- Foundryside (The Founders #1).
- Robert Jackson Bennett.
- 512 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
She thought it was just another job. But her discovery could bring the city to its knees . . .
The city of Tevanne runs on scrivings, industrialised magical inscriptions that make inanimate objects sentient; they power everything, from walls to wheels to weapons. Scrivings have brought enormous progress and enormous wealth – but only to the four merchant Houses who control them. Everyone else is a servant or slave, or they eke a precarious living in the hellhole called the Commons.
There’s not much in the way of work for an escaped slave like Sancia Grado, but she has an unnatural talent that makes her one of the best thieves in the city. When she’s offered a lucrative job to steal an ancient artefact from a heavily guarded warehouse, Sancia agrees, dreaming of leaving the Commons – but instead, she finds herself the target of a murderous conspiracy. Someone powerful in Tevanne wants the artefact, and Sancia dead – and whoever it is already wields power beyond imagining.
Sancia will need every ally, and every ounce of wits at her disposal, if she is to survive – because if her enemy gets the artefact and unlocks its secrets, thousands will die, and, even worse, it will allow ancient evils back into the world and turn their city into a devastated battleground.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve often seen RJB’s previous work The Divine Cities trilogy around and it always seems to get positive praise but due to that old adage of ‘too many books and never enough time,‘ he’s not an author that I had gotten around to reading, until now.
Cue the arrival of some surprise book post courtesy of his UK publisher and I found myself in possession of a copy of his latest release, Foundryside and it was time to rectify never having read one of his books!
Sancia Grado is a thief, a very good thief and possibly the best in all of Tevanni. She takes on a complicated and dangerous job to steal a box from a warehouse located on the Tevanni waterfront that is policed by the newly created Waterwatch. It’s a tough job involving an elaborate heist and the warehouse is heavily guarded but it is one that pays really well. Sancia infiltrates the location, causes mayhem (she does that fairly often), steals the box and escapes but something doesn’t feel right about either the job or the contents of the box. There is something bothering her, nagging at the back of her mind to go against the order’s of the client, open the box and see what it contains. Ultimately, curiosity wins out and Sancia opens the box finding inside an artefact, a relic of the hierophants and the Occidental Empire and something that puts her life and the whole of Tevanni in danger.
And this is just the beginning of Foundryside, a blistering and daring action-packed heist (the first of many and they get bigger and more outlandish as the story progresses) to start the book with a bang, to introduce us to Sancia, scrivings (the magic system) and the city of Tevanni and it is absolutely bloody fantastic!
Sancia is a snarky and spunky spitfire with a dark, mysterious and elusive past who is diminutive in stature but exudes a huge page presence. She has a special talent that helps her when thieving and which also serves to aid in keeping her alive but has also served to ruin her life, she didn’t ask for what happened to her (uncovering the source of her talent adds an extra layer and an air of mystery to the story) and it is a trauma that she has to live with every day.
When Sancia touches an object she can sense and feel it. The object opens up to her, let’s her in, revealing its secrets, showing her its strengths, weaknesses and tells her everything it knows (for example, if she touches the floor, the floor will tell her what the building is for, the layout, how many people are currently in it and where they are situated. Or, as another example, if Sancia touches a wall it will tell her where there are handholds and what is the easiest, quickest and safest way to scale it).
Foundryside is a self-contained story that takes place in the city of Tevanni. Other locations are mentioned from in the world but the story remains firmly in the city of Tevanni.
Tevanni is comprised of four separate and walled off city-states (campos) that are each run by a different house (Candiano, Dandolo, Morsini and Michiel). Each campo has their own set of rules and regulations and they take up most of the city. The campos are the upper-class part of the city, well maintained and have clean, running water, abundant food, amenities and resources whilst the remaining part of the city, the gap between the campos and their walls known as the Tevanni Commons (which is, itself made up of various areas with the title of the book, Foundryside being one such area) is the lower-class part of the city, where the poor and the criminals reside in squalor with no food or water and it’s a daily struggle just to stay alive.
RJB has created an ingenious and refreshingly different magic system in Foundryside called ‘scrivings‘. Scrivings have helped to industrialise Tevanni and are written commands and instructions in a string of sigils placed on inanimate objects to convince them to disobey the rules of reality, to manipulate them and to change their perception of what they are (for example, you can scrive wood to think that it is metal, making it stronger. You can make lamps float. You can enable a carriage to move by scriving the wheels to think that they are on an incline. You can twin an object with another object that is exactly the same so that if something happens to one of the objects the same thing will happen to the other one too. Or, you can alter gravity on a crossbow bolt so that it believes that it is falling straight down from a great height to increase its firing speed, power and velocity).
Scriving is relatively new to Tevanni but it is an old process and its secrets and history are still being uncovered. The current scrivings might seem wondrous to Tevanni but they pail in comparison to the scrivings of the past, those of the hierophants and the Occidental empire and the marvels that they could create. This is why the item that Sancia steals at the start of Foundryside is so important and wanted by many people as it could be the key that unlocks the knowledge, power and workings of the ancient scrivings.
Admittedly, with scrivings, you will at times have to suspend your disbelief over them and what they are capable of but hey, it’s fantasy, it’s a magic system and it’s such good fun and so inventive, who really cares!
The writing, overall, is good in Foundryside. RJB moves the story along at a decent pace, he describes and explains the city of Tevanni and the scriving process but he doesn’t ever go overboard or bog you down in excessive detail that gets in the way of the story and what he does tell you adds to the history and aids in the story that he is telling. The addition of humour to the writing and the subsequent wordplay that is derived from it as well as seeing the various dynamics between the characters unfold throughout Foundryside is also on point by RJB too.
Many of the characters in Foundryside are well-developed and as the main character I particularly liked Sancia, RJB has written her so that she’s instantly likeable and someone that you can get behind and root for. For other characters, Orso Ignacio (foul-mouthed and cantankerous), Berenice and Gregor Dandolo (though he is a complete arse at the beginning) all have different personalities and are all individual. However, one of the best characters in the book has to be Clef, such fun and so unique! Ah, Clef, how to describe Clef without spoiling anything! Well, simply put, Clef is pure awesome, he is someone/something that will charm you from his first appearance and one of the highlights of the book is the relationship between him and Sancia and their banter. Honestly, you just wait until you read Foundryside and find out what Clef is and what RJB makes you care about!😱
Foundryside is full of action, adventure and is an engaging and promising start to what has the potential to be a great new series by Robert Jackson Bennett.
Purchase Foundryside (The Founders #1).
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