Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Founders Trilogy (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Science Fantasy, Urban High Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 512 pages (Hardcover)
Published: 1st August 2018 by Crown (US) & Jo Fletcher (UK)
Thrillingly fun and highly imaginative, Foundryside is one of the most promising starts to a series I have read.
The story’s protagonist, Sancia (San-chee-a), a very accomplished thief, is given the difficult job of stealing a small box from a safe in a very well guarded warehouse. Sancia is unique in that she has a very special talent that reveals itself when she comes into physical contact with something, for instance if she touches a wall…
The wall spoke to her. The wall told her of foundry smoke, of hot rains, of creeping moss, of the tiny footfalls of the thousands of ants that had traversed its mottled face over the decades. The surface of the wall bloomed in her mind, and she felt every crack and every crevice, every dollop of mortar and every stained stone. All of this information coursed into Sancia’s thoughts the second she touched the wall. And among this sudden eruption of knowledge was what she had really been hoping for. Loose stones. Four of them, big ones, just a few feet away from her. And on the other side, some kind of closed, dark space, about four feet wide and tall. She instantly knew where to find it like she’d built the wall herself.
This can be both a blessing and a curse, but Sancia leans toward the latter, understandably. For example, she can never touch anyone as the information feedback is utterly overwhelming. She also cannot eat meat as the taste of it carries an overpowering sensation of rot, decay, and putrefaction; it is like gnawing on the hunk of a corpse. See what I am getting at? The scales seem tipped more towards curse than blessing. Oh, and she…um… can hear the voices of the scrived items in her head. She can’t understand them, but she hears their whispers….
In the case of the box, her talent tells her there is a very curious item inside. Of course, we all know how dangerous curiosity can be, but in Sancia’s case there is an added incentive for breaking the rules and peeking inside the mysterious box. Survival. The four merchant houses guard their secrets very closely and if this is in fact one of those secrets, she will very likely become a high value target. But when Sancia opens the box she finds something much more dangerous than she ever dreamed of. Something that can change everything known about the magical art of scriving (more on this shortly) and that will likely alter the course of their history. Things inevitably go sharply downhill from there as Sancia tries everything in her power to prevent the item from falling into the wrong hands.
“But that’s what scriving is. Reality doesn’t matter. If you can change something’s mind enough, it’ll believe whatever reality you choose.”
Scriving is the delightfully thought out industrialized magic of this world, and it is pure genius on Robert Jackson Bennet’s part. It seems to me to be sort of one part of completely original magic, one part of Awakening magic from Warbreaker and one part Forgery from The Emperor’s Soul. I LOVE IT. So basically, these people have learnt they can write code onto an item that reprograms the items’ reality, making it disobey physics in a specific way. For instance they can scrive a bolt being fired from a crossbow and cause it to believe that it was not just fired from a bow, but has actually been falling straight down for years, making the bolt believe it has achieved a much higher velocity and resulting in the bolt actually being fired with incredibly explosive force. Similar scriving is used in the weapons of the elite class such as for example, a rapier. It can be scrived to amplify its gravity so that it believes it is being wielded with the force of ten men and will effortlessly cut through a person or punch through solid walls. Carriage wheels can be made to roll uphill without needing horses, wood can be scrived with the sigil for clay, making it inherently softer and easier to carve. The applications are endless and indeed very varied throughout the book. And there is so much more to it. It’s almost unjust when you think about how much creativity the author has poured into writing such a wonderfully, intricate system. Weeks, months, years? And then he easily explains it to us, the reader in a few minutes and sentences. It might give us only a basic understanding, but the underlying complexity is evident for any to see. I take my hat off.
There is so much to love about Foundryside. The characters were a joy to read, and thoroughly complex. I thought RJB did a wonderful job in not neglecting the growth of the supporting characters even though Sancia of course gets the most attention in this department. While it was fascinating reading about her journey through this book and seeing her alter her perceptions about herself and those around her, the same can also be said for the rest of the crew and I am attached to all of them. My personal favourite was Clef, but the less said the better. I don’t want to spoil anything. As for worldbuilding, Foundryside teemed with it, whether it be the history of the merchant houses and the city of Tevanne or the mythical legends of the hierophants who supposedly were the first scriveners, only they wielded god-like powers and could change reality itself. There is a lot to unpack there, and I am excited in my belief that this will expand exponentially in the sequels.
“To put it plainly, they were the people who invented scriving, long, long, long ago. Though no one’s even sure if they really were people. Some say they were angels, or something a lot like angels. They were also called hierophants, and in most of the old stories they’re regarded as priests or monks or prophets. The first of them—the most notable of them—was Crasedes the Great. They used their scriving to do some very, very big things.”“Like what?” asked Sancia.“Like move mountains,” said Claudia. “Carve out oceans. And annihilate cities, and build a massive, massive empire.”
I found the writing very accessible, information about the way scriving and sigils and more worked was conveyed concisely in my opinion (I have seen some complaints about info-dumping, but it never felt that way to me… or maybe I like infodumps?) and there were lots of small moments of humour that were delightful and possibly necessary in balancing out some of the gorier moments of the story.
Foundryside is an excellent start to a series that promises to be fun, fast-paced, incredibly captivating and highly imaginative and I can hardly wait to see what the adventure has in store for us. If you have not yet read anything by this author, do yourself a favour and amend that. Whether it be this more lighthearted, fun series, or his Divine Cities trilogy which is an entirely different but brilliant beast, I have a feeling that just like me, you will be wanting more.
“Remember—move thoughtfully, give freedom to others, and you’ll rarely do wrong…”
You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)