ARC REVIEW: LOCKLANDS BY ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

STAR RATING: 3 stars 😞
PAGE LENGTH: 496 pages
WHAT SERIES? The Founders Trilogy
WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Foundryside
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
CONTENT WARNINGS: Violence, blood, death, torture, mentions of slavery

IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, or An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy.

Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win.

This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds.

To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable.

Now, as their opponent closes in on its true prize—an ancient doorway, long buried, that leads to the chambers at the center of creation itself—Sancia and her friends glimpse a chance at reaching it first, and with it, a last desperate opportunity to stop this unbeatable foe. But to do so, they’ll have to unlock the centuries-old mystery of scriving’s origins, embark on a desperate mission into the heart of their enemy’s power, and pull off the most daring heist they’ve ever attempted.

And as if that weren’t enough, their adversary might just have a spy in their ranks—and a last trick up its sleeve.

Woof. Okay. I finished this book over the weekend while trying to get my teething 10 month old to sleep. [NOTICE: I wrote this review way back in February, when I finished the book. The published asked reviews to be held until 2 weeks before the book comes out, so here you have the review now.] Sadly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Locklands. If you read my reviews of the previous two books, you’ll know how much I enjoyed them. Needless to say, I am vastly disappointed in how this series ended. Those three stars I gave this book is me being generous.

Locklands is a hot mess compared to Foundryside and Shorefall. The prior two books felt like a natural progression. Shorefall raised the stakes the appropriate amount compared to the first book. The villain got scarier, the world got bigger and more dangerous. The characters developed and generally, it made sense that Shorefall followed Foundryside. Locklands’ problem is that it jumps ahead eight years after Shorefall. I generally do not like time jumps in books. They rarely do what the author thinks they do, and instead just make a series feel jumbled up and messy. We see little of those eight years, and as a result, you feel as if you’ve been dropped into the middle of something. You’re left confused and unsure for a while until things feel slightly more familiar.

There is a huge concept in this book that was extremely confusing to me when they first introduced it — the twinning of minds. It technically was introduced in Shorefall, but Sancia and Berenice pushed this even further in those eight years that we don’t see. The whole conversation/explanation in the text is only made more confusing by the diagram that’s included.

I’m really not a fan when authors introduce a phrase/saying/concept in the last book of a series, and then act like it was a huge part of the series from the beginning. Sancia and Berenice use the saying, ‘There’s no dancing through a monsoon,” over and over in this book. I think the author was trying to reiterate it enough to have some emotional impact on the reader. It didn’t really work on me, though it probably would have if this saying had been introduced in the prior two books.

That’s not to say there weren’t parts of this book that I enjoyed — I really, really liked learning more about Clef, who he was, and what he did that brought about literally everything. What a character. He’s deeply flawed, and at first you feel sorry for him, but by the end of the book everything you know about him changes. Crasedes Magnus, and Valeria/Trevanne get some serious character development, too.

In the acknowledgements at the end of this book, Robert Jackson Bennett shares that he wrote this book during the pandemic. I think that’s why this book is the mess that it is. I’m really disappointed in Locklands, and I hate to say that overall, I didn’t enjoy it.

Locklands comes out June 28, 2022.

Add to your Goodreads, or preorder at your local indie bookstore, or at the following links:

GOODREADS | BOOKSHOP.ORG | AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

LGBTQ+ FANTASY BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

As I’ve read quite a few recently, I thought I’d make a little recommendation post of LGBTQ+ fantasy novels! (This is adapted from a twitter thread that I posted here.) If a novel is in this post, it means the core characters fall under the LGBTQ+ spectrum. If you have suggestions that you’d like to add, go ahead and leave a comment! This is by no means an exhaustive list!

WE ALL FALL DOWN by Rose Szabo — There’s not a single straight person in this book. The whole book is about fate, and how the ‘wheel’ will continue to turn regardless of what people try to do to influence it. This comes out in June! Read my review of an ARC copy here.

A MARVELLOUS LIGHT by Freya Marske — This takes place at the tail end of the 1800’s, in an England where magic exists, but is unknown to most. A magical conspiracy is taking place, and its up to our heroes to find out what’s going on! Read my review here.

A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON by Alexandra Rowland — Conspiracy, romance, and fealty all take center stage here. The prince of Arasht is a cinnamon roll desperate to prove his loyalty to his sister, the sultan. It’s a bodyguard romance, folks. This comes out in August! Read my review of an ARC copy here.

THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE by Samantha Shannon — Your typical chunky (800+ pages) fantasy book with all the old tropes, but with a gay queen and her lady-in-waiting that’s secretly a spy. There’s dragons, magic, and old prophecies that come to light.

FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett — This is a tightly plotted fantasy book that takes place in the city-state that is based off of Venice. There’s talking keys, and well, the coolest damn magic system I’ve seen in a long time. Read my review here.

THE MAGPIE LORD by KJ Charles — Set in Victorian England where magic is a thing — this is a mystery trilogy where a man inherits his title and all that comes with it. He hires someone to come help with a magical problem, & well…[waves hands] magic happens. This is a three book series!

WITCHMARK by CL Polk — Set in an alternate/unique version of Edwardian England where magic is both a curse and a boon. There’s gay romance, betrayal, and fantastic world-building. This is on the shorter side at 318 pages, but there are two sequels!

MALICE by Heather Walter — What if Maleficent had fallen in love with Sleeping Beauty? That’s all you need to know, friends. Read my review here. There’s a sequel coming out this year!

