggests that the thing is going to be a series. I’m sure there’s some annoying marketing reasons why there are so many covers that do this. Then again, I guess it’s also annoying to find book that claims to be the first in a new trilogy and the thing was written twelve years ago.
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a pretty good one at that. Her skills come from a combination of both her natural talent and some… unnatural ability. She has the ability to touch things, anything, and know it intimately. No, not “intimately” like that. I mean intimately like, um, “in a very detailed manner”. So, she can touch a wall and know how thick it is, how tall it is, where all the best cracks and crevices for handholds are. She can feel if there are any weak places in it, see what she would have to do to make it fail, or know whether it is covered in mold or bird poo or whatever. This works great as a tool when she’s out on a job, but it makes interacting with people decidedly difficult and almost painful. Thus, she’s mostly a loner. But she’s gotten really good at her job.
She lives in Foundryside, which is comprised of the connective spaces within a large city, Tevanne, that has been divided as if by spoils between four massive merchant houses. The houses have each walled themselves away from the others, and while their inhabitants enjoy a much higher level of living, the peoples living in the between-space of Foundryside live a very low life indeed. The “Founders”, those of the noble-high families that own the merchant companies, rule the city of Tevanne together, and the social strata between Foundryside and the merchant houses is massive.
The story begins with Sancia on a job. She’s been hired to steal a box from a safe in a warehouse on the harbor, that is being guarded by the new policing force, run by one Gregor Dandolo. She makes quick and engaging work of the job, but quickly finds that there was a lot more riding on the contents of this box than just a price. A lot more. And soon she has the eyes of not one, but two, merchant houses on her, and they’re not concerned with anything so insignificant as Sancia’s life.
This was really a fun book. It starts out fast and runs and runs, never really letting up until well after the slam-bang finish. Sancia is a very sympathetic and well-drawn character, and it is her that really carries the story. Several other characters have POV time; the strongest of which was Gregor Dandolo, the man that has tasked himself with finding the dockyard thief, and there were a number of one-off scenes as well (which, in general, tend to rub me the wrong way). The way that Bennett reveals not only the history of the city and the history of the world, but the history of these two characters and the details of the magic system that literally drives every facet of Tevanne and the lives of the people within it, is masterful. The scope of the story starts out small and focused, and is soon blowing up in it’s capacity to become epic. Felt very much like a parabola, launching off from the origin. Remember those things from the good old days of math? Hah!
Sancia’s path from being a simple thief to becoming embroiled in the heart of the schemes and subterfuge of the mighty merchant houses of Tevanne is impressive indeed. The world around her was quite interesting as well. The magic system that Bennett has created for this world, called Scriving, is built into it’s very bones. I don’t want to give a whole lot away, because the way in which the magic system is revealed is really cool. Suffice it to say that it’s all based around getting things to act in ways that they normally wouldn’t by either convincing them that they are something other than they are, or that the forces acting on them are different than they actually are. It’s about getting things to believe the lies you are telling them. It has a very scientific feel to it, once you get into the thick of things. Something along the lines of what you’d get from Sanderson (EBR Archive). Only this one doesn’t require any in-born talent to wield, which is interesting in and of itself.
Although, there were a few times when I felt like we got a bit too much of the details of the magic system, in this regard. This comes, because of the scientific nature of the thing, from those that are scholars in the field of Scriving. Those that have devoted their lives to it–for the entirety of the society of the merchant houses lives within the reality of the world created by scrived objects every single day–know much about how it all works. And we’re all pretty much noobs on the subject.
Also, as the story proceeded, I found I had a progressively more difficult time believing the motivations behind the principal characters of the story. Not that they were choosing to do things that no one would do, but that very few of them had solid reasons for choosing what they did. Granted, the choices they make resulted in a great finish, but with the amount of character history and magical development and political intrigue that Bennett had embroiled in this book, I think that the story may have benefited from being developed somewhat further and even split into two books. This is one of the things that I really feel like Daniel Abraham (EBR Archive) does extremely well: justified motivations. This… hmm… let’s say “rushed” feeling to several aspects of the story wasn’t enough to affect my rating of the book to any significant degree though.
In the end, this book was funner than a barrel of monkeys, filled with engaging characters, and built upon a spectacularly fun and interesting magic system with LOADS of potential. Not to mention that it manages to pull off a bunch of literary moments and comparisons while still keeping true to the story, which I have to applaud. This beginning makes it look like the series is going to be another great story from this impressive author. Fan of epic fantasy? It’s time to feast!
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Pretty frequent and familiar, but the strongest is replaced with made up words
- Violence: Infrequently violent with some gore
- Sex: A scene stumbled upon and quickly left, and some mild flirtation