Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

I can be very difficult when it comes to fantasy. As my finger reached to click open Foundryside on my Kindle, I asked myself: Ok, Mr. Bennett, what ya got for me?

World building: Tevanne is a port city run by four walled-off estates or merchant houses. I kept picturing some cross between Dunwall in that video game Dishonored, or Ketterdam in Six of Crows, but surrounded on three sides by jungle. I’m terrible at video games, but I loved that one, and Six of Crows has been one of my favorites since it came out. The merchant houses live like royalty and control everything, from trade to slaves to magic. Everyone else lives in The Commons, a slum full of densely-packed “rookeries.”

Magic: An ancient language known only by a few is written on inanimate objects; these “scrivings” are “instructions written on mindless objects told to disobey reality.” For example, the script might make a sword think it’s lighter or stronger. Or a scrived crossbow could send a bolt that, using perceived gravity, thinks it’s falling from 30,000 feet but actually flying horizontally. (Obviously, Bennett explains it way better than I do!) Bennett is able to utilize this magic in every part of the world, and logically extrapolate its basic tenets in a way that makes sense, and at times, make your head spin.

Creatures: None. I’m pretty sick of dragons anyway.

Characters: Sancia is a thief, and because of a forced experiment, she has a scrived plate attached to her skull. This enables her to put her hands on any object and sense weaknesses and strengths. It is a skill that has made her one of the best thieves in the city. Bennett has written her with great character depth, and an original voice. Her origin story is exceptional, which is masterfully rationed out. Captain Gregor Dandolo is the son of a merchant founder. He has turned his back on the wealth he could have and decided to try clean up Tevanne… Sancia is his first target. Clef is self-aware scrived key who Sancia ends up stealing. He can talk to Sancia, and is a real character. Clef is always giving Sancia the business, but at the same time he is the ally she really needs. These are only a few of the great cast of characters in Foundryside.

Plot: The novel opens with an absolute bang. Sancia is hired to steal a box from a safe at the well-protected waterfront. The deal ends up too good to be true as it seems the whole city is looking for her in an effort to get back an ancient artifact (Clef) that might be the pivotal implement in controlling power in the city.

Writing: Foundryside is filled with cinematic, white-knuckle scenes. Bennett goes a long way to explaining the world with holding just enough back. Flashbacks are expertly placed along the way as a device to add background to the characters and the world as a whole. There are  well-timed victories and failures along the way that always had me guessing.

Overall:  Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside passed all my tests. This is a perfect first book in what should be an exceptional fantasy series. The only downside is that I just couldn’t read as fast as I wanted to. Foundryside is much more than a simple thieving caper. Bennett’s use of politics, unique magic, and characters you can really care about elevate this story to a true epic.

5 out of 5

Releases August 21st, 2018

Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and Robert Jackson Bennett for the advanced copy to review.

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