PALADIN’S HOPE by T. Kingfisher — This is the third book in Kingfisher’s Paladin series, so keep that in mind, but it’s gay, darlings! There’s a lich-doctor who works to find out who or what killed the dead, and a paladin who’s god is dead. Murder mystery! If you haven’t read the first books in this series, I cannot recommend them enough!

WOLFSONG by TJ Klune — Do you like werewolf pack dynamics? Do you like the idea of mates? then you’ll like Wolfsong. You get huge werewolf family who gather in a lost kid, and welcome him as one of their own. This is a 4 book series.

Have you read any of these? What LGBTQ+ books are your favorite?

TOP TEN TUESDAY- FREEBIE

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is A FREEBIE. Therefore, I’m choosing to do BOOKS WITH A FEMALE MAIN CHARACTER.

I love seeing female characters kick ass. I love watching them grow, and learn, and be real people, rather than figureheads to be fridged. There are some badass women on this list, and some of my absolute favorite characters in fantasy.

  • SANCIA and BERENICE, from the Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • SABRIEL and LIRAEL, from the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix
  • ORKA and ELVAR, from the Bloodsworn Saga by John Gwynne
  • GIDEON and HARROW, from the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir
  • VIN, from the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
  • EAD and QUEEN SABRAN, from the Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
  • DIANA, and YSABEAU, from the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
  • ADDIE LARUE, from The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab
  • FEYRE, MOR, and AMREN, from ACOTAR by Sarah J. Maas
  • ALINA, GENYA, and ZOYA from the Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Who are your favorite female lead characters? Did I list them?

BOOK REVIEW: SHOREFALL BY ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

As you all know (if you read the review I posted a few days ago), I absolutely adored the first entry into the Founders Trilogy, Foundryside. It is a immensely satisfying read, with an enormously unique magic system and world. Well, Robert Jackson Bennett takes all of those components from the first book and puts them to work in Shorefall.

While not as tightly plotted as the first book, Shorefall is still a wonderwork of fantasy writing. The stakes are upped just the right amount in comparison to the first book. The main villain of the series so far, the first of the heirophants, is  bone-chillingly terrifying in the best ways. You really are scared of him while you read — there’s no second guessing, no well-maybe-he’s-right in this book. He’s just flat out terrifying, and you hope-hope-hope that our heroes save the day. The author did an amazing job of showing just enough to prove that this villain is not someone to underestimate.

The reason I docked a star is something that happens towards the middle-end of the book. Hover to read bc it’s a spoiler but it’s regarding Sancia and Berenice and something they do together.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the twinned-mind thing. It was supposed to be temporary but it seems fairly permanent by the end of the novel. Then again, it isn’t all that clear on how much time actually passes between them twinning and the end of the book. First read through of this book, it didn’t bother me. Second read through, it’s sort of…hm. It feels convenient? Like I get what the author is going for, and where it will probably end up, but. IDK. Let me know if you feel the same way!

The best part of Shorefall, though, is the reveal of who the villain actually is. I will not spoil this because it is so chef’s-kiss perfect that I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. But you really don’t see it coming until it’s right on top of you, and then everything sort of clicks into place.

I’m now hurrying onto my ARC of the last book in this trilogy, Locklands. Let’s hope it’s just as good as the first two books.

BOOK REVIEW: FOUNDRYSIDE BY ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT

Rating: 5 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS

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.

I read this book for the first time last year, in the midst of my maternity leave. It was one of the first books I picked up after having my son, and WOW did I get lucky with my choice. Foundryside is one of the best books I read last year, no question. I picked it up again, now, because I was approved for an ARC of the last book of the trilogy. A reread was in order so I could appropriately appreciate the series as a whole.

My opinions of this book have not changed in the slightest. Foundryside is a tightly plotted fantasy book that takes place in the city-state of Tevanne, that is (I think) based off of Venice, Italy. There are canals and merchant houses, so that’s what I’m basing that off of. In Tevanne, “magic” is done by scriving — convincing an object to do something other than what reality says it is supposed to by the use of sigils. That sounds complicated, but it really isn’t inside the confines of the book. An example — they make carriages move forward by convincing the wheels that they are going down a hill. This magic system is so amazingly unique and used in the most fascinating of ways throughout the course of the novel.

Sancia, the main character, is a gruff and mean thief with a strange ability — she can listen to objects by touching them. She’ll lay her hand or a finger on a wall and immediately know what the inside of the building looks like. She uses this ability to steal and during a particularly well paying job, she steals something extremely rare and valuable. It’s this object that starts off the entire plot. This object — a key — is my absolute favorite character of the bunch. And yes, you read that right — the key is a character. I won’t get much more into that because I really don’t want to spoil anyone.

The main plot of the book is to keep someone from doing something absolutely horrifying (seriously, just HORRIFYING) with scriving in order to gain massive amounts of power.

Robert Jackson Bennett manages to weave an incredibly detailed world into being inside Foundryside’s 501 pages. The Tevanne lore includes myths of massively powerful gods that created the scriving language, and mentions of long ago cultures/civilizations that used particular tools. This lore is not only believable inside the context of the novel, but also creates a large sense of the world. I can’t get over how masterfully this is done.

The next book in the series, Shorefall, is just as amazing. I’m onto that book next so I can dive into my ARC of Locklands, the third and final book in the series. Please go read this series. You will not regret it.