by Robert Jackson Bennett
Having narrowly saved the metropolis of Tevanne from destruction, Sancia Grado and her allies have turned to their next task: sowing the seeds of a full-on magical-industrial revolution. If they succeed, the secrets behind scriving—the art of imbuing everyday objects with sentience—will be accessible to all of Tevanne’s citizens, much to the displeasure of the robber-barons who’ve hoarded this knowledge for themselves.
But one of Sancia’s enemies has embarked on a desperate gambit, an attempt to resurrect a figure straight out of legend—an immortal being known as a heirophant. Long ago, the heirophant was an ordinary man, but he’s used scriving to transform himself into something closer to a god. Once awakened, he’ll stop at nothing to remake the world in his horrifying image.
And if Sancia can’t stop this ancient power from returning? Well, the only way to fight a god…is with another god.
I received an eARC of Shorefall from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Check out my review of Foundryside!
I’ve been eagerly anticipating Shorefall ever since I read and loved Foundryside early last year, it’s been one of my most anticipated sequels for a while, and now that I’ve read it I’m sorry to say I was a little disappointed by it.
Shorefall picks up around three years after the end of Foundryside, where our disaster found family of Sancia, Berenice, Gregor and Orso are trying to find a way to put their world’s magic system of scriving to use to topple the powerful families who are in power, and bring an end to slavery and the foul treatment of the poor.
Initially it seems like they’re on their way to doing just that, and I really enjoyed the first few chapters of Shorefall because so much of it was just watching this group of characters that I love try and do right by their city and its inhabitants. Unfortunately for them, the Dandolos, one of the powerful families in the city of Tevanne, have other, rather dangerous plans. A plan that involves bringing back Crasedes, a god-like figure who could destroy Tevanne as they know it.
Now in Shorefall‘s defence, I probably could have helped myself out by re-reading Foundryside before I picked up the sequel; because it was pushed back it’s been over a year since I read this first book, so there were a few times I felt a little lost and had to try and remind myself exactly what happened in the previous book.
Having said that, I think one of the main reasons I often felt a little lost while reading this book is because it’s so much more fast-paced than Foundryside is, and I don’t think that works in the novel’s favour. In many ways it left me feeling like I was being rushed through a story which, with a little more time and nuance devoted to it, could have been a wonderful five star read. Not only that but, considering this novel is closer to 500 pages than 400, not an awful lot actually happened. The novel seemed to fall into a pattern of Crasedes doing something naughty, Sancia escaping, and repeat, and it was a little frustrating.
There were still some really interesting discussions in Shorefall about human nature and our relationship with power, and I actually liked Crasedes a lot – he’s the kind of villain I love because he’s a villain whose point of view you can completely understand, even if he is going about his goals in entirely the wrong way – but I don’t think the subject of trauma was handled as well as it could have been.
The fact that Sancia was a slave is dealt with beautifully in Foundryside – the relationship between objects and people thanks to the magic system of scriving, and how some people will be treated like objects by the wealthy and mighty, is so brilliantly done – but in Shorefall I felt as though we lost a lot of that feeling. Gregor’s entire arc was very sad and, to be honest, a bit of a bummer. I don’t expect all of the stories I read to be happy, and something I love about Bennett’s work is how he isn’t afraid to put every single one of his characters at risk, but something about Gregor’s story arc just doesn’t sit right with me, and I don’t think I can put the why of it into words.
That aside, I do love the relationship between Sancia and Berenice. They were so sweet in Foundryside and, now that three years have passed, it was so nice to see two women in a happy relationship, with no unnecessary romantic drama to spice the story up. They’re here and they’re queer, and I am here for it.
It’s clear that Robert Jackson Bennett loves writing fantasy stories about gods, but, as of right now, I’d say he does a better job of it in his Divine Cities trilogy. Shorefall isn’t a bad book, and I still enjoyed reading it, but I know it could have been amazing, and that’s what’s disappointing.
I will be reading the third and final book in the series, whenever it’s released, but I can’t say I’m as in love with this story as I was with Foundryside.