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Monday, May 11, 2020

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Mr. Shivers 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Stairs
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Foundryside

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert Jackson Bennett began attempting to write books because of an early fascination with Stephen King books shared by him and his brother. Mr. Shivers was Robert's debut and since then he has gone on to write many more books that mixed several genres & have defied classification in as many years. His work has received the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Phillip K. Dick Citation of Excellence, and he has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Locus Awards. He currently lives in Austin with his family.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.

But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.

Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.

Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.

FORMAT/INFO: Shorefall was published in North America by Del Rey books on April 21, 2020 and is available in ebook, audiobook, and print formats. It was published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books on April 21, 2020 as well in e-book & trade paperback formats. It is 496 pages long split over fourty-four chapters. Narration is third person across multiple viewpoints. It is the second book in The Founders Trilogy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: It's been three years since the battle at the Mountain, the night that Sancia, Gregor, Orso and Berenice took down one of the great merchant houses of Tevanne and stopped their leader from becoming a powerful magical being. The group now runs their own scrivening house, working methodically to undermine the other merchant families that control the city. But when an old foe warns them of an ancient power that has awakened and is traveling to Tevanne, everything falls by the wayside as they race to stop him. Because this new threat has a very particular view about how humanity should conduct itself - and if humanity won't comply, then it might be time to just start the whole world over.

Shorefall is the kind of book that throws you into the middle of an escapade, gives you a little time to settle in, then takes off the brakes and never stops. The pacing is utterly relentless, as situations go from bad to worse and our heroes have only a few short days to stop the new villain before they manage to achieve their full power. It never felt rushed or overwhelming, because I was so invested in what was to come that I wanted consume the book as fast as humanly possible. The stakes are real and are balanced between the personal and the "saving the world" variety. And one late act reveal in particular made me curse out loud, not necessarily because of its shock and more because of the realization the clues were there all along.

As good as plotting and pacing are, this book wouldn't have gotten five stars if it didn't have great characters. Those personal stakes I just mentioned are what keep me so utterly transfixed. Gregor in particular gets a chance to shine in this installment, as some discoveries made in Foundryside add a wrinkle to the problems facing our heroes, and watching him grapple with the ramifications provides some intense pathos on top of the tension. I also have to give a shout out to Sancia and Berenice, who are #relationshipgoals. It is SO rare for a couple to just exist in a completely healthy state, and watching them lovingly work together without ego or drama was refreshing. There's enough to deal with in the book without unnecessary angst.

Lastly on the character front, let's take a moment to respect how utterly terrifying this new villain is. My favorite antagonists are the ones who are always calm because they are utterly confident in the knowledge that they are in control of the situation. The new villain is a sociopath, one who doesn't blink twice at human sacrifice, one who is utterly convinced he is in the right and if you aren't smart enough to get out of his way, it's not his fault if you die. The crew of Foundryside is way out of their depth here, and only an unlikely ally provides them any hope of contending with the situation.

The world-building in Shorefall is much the same as Foundryside so if you were a fan of the "magic by way of computer coding with runes," you'll be back in your happy place. I have to admit, I occasionally didn't follow every part about "permissions" and "editing" and the nitty gritty of the magic system, but it was never enough to stop me from understanding the overall gist of what was happening (ie, if the bad guy gets Item A, it will be bad). I outright giggle any time Sancia interfaces with a scrived item and convinces it "You think gravity works how? Oh, no, there's been some changes, let me explain to you how gravity ACTUALLY works now."

CONCLUSION: Shorefall is everything Foundryside was, but even better. The characters you love are back, the stakes are real, the consequences devastating. This is the Empire Strikes Back of the series, and the state of the world when you hit that final page is jaw-dropping. Any book that wants me to grant it the title of Best of 2020 is going to have to fight Shorefall for that coveted honor, and it won't be won easily. I unreservedly recommend this series, so do yourself a favor and get it now!


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