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“Shorefall” by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside was one of my favorite books of last year, so the sequel became my first reading priority as soon as it became available. Three years after the previous book, the upstart Foundryside Limited is thriving, and Sancia has established a happy relationship with Berenice. But Clef is still silent, and the plot to restore Crasedes Magnus is near fruition.

The stakes are even higher than they were in the first book, and Bennett provides a number of spectacular setpieces for the action. There are quite a few take-your-breath-away moments here, for both the characters and the readers. Bennett never forgets the importance of the characters’ personalities and relationships, though. The growing love between Sancia and Berenice is genuinely heartwarming. And despite Orso’s general irascibility, it gradually becomes clear just how proud he is of Berenice’s accomplishments as a scriver. If anything, I was even more invested in the characters than I was while reading Foundryside. There were moments that made me smile, moments that made me laugh, and one or two that almost brought me to tears.

My only criticism had to do with one of the side characters. While her goals are generally aligned with those of the main characters, she has a different outlook on some things, which made her an interesting addition to the cast. While she does play a role in the story, Bennett didn’t do as much with her as he could have.

To the best of my knowledge, a release date and title haven’t yet been given for the final book in the trilogy. When it comes out, I’ll be just as eager to read it as I was to read Shorefall.

“Foundryside” by Robert Jackson Bennett

By now, every seasoned reader of fantasy is familiar with the pseudo-medieval setting common to epic fantasy and the modern setting of urban fantasy. Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside takes place in a world between these two extremes. Magic itself has been industrialized, with factories (called foundries) churning out items that have been “scrived” for magical operation. There are magical streetlamps and thaumaturgical horseless carriages. And yet, it doesn’t quite feel like steampunk either. The unique flavor of the setting immersed me in the story from the get-go.

Bennett quickly makes the reader fall in love with his characters. The primary drivers of the story are Sancia, a thief who starts to suspect that her latest prize is far more than it appears, and Gregor, the scion of a wealthy merchant house who’s determined to bring some semblance of justice to his corrupt city. Both have some intriguing mysteries in their background, and one can see how their life experiences have shaped their outlooks and behavior. The secondary characters, who include a perpetually cranky researcher, his clever assistant, and a pair of disenfranchised would-be scrivers, are compelling as well. The only misstep here is with the voice chosen for a character who is implied to be ancient, since he speaks with a very modern cadence and vocabulary.

As with the best sci-fi and fantasy, Foundryside examines issues relevant to the real world. Four merchant houses have a stranglehold on the scriving industry. Because of the power in scrived devices and the importance of scriving to the city’s infrastructure, their control of the industry gives them control over society as a whole. There’s a clear allegory here to the outsized influence wielded by major corporations. Colonialism also becomes a major theme later in the book, as we learn more about one character’s past.

Foundryside is the first book in a trilogy. While it sets up the important conflicts for the next book, as well as a new mystery, it doesn’t leave the reader completely without resolution. There’s a satisfying climax and denouement that allowed me to feel like the first chapter in the story, at least, was finished. And it left me looking forward to the next one.