The Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Penguin Random House, pb, £14.99
Review by Laura Castells Navarro
I must say this is the first book by RJB I have ever read so I will review it on its own without comparing it with any of his other published books.
The Foundryside follows the doings of Sancia Grado, a highly able thief, as she becomes increasingly entangled in events that are very well beyond what she had originally intended – a simple theft the revenues from which will solve the biggest of her problems. All the action takes place with the backdrop of Tevanne, a city dominated by four powerful merchant houses in a seemingly perpetual stalemate, a city where well-defined scrivings allow unanimated tools, objects and structures to become sentient.
I read the Foundryside twice. The first time I read it I was in the middle of a house move, Christmas travelling and Christmas shopping. To say that my reading was staccatoed is an understatement, and every time I opened the book I had the feeling I was not doing it justice. The second time, I read it almost in one go, and the book improved significantly as then I could almost hear the clicks of the pieces falling into place and merge the initial partial images into the more complete story.
The book can be described as a series of heists that give the sensation the characters are almost always running, a few gory scenes and a very technically complex (and yet interesting) magic system. It is a story that feels dark as if all the action happened at night, or in poorly illuminated spaces. I am not sure whether that was intended but works beautifully with Tevanne’s dysfunctional society and with how the characters slowly reveal their game. Halfway through, the story picks up pace and becomes much more interesting and engaging, however, it is (very sadly) let down by the sometimes less-than optimal use of the language and its resources. There are some very unfortunate word choices that knock the reader out of Tevanne and Sancia’s side and back to the reality (of blanket and couch in my case), as well as a few not too elegant information dumps, mainly in relation to the magic system, and an overuse of swearing words by all the characters that break the flow of the narrative and make it somehow dense.
Having said that, I would recommend the book to anyone who likes heists, don’t mind a bit of gore and is interested in unique magic systems. Read it, the story is well worth it. I will certainly be reading the second book as soon as it comes out.