Shorefall is the second book in an magical fantasy-adventure trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett called “The Founders.” The first book was titled Foundryside and introduced the majority of the primary characters in the series and the setting of the story.
We are in Tevanne, the major metropolis of this continent. Tevanne is controlled by several powerful families, who rule the city (and it is implied, the rest of the world) through their superior technology. Except in this case their technology is “magic.” Except Bennett has picked a magic system which is well-defined and has scientific undertones. The magic system is called “scriving” and it involves being able to use special symbols called “sigils” which can be used to rewrite physical reality (like changing the weight of an object so it can float, convincing wheels they want to turn in a particular direction, etc). Not everyone, can scrive; it is considered a special, almost divine skill that only certain “advanced” people can do. (Any comparisons to coding and software is completely unintentional, I'm sure!)
The main characters in Shorefall (and Foundryside) are an interesting, diverse group, starting with Sancia, a former slave and current thief who discovers she has surprising powers. Sancia is an unusual choice to be the main character of a fantasy series: she’s a lesbian with non-white skin in a world where being male and pale are often signs of power and status. The other important characters are Clef, a magical (scribed) device which for some reason appears to be able to communicate telepathically with Sancia and has very special powers of his own; Gregor, a large, muscular former soldier who happens to be the scion of one of the most important families in Tevanne; his mother Ofelia Dandolo, the longtime head of House Dandolo; Orso, the head scriver of House Dandolo and Berenice, Orso’s assistant and (eventually) Sancia’s love interest.
The primary plot of Shorefall involves the return of one of the ancient Founders of Tevanne, the most powerful of them all, who happens to also have been the creator of Clef. His name is Crasedes Magnus, “the First Hierophant, Destroyer of Empires, Sacrificer of Millions,” and yes he’s as scary as the name signifies he will be. (People die horrible deaths clawing out their own eyes if they see him face to face.)
If you think to yourself, “oh here we go again, Sancia and friends have to save the world as we know it” (which was basically the plot of Foundryside) you’re not wrong, but Bennett writes with verve so we can enjoy the ride. However, one of my issues with the sequel is even though there are definitely new elements, the element of surprise (or sense of novelty) is not one of them. That can mostly be made up by the development of an interesting depth to Sancia’s relationship with Bernice, Orso and Gregor, which all take turns that are MOST definitely surprising. Bennett is excellent at writing action-packed sequences, and there are plenty in Shorefall. Being the middle book, it mostly resolved the tension of this book, while setting up a major showdown for the third and final book. The books in the Founders series are not as self-contained as the three books in Bennett’s excellent Divine Cities trilogy.
Overall, I would say that Shorefall is definitely worth your time and effort to get into (it’s not a quick and light read), especially if you enjoyed Foundryside. And if you admire stories about quick-witted, profane lesbians who can wield near-magical powers, you’ve come to the right place!
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett.
Paperback: 493 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Date Published: April 21, 2020.
Date Read: May 10, 2020.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆ (4.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).