Robert Jackson Bennett


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

April 14, 2020

hat a wonderful novel Foundryside is. It is a fantastic fountain of ideas and great characters. The world building is exquisite. The original magic system, called "scriving", is endlessly inventive. This book is terrific, I can't wait for the next one in the trilogy. I suspected I would like this book; previously, I had read Bennett's City of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles trilogy, and thought was superb. In the Divine Cities trilogy, Bennett focused on a different protagonist in each novel. I hope Bennett doesn't continue that pattern here, I would like to see Sancia, the heroine of Foundryside, remain the protagonist in the next novel, which is called Shorefall.

Sancia, the star of Foundryside, is an expert thief. She has a unique capability to touch objects and communicate with them - walls will tell her where their handholds are, doors indicate how their locks work, a stone indicates where its weakest point is. But Sancia cannot communicate with these objects for long before she is exhausted, though the knowledge she gains is often enough to give her access into the places she wishes to rob. Also, Sancia can listen to "scrived" objects.

The system of scriving is Bennett's original idea for a system of magic. A scriver writes glyphs onto an object, and these glyphs convince the object that reality is different. Thus, a scrived wooden plank could bear a weight that would normally require an enormous amount of strong, hard material. Sancia doesn't know how to create scrived objects herself, but with a touch she can ask the scrived object about what actions it performs. Scriving was created in the distant past by incredibly powerful humans called hierophants, but they destroyed themselves (and much of civilization), and now the city of Tevanne, which had once been an obscure city on the edge of a huge empire is now the dominant power, simply because it was so far away it avoided the terrible destruction. Most of the knowledge of scriving has also been lost, but the four great merchant houses of Tevanne employ craftsmen called hypatus to study the secrets. Usually the knowledged gained drives them insane.

At the opening of the novel, Sancia is on a new mission. She has been promised an incredible sum, twenty thousand duvots, if she can steal one small box from a guarded warehouse. It's a king's ransom, but the task seems feasible to someone with Sancia courage, cleverness and special ability. We learn about Sancia and her skills as she eludes guards and traps, and from these escapades the working of scriving are revealed, the reader learns Sancia's talents and their limitations. Bennett knows how to pass information of his invented world to the reader by showing its workings, rather than boring us with extensive infodumps

The captain in charge of the waterfront of Tevanne is Gregor Dandolo. He is a warrior from distant battlefields, the sole survivor of a deadly siege. Since Gregor is the son of one of the four great merchant houses in Tevanne, he could live a life of power and luxury. Instead, Gregor is devoted to justice. He longs to bring order and law to his home city of Tevanne. Which means catching the thief that broke into the waterfront and set a disasterous fire to the warehouses to create a distraction for her escape. Gregor is clever, strong and relentless. He's going to catch that thief, and he has resources to aid his pursuit.

This description is mostly the extensive background of Foundryside. There is a lot happening in this novel, the hard cover edition runs 503 pages. The ability of the protagonists and antagonists to craft new and incredible scrivings under great pressure and minimal time might seem a bit implausible, but the pace of the story never lets up. Peril abounds. Surprises are everywhere. Its great fun. I highly recommend this book and look forward to the next one.