Series: Founders #1
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Foundryside is the first installment in an exciting new epic fantasy series from Robert Jackson Bennett. Set in Tevanne, a city that runs on industrialized magic called scriving, and that is controlled by four rival Merchant Houses, Foundryside follows the story of Sancia Grado, a master thief who takes on what is supposed to be a simple job but that ends up landing her in some serious hot water.
Sancia has no idea who has hired her – she has been hired as a subcontractor of sorts by a fellow lawbreaker. Her task is to steal a small box that is stored in a safe located in a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s waterfront. She has simple instruction: retrieve the box, return it to the person who hired her, and don’t look inside the box.
Well, let’s just say that things don’t go quite as smoothly as Sancia would have hoped. She accidentally sets fire to the waterfront and makes an enemy of Captain Gregor Dandolo, who is the closest thing to law enforcement Tevanne has. On top of all that, Sancia also can’t resist taking a peek to see what’s in the stolen box and as soon as she does, she realizes she is caught up in something way bigger than she expected. The box contains a powerful magical artifact that could pretty much destroy life as they know it if it were to get into the wrong hands. With that in mind, she decides she’s not going to hand over what’s in the box, especially after the guy who hired her turns up missing and it becomes clear that someone very powerful would like to get rid of her as well.
To survive, Sancia is going to have to get creative. She needs allies, resources, and she needs to figure out a way to harness the power of the artifact herself. It’s the only way she can make herself strong enough to prevail…
I really loved the whole cast of characters in Foundryside, particularly Sancia. She of course falls on the anti-hero side of things a bit since she does make her living as a thief, but that just makes her all the more interesting, especially since she’s, without a doubt, the best thief in the city. What makes her such a great thief is another fascinating side of her character – Sancia has the ability to touch something and immediately know everything about it. If she touches a building, for example, it’s almost like a blueprint of the building immediately pops into her head, as well as any potential obstacles that lie in her path. Definitely a handy trick for a thief to have, even if Sancia has no idea how she came by this ability. I don’t want to say too much else about it, but I’ll just say that we do find out how she has acquired this ability later in the book and it’s truly an OMG kind of moment!
In addition to her abilities, what also drew me to Sancia is that she is sassy, fierce, and resourceful, and because she never backs down from a fight. I loved her sense of determination. Through flashbacks, we also get hints that she has a troubled past that still haunts her and this of course gives her an added layer of vulnerability to round out her character.
Aside from Sancia, there’s also a fantastic cast of secondary characters, namely the ones who end up forming Sancia’s crew. Captain Gregor Dandolo comes across as a bit of a butthead in the beginning as he goes head-to-head with Sancia and tries to arrest her. Later on though, I really found myself warming up to him and admiring him for his sense of honor. He really does want to bring some law and order to what is currently little more than a mob-run town because of the Merchant Houses.
Rounding out Sancia’s crew are Orso and Berenice, both of whom are skilled in the art of scriving. Orso is the quintessential grumpy old man and is absolutely hilarious at times because he just grouses and grumbles his way through everything. We don’t get to know too much about Berenice, but she is much nicer than Orso and thus is a lovely foil to his curmudgeonly personality.
Last but not least, there’s Clef. You really need to discover Clef yourself without any hints from me, so I’m just going to say that you will adore everything about him, especially how funny he is. As much as I loved Sancia, Clef really gave her a run for her money in terms of who was my favorite character.
The worldbuilding and the intricate magical system is where Robert Jackson Bennett truly excels with Foundryside. He paints such a vivid portrait of the industrialized city of Tevanne and its Merchant Houses that I really felt like I was there, and the magical system of scriving was equally impressive and utterly unique. I haven’t talked much about scriving, so let me give you a quick rundown. On its most basic level, scriving is a magical code. Those who are skilled in it can carve a list of scrived commands onto any object and it gives that object sentience. What that means is that scrived commands can actually alter reality. You could place a scrived command on a piece of cloth, for example, telling it that it’s a brick wall and the cloth would then act as if it had the properties of a brick wall.
Whoever controls this power would thus have the ability to alter the world to suit whatever their purposes are, no matter how good or bad, which is why the artifact in Sancia’s possession is so dangerous. That artifact is tied to even more powerful ancient scriving magic. If the ancient language can be decoded, it would give someone practically unlimited powers.
The only reason I didn’t give Foundryside 5 stars is because every once in a while, there was a bit of overexplaining that dragged down what was otherwise a very well-paced narrative. I understand the need to fully establish and explain the intricate magical system and the history of its evolution, but I just didn’t like having those lengthy explanations interrupt an intense action scene. It frustrated me because I wanted to keep following Sancia and her crew and see what they were up to, not get a mini lesson on the history of scriving.
I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of why you should give Foundryside a try, but to say anymore would be too spoilerish and I don’t want to go there. If you enjoy epic fantasies with a bit of a heist plot thrown in, Foundryside is your book. It’s also your book if you’re into anti heroes and misfits who actually end up making the perfect team. The closest book I can think of to compare it to is perhaps Six of Crows. If you enjoyed Six of Crows, I think you’d get a kick out of this book too.
In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new fantasy series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.
But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.
Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.
To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.