Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Sancia Grado is a thief in the slums of the Commons, but she has a secret: she can hear what objects. Everything and anything, which makes life difficult but her job easy. Until one day she is sent into a warehouse to steal a box, and her entire world is turned upside down.
I was surprised to enjoy this as much as I did!
I listened to this 19 hour audiobook in five days. I can’t believe that happened. I can’t believe I’m still married.
I was thinking that it was going to be a solemn fantasy world filled with self-assertive pomp and circumstance, but this book is hilarious and has the sort of slapstick, madcap humor that just makes me giggle. Pretty much every time Clef came on page I was prepared to howl with laughter, especially as he reasoned his way through scrived objects. Tara Sands did an excellent job bringing him—and all of the other characters—to life.
Plus, this is a heist book, which are some of my favorite types of stories, particularly when executed well.
In addition to the fun, there is also bloody bloodiness, with lots of gore and fighting and fecal things. And a very well-developed magic system based on words, logic and definitions (kinda like computers and librarianship!), in addition to solid worldbuilding loosely based upon Italian families and warlords.
And of course, there are the other parts of the story. The way people were enslaved to create cheap labor for the campos, and how it was a system that was never meant to be long-term but kinda just continued onwards because that was easier than freeing the people (gee, sounds familiar), and how some of the campo rulers were experimenting with scriving to create people who were slaves in body and mind instead of just body. The implications are fully explored and are heinous—mindlessly obedient soldiers, servants, slaves and bedmates, all unable to act upon their own will, driven to do whatever they are programmed to without pause.
As an escaped slave, Sancia has a lot of trauma to process, and to begin thinking of herself not just as escaped object but as person, to rehumanize herself after the horrors of her life as a slave and later as a thief.
I did want a little more on Gregor’s trauma, although the man kept himself too bottled up to really get into his head or understand why his mother acted the way she did—both in letting him be free to guard the Waterfront and her later actions.
Speaking of Mama Dearest, let’s talk about the women in this book.
I was impressed with the way they were written. Sancia feels fully realized—she has emotions, motivations, fears and desires, and she also has a lot of past trauma that has shackled her to her present self and imposed blinders on her actions and visions. As a thief, she’s at the bottom of the social hierarchy. I was a little iffy with her being bi/lesbian, but that was mainly because she was written by a man and when men write queer women my guard always goes up a little bit due to the over-sexualization of queer women through the male gaze. I felt very little of that here, but that’s just my opinion. Sancia is also a Black woman, which was refreshing to read on the page. Representation matters—and there are a number of people of color and queer rep in the cast as well.
Berenice (sp?) is a brilliant engineer, and is quiet and completely confident in her abilities. She follows her master Orso around, but when asked she’s absolutely sure that in some areas the student has become the master—and the teacher. I did like her quiet relationship with Sancia.
Estelle was…hoooooooooo boy. There is sooo much to unpack with this gal, and I was frustrated by where her story arc took her because would you really think that a victim of an enhanced patriarchy would do that? Really? I mean…perhaps, but where did she get the support needed? Maybe I wasn’t listening as clearly. Anywho, Estelle has her trauma to unpack and process, mostly by being an absolutely brilliant woman who is told time and time again that her mind doesn’t matter, only her body and blood do—and that just for marrying and reproducing an heir for her family. And being married to an abusive asshat didn’t help matters. So what happens when all of that bottled up rage is let loose? This book.
And Ophelia. Ophelia is…Mommy Dearest taken to the nth degree. Ruler in her own right and deeply protective (in the most twisted way) of her remaining child, Gregor. There is so much going on with Ophelia (and also Estelle) that I could probably spend a couple hours rereading and unpacking those two women.
However, that’s outside the scope of this already too long review.
Foundryside was a great heist book and despite the length was fast moving, action packed and riveting, with a well-developed heroine and diverse supporting cast, and a fantastic magic system and world-building.
The audiobook is incredible!