Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the second book of the Founders trilogy. It certainly isn't suffering from the dreaded "middle book slump," or at least I don't think so. This is because this storyline, while following through on seeds planted in the first book, Foundryside, deals with an entirely new, apocalyptic threat while peeling back several layers of its own worldbuilding, resulting in an absorbing reading experience. This is evident from the get-go: we are reacquainted with the characters and world and presented with vital plot points via an excellent first chapter that pulls the reader right in, relaying all this information with no infodumping. It expands your enjoyment of this book to have read the first, but I don't think it's really necessary. This story, with its depth of characterization, elevated stakes and game-changing plot twists, stands on its own.
This book's worldbuilding expands on the original conceit of the first, which presents the system of "scriving"--written or carved lines of magic-bearing sigils--as something like magicked computer code, upon which the entire civilization of Tevanne depends. Scriving is capable of manipulating objects, time, the nature of reality, and (as we learn in this volume) people. The author's continued theme of the far past (in this case, thousands of years) not being dead or even past, and roaring back to bite the present, is epitomized in this book's villain--but even the villain is given thoughtful characterization. Crasedes Magnus is a monster, but he also has a motivation we can understand, and a couple of plot twists late in the game succeed in making the reader reassess everything that has gone before.
A lot happens in this book, and it happens over the course of only a few days. The book is nearly 500 pages long, but it does not sag. The scenes and characters are allowed to breathe, and even though everyone is pretty much running frantically from start to finish, there are revealing character moments for all. From the former thief Sancia Grado, to her lover Berenice, their foundry boss Orso, the tragic Gregor Dandalo and his mother Ofelia--they're all given their chance to shine. And the climax, the destruction of Tevanne--and its unholy hybrid rebirth, spawning a new villain--sets the stage for a helluva finale in the third book.
I loved Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy, which you should also read. The Founders series is just as good, if not better.
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