Book Review: Foundryside (Robert Jackson Bennett)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (August 2018)

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Ragdoll Rating: Exceptional

Recommended For: Fans of fantasy and adventure. Also anybody else at all.

About the Book

Sancia Grado is a thief. A good thief. But she is also different. Tevanne is a strange land, that runs on a form of magic known as scriving. If you know the write sigils, you can alter objects and change their behaviour – legend has it that an ancient group called the hierophants could use scriving to bend reality to their will!

Sancia is a scrived human. The only scrived human. She started her life as a slave and she was experimented on – but the scrived plate in her head gives her some special abilities which make her an excellent sneak thief.

Sancia is offered the job of a lifetime – steal one item for more money than she could ever hope to see in her lifetime. She takes the chance, and then her world falls apart.

What I thought

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this book. I mean I really, REALLY loved it. It’s 512 pages long, and I must have read 350+ of them in one sitting – I would have read three quarters of the book in one day if I’d had the energy to keep reading. It was that kind of book.

First of all, we’ve got to talk about scriving. At first this seems like your pretty average magic stuff. Say the right words and it does what you say kind of thing. But it isn’t. It goes WAY deeper than that. Bennett goes into considerable detail over the course of the book about the mechanics of scriving, the theory, the practical uses and the history. It’s rare to find a magical mechanic in a story that has been this clearly thought out, which would be worth big points in my book on its own, but it was the way this information is relayed to the reader that really made this book stand out. We never get too much information in one go – it doesn’t feel like you’re reading fictional non-fiction – you get just enough information to understand without breaking the flow of things…and it’s just really cool.

I’m not sure if the following paragraph counts as spoilers, but I’m gonna talk a bit about why scriving is awesome:

  1. Scrived objects are logical and stupid – you can only change them in ways that make sense. For example, you can make wood stronger, by scriving it to act like stone, but you can’t make it melt by telling it that it’s ice, because that’s too different.
  2. BUT you can do cool things with it if you are clever. For example, you can make a cart propel itself by telling the wheels they are rolling down a hill and telling them how steep the hill is. This leads to some wild things later on.
  3. It’s hard work. You’ve read got to know what you are doing to make it work, and experimentation can be really dangerous because its so easy to get things wrong – because of this, it’s a rich mans game, which has led to a really horrible unequal society.
  4. It controls (almost) everything in Tevanne. It’s so understandable. Sometimes you read about something amazing in a story and wonder why it’s under utilised, like the Force in Star Wars. If I had the force I would never stop using it, all the time for EVERYTHING. But they never do. But in Foundryside, those who can afford scriving, use it for everything they possibly can. It supports buildings, changes weapons, powers foundries, it is everywhere, and that can lead to big problems.

I’m sure there is more I could say about why I like this element, but I don’t want to go on and on. Trust me though, it’s really cool and it stays cool all the way through.

Secondly, two words. Unexpected Queers. I’m not the only queer person who, unless explicitly told otherwise (and often even then), assumes every character in everything is 400% queer. Then I find out it’s not the case. Well guess what – there’s at least 3 actual, factual queers in this book (by my count). Which is GREAT. Not just because they are queer –  but because it’s written completely naturally. Nobody bats an eye. In Tevanne, it’s perfectly, completely and utterly normal to be queer. And that is so refreshing. It’s so nice to read a book that – to the best of my knowledge – isn’t presented as queer-lit where a characters queerness is just another part of their character. It was also really nice to be right for a change, after deciding a character was queer.

Thirdly, the plot. I am a big fan of the idea that if it’s gonna go wrong, it may as well go catastrophically wrong. I like it when things go to hell, real fast. It’s fun and I like seeing how it can get worse as much as I enjoy seeing how that characters fix the problems – and this book did not disappoint on that front. I found every page more exciting than the last (especially the pages involved in the previous paragraph 😀 ). Everything went from bad to worse, and was written really well so you actually care about it.

Finally, the mystery element. This book has a lot of folklore in it – tales of the Makers or Hierophants or Ancient Ones – a race of giants who could bend reality to their whim with scriving. It also includes a talking key and a bunch of weird artefacts which are all surrounded in mystery. You find yourself constantly guessing how the ancient mysteries actually work, and how to solves the puzzles the characters are trying to solve – and I was right about 50-70% of the time. Actually if I’m honest this was probably the only element (besides some peculiar phrasing at times) that I didn’t like as much – mainly because for some things (for example, how the ritual works), I knew how it worked so long before the characters I wanted to yell at them for being so dense! But I suppose that’s the advantage readers have over characters – we get the extra context.

Final Thoughts

I loved it and I think anyone with even a vague interest in the fantasy / adventure genre should read it immediately. Also, I cannot wait for part 2 in the series!

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Foundryside (Robert Jackson Bennett)

  1. Foundryside was SOOOO GOOOOOD!!! I finished it yesterday and it blew my mind! I love the magic system so much, and I’ve a thing for mythology/artefacts, so that whole thing was totally amazing for me. So happy this is a series, because I know some people in the story who really, really need to get to spend some quiet time together.

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