Review: Shorefall

shorefall-2Title: Shorefall (2020)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 496
Series: The Founders Trilogy #2 (Series Tracker)

Foundryside, the first book in this trilogy, was really well-balanced. It told an engaging story, was populated with unique characters, and took place in a vibrant setting. While I’m still taken with this world and the city of Tevanne, most of what I enjoyed about the first book was left behind.

I had been intrigued (and somewhat confused) by scriving, the reality-altering magic system introduced in Foundryside. Because of its complexity, each act of scriving requires considerable explanation and exposition. Shorefall doubles down on scriving and this magic is so integral to the plot that if you’re not on board with it you’ll be left searching for other things to enjoy.

Unfortunately, the characters seem stagnant and there’s no room for them to breathe amongst the massive set pieces and high stakes of the story. In many ways, this felt like a trilogy capping novel instead of a middle book, so it’s unclear how the momentum will carry over for another book and I’m unsure if I’ll be along for the ride.

★★¾ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Foundryside

Foundryside_FINAL.jpgTitle: Foundryside (2018)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 496
Series: The Founders Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Fresh off his brilliant Divine Cities trilogy, author Robert Jackson Bennett is back with Foundryside, the first book in The Founders trilogy. If this first installment is any indication, readers are in for another great fantasy series.

Set between the massive walls of four merchant house cities, Foundryside follows Sancia Grado, a street urchin whose unique relationship with scriving, the magic that fuels Tevanne’s industry, causes all sorts of issues…but also opportunities.

This book has pieces of everything I want in a fantasy novel — an intriguing magic system, rich worldbuilding, interesting characters, humor, and heart. Those pieces coalesce into something really interesting and make for an enjoyable reading experience. Bennett has done an impressive job building the framework of this world, from the physical structure of Tevanne, to the types of characters that inhabit it, as well as the magic system that makes unexpected things possible.

That said, the explanations and complexities of the magic system were sometimes confusing to me and took time away from developing the cast of characters that will need to be further fleshed out before I’m fully committed to their plights.

Luckily, Foundryside is swiftly paced, has great action, and features loads of sharp, snappy dialogue. It’s a fun ride that I won’t be getting off any time soon. I’m very much looking forward to the next book, even though the wait will be longer than usual since this book doesn’t technically come out for another 112 days!

★★★★ out of 5

Review: City of Miracles

city-of-miraclesTitle: City of Miracles (2017)
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 448
The Divine Cities #3 (Series Tracker)
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In this final volume of Robert Jackson Bennett’s brilliantly inventive Divine Cities trilogy, the focus shifts to Sigrud je Harkvaldsson — for my money, one of the best characters in the series. Seeing him get the spotlight was a welcome sight, but I didn’t end up enjoying his POV as much as Shara’s and Mulaghesh’s before him. He may be better served as a supporting character being peppered-in sparingly rather than having full star-status, but as the plot unfolds you come to realize that he was the necessary choice for this role. While he struggles to carry parts of the novel, Bennett builds up a strong supporting cast around him that mostly negates this deficiency.

Bennett’s writing is as strong as ever here, as the novel sets off with a propulsive pace. I’ll set the scene — against the backdrop of a gloomy metropolis, a hulking, lone-wolf vigilante, stealthily picks off baddies one by one in the dark, fueled by the deaths of those he loved. He’s basically Batman for the first part of the novel and I loved it. Despite a middle portion that could have been tightened up as my interest started to wane, Bennett ratchets everything back up for the big heart-pounding finale that each of his books have done so well.

Overall, this was a worthy addition to the Divine Cities series, but not my favorite. That said, Robert Jackson Bennett nailed this trilogy and did a wonderful job with the interplay of gods & mortals, modernity & traditional fantasy worlds, and great characters & an imaginative story. I look forward to seeing what he puts out next.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: City of Blades

city_of_blades_coverTitle: City of Blades
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 484
Series: The Divine Cities #2
Read via: Kindle

Review: There is something about the flow of Robert Bennett Jackson’s writing that makes it so enjoyable to read. He writes compelling dialogue and creates vivid worlds that are a joy to delve into. While expertly weaving plot elements, Jackson simultaneously gives each character a clear agency that gives purpose to their actions and goals.

In most ways, City of Blades is an excellent sequel. It’s not just a retread of the first book. It builds and expands on themes we saw before, changes the setting, spotlights different characters, dials down the melodrama, and turns up the mystery. It did not really feel like the middle book of a trilogy, however. Each book is largely self-contained, with few hints towards a larger, trilogy-spanning story at play. In a sense, each book has been a character-study of strong female heroines who do battle against separate world-dooming forces. It’s a structure that works and I am very much looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy coming next year.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: City of Stairs

513v72ajkll-_sy344_bo1204203200_Title: City of Stairs
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
Pages: 452
Series: The Divine Cities #1
Read via: Kindle

Summary: Bulikov once housed six divinities who enacted miracles upon the city and who were revered by the Continentals, the local populace. The Saypuri, the enslaved and oppressed minority group, were able to topple the gods and shift the balance of power in Bulikov. Now, hundreds of years later, certain Continentals seek to restore things to the way they once were through any means necessary.
Reminiscent of: 
Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere; the setting of Elantris, the history and class struggle of the Mistborn novels, the industrial elements of The Alloy of Law, politics and plot elements of The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

Review: I strongly considered giving up on this novel at several points in the early going. I was thrown off by the mix of modern and ancient elements and also put off by the lack of nuance in the discussion of one character’s forbidden sexuality. Thankfully, I pushed on after reading numerous glowing reviews that promised big payoffs for all the loose threads presented in the beginning chapters.

Many of the reviews I had read complained about the heavy emphasis on history in this novel, but every motivation of each group of characters was rooted in the rich history of Bulikov. Without it, you’re left with no context for the conflicts that occur amongst the warring factions. There was enough action blended with the politics and history to be engaging to me as a reader.

Overall, I really enjoyed Bennett’s writing style. It was not flowery and there was nary an “SAT word” to be found, but everything was smoothly written and flowed very nicely. The story was intricately plotted, featured likable characters, and had an ending that felt complete and satisfying. I look forward to picking up the sequel, City of Blades, in the near future.

★★★★½ out of 5