Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Founders Trilogy (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Cyberpunk
Pages: 496 pages (Kindle Edition)
Published: 28th June 2022 by Del Rey Books
A powerful and satisfying conclusion to this refreshing and inventive trilogy.
Locklands is a magic-infused techno-thriller with elements of cyberpunk and an epic fantasy chaser. The cover is telling: you, the reader, are peering through the cover’s keyhole into another realm, and opening the book will unlock its many secrets. This theme becomes especially relevant to the plot, as the stakes of the story involve rewriting the rules of reality itself. Good luck trying to guess what happens next. This is a blockbuster story, split into five parts, with each part presenting one long action sequence. It is tightly written and fast-paced, wasting no time putting you amidst against-all-odds battles. Ever since the opening pages of Foundryside, Sancia and her crew have been pulling off heists in one form or another. Locklands brings the story full circle by upping the heists to a level where the stakes could not be greater. It’s breathless, mind-bending fun.
Some plot spoilers for books one and two ahead.
Book three picks up several years after the end of Shorefall. Tevanne, an amalgamation of former ally Gregor and Valeria, is using its advanced scriving techniques to conquer the known world. All humans who fall under Tevanne’s path become part of its host army, to be used as sentries, warriors, or even worse: batteries. Sancia, Berenice, Clef, and some of the remaining Founders crew are part of a resistance group that are doing whatever they can to stop Tevanne from acquiring the means to re-write reality in its own horrifying vision. For years, Sancia and Berenice have been innovating to survive their fight against this unstoppable force and have built a new society along the way. Their own scriving method that allows for the “twinning” of minds has given this resistance society the means to have multiple bodies share one consciousness and work in harmony towards common goals. Contrary to how Tevanne occupies all its human hosts as one collective being, the resistance voluntarily shares their identities and souls with each other, linking to a chain of like-minded individuals who are dedicated toward their given societal roles. When two humans link, they share all thoughts and feelings, are able to see through each other’s eyes, and no longer have the need to speak aloud. Link more caretaking beings to this chain and suddenly you have a high-functioning medical unit who knows exactly how to run at full operational capacity and efficiency, with each person working perfectly in tandem, knowing the needs of everyone else at any given moment. It’s a huge sacrifice of privacy for the gain of unprecedented intimacy. Is this a choice the reader would be willing to make with their loved ones? There is a dichotomy that Bennett presents, showing the best and worst of this identity-sharing theme, and made me question what I would do if given certain choices that these characters had to make.
Although we spend a lot of time with our usual main cast, Clef was the primary focus for character development this go-around. His history was integral to the story; we couldn’t move forward without moving backward, and many of the questions raised in the earlier parts of the trilogy were finally answered. Testing the limits of Sancia and Berenice’s relationship was another major theme to this story, and you should prepare yourself with some Kleenex by the time the epilogue rolls around.
Boy, that epilogue. A heart-stomping piece of work that ties off this series beautifully. For as much of the story is an epic war of wit and machinery, there were a few emotional scenes at the end that are going to stick with me the longest. I’ll replay the awesome and creative battle scenes in my head, but I’ll feel the emotional avalanche of the epilogue for much longer.
Bennett has crafted a fitting finish to the Founders trilogy: one full of devastation, hope, torrid action, mystery, and brilliance. His scriving system of re-writing the rules to reality is one of the most creative, rewarding magic systems in any fantasy series I’ve read. Like The Divine Cities, the Founders trilogy smashes many genres into something wholly unique, fresh, and fascinating. I can’t recommend this author, or series, enough.