Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His eighth novel, FOUNDRYSIDE, will be available in the US on 8/21 of 2018 and the UK on 8/23.

Review: SHOREFALL by Robert Jackson Bennett

Review:  SHOREFALL by Robert Jackson BennettShorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
Also by this author: Foundryside
four-half-stars
Series: Founders #2
Published by Del Rey Books on April 21, 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 512
Also in this series: Foundryside
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shorefall is the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Founder’s Trilogy and it’s also one of my most anticipated reads of 2020 because I loved the first book, Foundryside, so much.  It’s always hard to review the second book in a series because of the tricky balance between enticing new readers to the series without spoiling it, but hopefully I can find that balance.

Shorefall exceeded my expectations on so many levels.  Sometimes I find that middle books in trilogies feel like they’re full of filler and just trying to stretch things out to the climax of the final book.  There’s none of that with Shorefall though.  It’s an action-packed story that definitely furthers the plot in every way and adds layer upon layer of suspense along the way.

My favorite part about Shorefall is getting to revisit the cast of characters I grew to love so much in the first book.  Sancia, Orso, Bereneice, and Gregor – my favorite morally gray, found family – are just as wonderful and easy to cheer on in this second book as they were in Foundryside, perhaps even more so as they’ve truly come together as a little family.  When we meet up with them in Shorefall, it’s a couple of years after the events of Foundryside and Sancia, Orso and the gang have created their own consulting firm that revolves around the magical scriving technology.  Their goal with this business is two-fold:  1) to help everyone who can, master the art of scriving, and 2) to thus take power out of the hands of the greedy merchant houses who have dominated their city for so long.  I loved the Robin Hood-esque feel to what they were doing.  They’re still as morally gray as ever, but their cause is a noble one.

New characters also made Shorefall an absolutely gripping read for me.  An ancient (and super creepy!) hierophant, one of the first practitioners of scriving, has somehow been resurrected and is making a beeline for the city, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation in his wake.  His agenda remains to be seen, but Sancia, Orso and the others soon realize that the merchant houses are the least of their problems and they must turn their attention to defeating this new enemy before he destroys them and everything they’ve been working for.  I don’t want to give away anything about this character, but wow, he made my skin crawl every time he made an appearance!

What made Shorefall such an all around great read for me was just how well so many elements are woven together.  There’s the high stakes action and adventure of trying to defeat this ancient creepy guy, but there’s also a deeper exploration of the magical scriving as we watch the characters pool their talents and try to use the magic in new ways to fight the enemy.  And finally, we are also given a more in-depth look at the history of some of the beloved characters from the series.  There’s so much going on but it all feels effortlessly woven together, which made it so easy to become fully immersed in this world and its characters all over again.

My only quibble with Shorefall is that I wanted to see Clef, one of my absolute favorite characters from the first novel, and I felt like I had to wait way too long for him to put in an appearance.  Thankfully, it was well worth the wait, but I did feel myself growing a little impatient waiting for him.

Even with that quibble, however, Shorefall is still a stellar read and one that I highly recommend to anyone who is looking for a fantasy with morally gray characters that you’ll fall in love with as well as unique worldbuilding and phenomenal storytelling.  The Founders Trilogy has it all!

four-half-stars

About Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His eighth novel, FOUNDRYSIDE, will be available in the US on 8/21 of 2018 and the UK on 8/23.

Review: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett

Review:  FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson BennettFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Also by this author: Shorefall
four-stars
Series: Founders #1
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 505
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

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.

four-stars

About Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His eighth novel, FOUNDRYSIDE, will be available in the US on 8/21 of 2018 and the UK on 8/23.