ARC was provided by the publisher—Del Rey—in exchange for an honest review.
Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Founders Trilogy (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Science Fantasy, Urban High Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 560 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 28th June 2022 by Del Rey (US) & Jo Fletcher (UK)
Locklands is a truly inventive, emotional, genre-blending, and reality-defying finish to The Founders Trilogy.
“We’re all the result of countless actions and choices made throughout the centuries, and the odds of those actions and choices going the exact same way again are basically nil.”
There is no dancing through a monsoon. The stakes and villains of the series have reached a gigantic proportion, and our main characters will have to unleash everything they have and beyond in this final fight. Robert Jackson Bennett has done it again. Just as a reminder, I’ve been a fan of Bennett’s books since I finished The Divine Cities trilogy a few years ago. And to this day, I think he’s still one of the most (relatively) underrated SFF authors. This isn’t to say that Bennett’s books are generally rated low or something like that, but in the grander scheme of things, I think both The Divine Cities and The Founders trilogy are both series that needs to be talked about more frequently in the SFF community. Even more so now with Locklands being published.
“It’s like old times again… You and me against the whole goddamned world. There’s just a few more people on our side this time.”
The story in Locklands begins eight years after the end of Shorefall. This is a big-time gap, and I’m sure it won’t work for plenty of readers, but overall it’s a storytelling decision that clicked with me. Our remaining main characters are engaged in a Scriving War with the most powerful enemy they’ve ever encountered. And I will first note that I wish there was a recap section of what happened at Foundryside and Shorefall at the beginning of the book. Or somewhere, really. It has been two years since I first read Shorefall, and other than seven important characters in the series, I have to admit that it took me a bit of reading to remember who’s who. Thankfully, despite the huge time skip and no-refresher, Bennett did a great job in revolving the narrative centered around Sancia, Clef, and Berenice. If it weren’t for that, I think I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Locklands as much as I wanted to without rereading the series from the beginning. As it turns out, I ended up loving this one. This was a thoroughly bonkers and epic finishing volume. I wouldn’t have been able to predict the scale of the series would ever reach this level of insanity and destruction. And I am incredibly satisfied by the ending.
“There are people in this world who learned the lessons I never did, the lessons that our son has learned all too late— that you are right. There is no magic fix. That a better world can only be bought by what we give to one another, and nothing more.”
You know the saying, the act of giving is better than receiving? This phrase is about to be heavily tested in Locklands. The main characters, Sancia, Berenice, Clef, and more, will have to be willing to sacrifice things precious to them in the war against Tevanne and the deadlamps. I loved how despite the significant increase in stakes and world-building scale, Bennett never sacrificed the characterizations of the main characters in favor of them. New characters like Greeter and Design played a crucial role in the final installment, but it did not feel like Bennett ever needlessly added these characters to complicate things. Never once I feel like Locklands did not deserve its volume. The Founders Trilogy is such a satisfying series, and looking back, I feel rewarded to witness how far Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have come since Foundryside. This last installment also featured a lot of food for thought. I am super limited in what I can say on this review to avoid spoilers. I can, however, say that Bennett dived deep into what it really means to truly know and access another minds and feelings all the time. No separation. No privacy. And the result? It is not all beneficial and positive, even if the person is someone you love.
“You’d swooped into my life like some kind of adventuring hero from a silly play, the woman said, all smiles and swashbuckling. You seemed bigger than anything I’d ever known.”
What the characters have fought in Foundryside and Shorefall were insane already, but they’re nothing compared to how crazy the new enemy is in Locklands. For the lack of better comparison, if you have read or watched Dragon Ball Z, the kind of actions and battles there is exactly the kind of over-the-top battles you can expect from Locklands. Giant creatures, immortalities, flying entities, or advanced innovation leading to instant erasure; the reality-bending devastation is reached an unprecedented level in the series. Or plenty of other fantasy series, to be honest. Bennett continuously blends fantasy, horror, and sci-fi in his books, and it is honestly one of the things that made me love his books. It’s all absolutely insane, unpredictable, and filled with revelations. I loved how immense the action and world-building get, and I am impressed by how they never felt out of place. I certainly enjoyed reading all the revelations regarding scriving and Clef in this book, and more importantly, I had a blast reading every page in Locklands.
“Yes. We have invented a new way to be human— one could possibly say that, yes. But we are still human. And watching those we love support us in our suffering… That is a trial for anyone, augmented or otherwise.”
I highly highly recommend this series. Locklands is one of my favorite books of the year; it’s a bittersweet and satisfying concluding volume to The Founders Trilogy. With stories that circled around hope, cooperation, empathy, sacrifice, love, and innovation, Bennett has once again proved why he’s one of the most consistently great authors writing in SFF. Let me repeat this once again. The Divine Cities and The Founders Trilogy are now finished, and I’m inclined to state that both of them are included in my list of favorite trilogies. I will close this review with an excerpt from Bennett himself regarding Locklands and The Founders Trilogy:
“For if the Founders Trilogy is about anything, I suppose, it is that the innovations of our species do not yield dividends on their own. They only bring prosperity when they are paired with a society, a culture, or a people who can use them to their utmost. A road cannot bring travelers if people refuse to let it be built. A printing house cannot bring wisdom if its readers decide they mostly prefer lies. And there is no balm or medicine that can bring health and happiness if the sick refuse to take it. If we find ourselves unable to take advantage of the many gifts that our brilliance has bestowed upon us, then it is my suspicion that there is no tinkering that can make those gifts function as they ought. Rather, it is upon the people to change themselves: to reshape, reconfigure, and rearrange the architectures of our societies— perhaps in small ways, or large— to allow prosperity and abundance for all to flow through. This seems like pithy precept, but it is the natural tension of our species for there to be some gap between our brilliance and our wisdom. The question is how far we should allow them to diverge, and what works can close that gap, and how fast they can close it.”
The Founders Trilogy: 14.5/15 stars
You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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