Book Review: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett

(Title: Foundryside / Author: Robert Jackson Bennett / Publisher: Crown Publishing / Publication Date: August 21, 2018)

Whenever anyone asks me to list some of my all-time favorite fantasy series, a series that I always include on that list is The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett.  I remember reading it a few years ago and being utterly blown away by how different and fresh the trilogy was.  What I liked most was the incredible world-building and the fact that Bennett took all of the standard themes of fantasy and turned them on their head.  

It was one of the best dark fantasies that I had ever had the pleasure of reading.  So I was already a huge fan of Bennett's before I knew that he had another book coming out.  I was very lucky to have been granted an advanced reader copy of his brand new title Foundryside by Crown Publishing, even more so because the book doesn't officially drop for another three months.  So without further delay, let me expound a little bit on Foundryside, the first book in Robert Jackson Bennett's Founders series.

Foundryside takes place in an industrialized fantasy city called Tevanne where the upper class merchant society is segregated from the lesser common population.  Magic has also been industrialized and practiced through a revolutionary technology known as scriving.  Scriving is essentially changing the form or purpose of an inanimate object by simply writing certain commands on it and making that object believe it is something other than what it is.  For instance, if you would like a wooden ox cart to get to a certain marketplace a little earlier than scheduled, a practitioner of scriving would etch the words "fast" on the wheels.  

If you would like a weapon to have an even deadlier effect on your enemies, the word "down" could be etched onto the weapon so that every time it is wielded it believes that it is falling straight down to the earth with the full force of gravity.  This ability to manipulate the properties of objects to suit an individual's needs is truly a powerful skill that can be used for both good and bad purposes.  Sancia Grado is a thief and street urchin who also has a unique magical ability that she doesn't understand and can't really control.  Unlike scriving, where words are etched onto inanimate objects, Sancia actually has the ability to speak to objects and make them do what she wants.  

She also can understand everything about an object by simply touching it to find out its weak points, or in the case of cracking a lock on a safe, she can communicate with the lock to find the access points that will eventually make that lock open.  She has been employed by a local thieving gang and is enlisted to perform a very important job of stealing a certain artifact of great value.  Sancia doesn't know who the job is for or what the artifact is but she dutifully goes about carrying out her task.  It is only after she returns to her boss and finds him murdered that she begins to realize that someone wants what she has stolen and wants it badly enough to kill for it.  

Now someone wants her dead as well and Sancia must flee for her life while also trying to find out who exactly it is that is after her and why they want the artifact in her possession.  That's not the least of her worries because Sancia has begun to communicate with the mysterious artifact that she has stolen.  What the artifact has to say will reveal more about the conspiracy that runs deep through the city of Tevanne and uncover long buried secrets that will shake Sancia's world forever.  Among other things, she will also discover disturbing things about herself and why she can't remember how she obtained her mysterious powers.  

Foundryside is about 180 degrees different in both theme and tone form Robert Jackson Bennett's first series The Divine Cities.  The first thing that I became  increasingly aware of was the injection of a bit of humor in this book.  For those who have read his earlier series The Divine Cities, you will know that it was about as dour and stark a setting as you can create.  And the characters were about as serious as serious can get.  While this book is by no means a Terry Pratchett novel, it did have considerably more lighter moments than its predecessors.  This just shows the flexibility and range of Bennett in that he can write just as compelling and entertaining of a book while going in a completely different direction in style from what he has written before.  

I actually couldn't believe that I was reading the same author's work.  Foundryside was such an enjoyable book on so many different levels.  The magic system was one of the more original that I have ever encountered and I thought that it was extremely well done.  Another thing that made this book so good was the constant mystery of Sancia's powers and her trying to piece together why she can't remember how she acquired them, where she came from, etc.   That mystery really gave the book an added dimension to go along with the intrigue of her enemies pursuit of her and the artifact.  

If you are looking for a different kind of fantasy novel that really can't be pigeonholed into any particular category, then Foundryside is a book that you should definitely read.  Unfortunately, many will have to wait until late August when it is officially released.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to read this early because it was so much fun from beginning to end and I was sad when it was over.  Robert Jackson Bennett just keeps getting better and better.  I sincerely hope that there are many more books to come in this series and that they are just as good as this one was.  Read Foundryside, I promise you won't be disappointed.

(My Rating: 9.5/10)