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Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
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Book Name: Foundryside
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Publisher(s): Crown Publishing Group (US) Jo Fletcher Books (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: August 21, 2018 (US) August 23, 2018 (UK)

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside combines the action scenes and snarky banter of a summer blockbuster with the complex characters and keen-eyed societal critique of an Oscar-winner. What begins as a heist and chase adventure becomes a richer story that asks big questions about power, exploitation, and revolution. Foundryside is a fun, thought-provoking, and wondrous tale. I loved it, and I can’t wait to see what is next in this series.

Foundryside begins with the thief Sancia Grado breaking into a fortified warehouse located on Tevanne’s docks. It’s a difficult, but not impossible job for a thief with Sancia’s abilities. And the risks are worth the fortune her fence will pay her for a job well done. But when Sancia’s curiosity gets the better of her and she opens up the box she stole, she discovers the small item inside might just unlock big secrets that could upend the powers of Tevanne and rewrite reality. Sancia knows she can’t just get paid and move on. People will come looking for her—powerful people who won’t hesitate to kill her, her friends, and anyone else who might be involved with the theft. Including the cop chasing her.

Gregor Dandolo, the newly installed chief of security at Tevanne’s docks trying to create a little law and order and bring justice to the notoriously corrupt city, knows it’s the end of his project if he can’t find the thief. But once he starts digging and gets a little too close to Sancia, he becomes a target too. Together they form an uneasy alliance while they try to figure out the big story behind that little box.

I loved the characters in Foundryside. Watching Sancia struggle in the opening moments—just on the verge of being in over her head, but meeting the obstacles with a sense of humor—I was on her side from the jump. She becomes an even more sympathetic character when we learn about the horrors in her past. Gregor is haunted by the horrors of war and is now fighting an uphill and perhaps unwinnable war against Tevanne’s crime and corruption even though he could be living the high life as the only son of Ofelia Dandolo, head of one of the four merchant houses or “campos” that dominate Tevanne through the use of the magical technology known as scriving.

There’s also Orso and Berenice, the master scriver of House Dandolo and his assistant who are both brilliant and ambitious and more concerned with mastering scriving than necessarily protecting the status of their House; Claudia and Giovanni, “scrappers” who perform black market scrivings for those who exist on the fringes outside of the campo system; Estelle Candiano, Orso’s former love who is now married to Tomas Candiano, who bought his way into control of the fallen House Candiano; and Clef, who—well, the less said about him the better.

And then there’s Tevanne itself—the city is a character. Tevanne is dominated by the four campos. They each exist as walled off cities within the city, part factory, part research facility, part company town. Being on the inside means a degree of wealth, safety, and health that those on the outside will never know.

And it’s all thanks to scriving. Items are marked with commands that convince an item to think reality is otherwise. Mark bricks one way, and all the bricks in a wall will think they are one giant brick. Mark bricks another way, and they will become softer, like clay. String those marks together, layer on top of layer, and you can program carts to drive themselves by thinking that they are rolling downhill or bolts that blast through targets because they think they have been falling for thousands of feet. Each house has become tremendously wealthy due to their proprietary scriving methods. Think tech giants dominating Silicon Valley.

And like Silicon Valley, the wealth falls unequally. If you know how to code or scrive, you can become fantastically wealthy. If you can’t, well, too bad. Because, you see, scriving doesn’t just alter the reality of the marked items. Those on the inside of the campos seem to exist in their own bubbles of reality—it’s easy to ignore those on the outside of the walls and never fully understand how slaves on plantations produce coffee and sugar and other items for those inside the campos. It’s easy to ignore Silicon Valley’s homeless outside the self-driving busses taking coders from their fancy condos to their fancy dot com offices. And it’s just as easy to overlook the scrappers laboring in a garage with no resources, lots of desperation, and even more creativity, who will become the next big thing.

And this was another reason I loved Foundryside. Not only was it set in an atypical early industrial oligarchy, but it’s also asks big questions about this kind of setting. As a reader, I got to explore Tevanne physically, economically, politically, and philosophically by asking questions like how wealth is created, how the haves exploit the have-nots, and how ultimately fragile unequal societies really are. There are questions about morality here—who should have power? What are the responsibilities of those in power? What do the powerless owe the powerful who fail to uphold those responsibilities? When someone or some institution becomes too big, must they obey traditions and mores? Like I said, it’s deeper and richer than your typical heist novel.

Foundryside checked a lot of my boxes. It’s not set in the typical pre-industrial medieval setting. It’s full of diverse and flawed characters who each have their own reasons for getting involved. There’s snark and humor from cover to cover. There’s an original magic system that is clearly and subtly explained through a minimum of infodumps. And the story doesn’t shy away from asking important questions about power structures.

Those are many of the reasons I also loved Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy. And if you haven’t read those books, start here, but put those on the top of your TBR pile. And if you haven’t read Bennett’s recent works, well, you’ll get to read about places on the verge of revolution (Foundryside) and places that are still feeling the aftershocks of revolution (Divine Cities). And you can thank me later.

Foundryside, first book in the Founders series, is now available in the US and will be available in the UK tomorrow (Aug 23)! To learn more about this book and Bennett’s other series you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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