In brief: In Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett has crafted a world and characters that are at once a breath of fresh air and a welcome home.
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Series: Founders, #1
Release Date: August 21, 2018
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.
Narrator: Tara Sands
Length: ~20 hours
Listening speed: 1.75x
The theme of this review is going to be “doing things I recognize in new and fun ways.” On its face, this book is a fantasy book featuring a heist plot with a magic system based on sigilry. Each of those elements have been done time and time again. But to dismiss it as something you’ve read before would mean you’re missing out on a fantastic book.
In Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett has crafted a world and characters that are at once a breath of fresh air and a welcome home. I couldn’t help but feeling immediately connected to this story. It reminds me of a story Brandon Sanderson would create (and the cover is blurbed by Sanderson, so I’m not far off).
The world in this first book is very much confined to this one city, Tevanne, but I’m sure the hinted-at war and the secrets the characters have unlocked will eventually spill out into the surrounding world in later books. Near the beginning there’s a bit of exposition/info-dumping, but it wasn’t distracting in my opinion.
The magic system of “scriving” convinces objects that their reality is something other than the world’s reality. It ends up being an interesting mix of both sigilry and reality-bending magic like the Stormlight Archive’s Surgebinding.
Sancia as a main character is both chronically pained by her ability and emotionally-scarred by her past, but Jackson Bennett doesn’t let reading from her point of view become a pain. There are moments where my heart would break for her, followed up in the next chapter with much needed levity.
A lot of this has to do with the humor that can be found throughout the book, but especially with her interactions between her and Clef, a *talking* key. [Even in Clef’s character, I’m reminded of the talking sword in Sanderson’s Warbreaker, but Clef manages to have a more human personality than Nightblood — for reasons explained by the story, but spoilers].
The secondary characters are just as fleshed out (including a budding female-female romance), with a villain that was truly a surprise with motivations I haven’t seen very often.
Plot and writing style
At its base, the plot is a heist that turns into a detective mystery that turns back into a heist. While the book is split into parts, they are consistent in their tone, style and pacing unlike some other fantasy novels that tend to slow way down in the middle or speed up near the end. At no point did this story lose my interest (I ended up finishing this in 3 listening sessions).
As for the writing style, I already mentioned the humor, which is a major selling point for me. But it’s also one of the most accessible fantasy books I’ve read in a while.To some this might be a turn off, but Jackson Bennett uses what I would consider recognizably modern language with some changes to account for the new world. It really eases the connection to the world. You also don’t have to slog through a lot of extraneous detail nor do you get bogged down in any lore that you’ll struggle to remember the significance of later down the line.