Like most things in my life right now, I learned about Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett from TikTok or BookTok, to be more exact. I’m an avid reader, but I have been in a slump recently. Nothing I try to read seems to hold my attention for more than a few chapters. I think TikTok is shortening my attention span, so when it came time to pick a book for this month, I wasn’t sure what I would read. But then I saw three videos back to back talking about this book. It seemed like the universe was telling me something at the time, so I just went along with it.
Sancia Grado, a thief, is tasked with stealing an artifact from a heavily guarded warehouse in Teavanne’s docks. Little does she know the artifact she is about to steal is an object that could change the landscape of magic in the world. And like any good fantasy book, she now has powerful people trying to kill her and take the artifact for herself. So, of course, she needs to rally up a tag team of unlikely allies and learn to control her powers and the power of the artifact if she is going to make it out alive.
Here is the spot where I should be talking about the finer points of the plot or maybe some of the excellent character development, or how awesome it is to read a heist plot in the setting of a fantasy book but not today. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all in there, but I want to talk about the world-building and magic system in this book. They are the reason that this book felt alive to me. I’m a sucker for a unique magic system. (Check out Brandon Weeks’ Lightbringer Series if you like fantastic magic systems.)
So what makes this magic system so unique and amazing? It’s that it doesn’t feel like magic, not in the traditional sense. No one is saying “alakazam!” or “expelliarmus” while waving a magical wand. No, in Teavanne, it feels more sciency.
Foundryside is a fantasy book, but there are hints of science fiction mixed in there, and nothing quite highlights that like the magic system. Magic in this book seems to interact with the world and society the same way technological information does in ours. It’s magical coding. Scriving, as it’s called, is inscribing sigils on objects to make the object think the reality is slightly different than what it is. So if you base human interaction and base an economy off of this idea of magical coding, then the world sort of shifts in what determines reality. Did that make any sense?
Scrivers are computer programmers who program everyday objects to do certain functions but magically. So, for example, you can scrive a sword to make it ten times sharper than it is or that a candle can never burn out. So kind of like how we program robots to do tasks, scriving works in the same way but with everyday objects.
As a whole, the magic system is so unique and a really fun thought experiment to think about the implications it would have in our world. Kind of like, what superpower would you want? The question I asked myself is what one item would I scrive to make my life easier? I’m still working on my answer. Let me know what you would choose down below in the comments.
Three out of 3 Platanos
(What’s better than stars? Plantains!)
As a whole, this book is fantastic. The first few chapters feel like any other fantasy book, but give Bennett the time to work his magic, and you won’t be disappointed. Because aside from his ability to come up with and write unique magic systems, he excels in writing his characters. He slowly peels back the layers of Sancia as more trials come her way, and we start to understand her reasons for being a loner as we know her past and traumas. And don’t be fooled by the fantasy categorization of this book. It is a science fiction cyberpunk story in the clothes of a fantasy novel.
And for this month, We are reading We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. And if you want any more book recommendations, try reading one of our past book club picks here.