Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Reposting to include Marion’s new review.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsShorefall by Robert Jackson BennettShorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Foundryside), is about a spirited group of outnumbered and outgunned people trying to prevent the resurrection of an ancient power, you think to yourself, “Oh man, not another one of these!” You might be forgiven. But then again, you might not be. Because that would mean you haven’t been paying attention to Robert Jackson Bennett, because you would know he doesn’t do “another one of those.” And really, nobody should be forgiven for not paying attention to Robert Jackson Bennett, who has proven himself to be one of our best writers. Consider yourself duly chastised.

Shorefall picks up three years after Foundryside ends, with Sancia, Berenice, and Orso running their own scriving “house,” one that threatens the entire ruling structure of their city Tevanne. By coming up with more powerful magic? Well, kind of. But really more by coming up with something even more frightening to the city’s hierarchy. A library. A place where the ways of wielding scriving power are not jealously guarded secrets but are shared with everyone else in the city, thus distributing power more equitably. Though, given these characters, they’re not above a little “borrowing” (cough cough) of their own to add more juice to their newborn project.

We’re quickly and efficiently reminded of their relationships: Sancia and Berenice are together, Orso continues to mentor Berenice (though the student-surpasses-the-master moment is clearly on its way), and Gregor, head of their security, still struggles with his inability to always govern his own actions (thanks to being a scrived person). And then it’s off on a tense-but-fun heist scene.

But this isn’t that kind of novel. Well, it is. But not only that kind. Because soon after they learn that Gregor’s mother Ofelia is trying to bring back Crasedes Magnus — the First Hierophant, Destroyer of Empires, Sacrificer of Millions, and they quickly shift gears to how to stop his rise.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBut this isn’t that kind of novel. Well, it is. But not only. Because (minor spoiler here) they fail, and Mr. Fear Me I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords is back almost before you’ve finished your first cup of tea while you’re reading. And man does this guy make an entrance. Death. Destruction. Maiming. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. He is exactly the Dark Lord we all know and love (to root against).

But he isn’t. Well, he kind of is. But not only. Because damn if Bennett doesn’t go and complicate things by giving the villain actual cogent (even if appalling) arguments. And I mean that literally. As in, he “argues.” This guy doesn’t throw fireballs and minions at you (well, OK, he kinda does, but not only); he actually talks to those trying to stop him. He makes a case. Sure, it’s horrifying. But it’s not thoughtless. He makes some points. He gets them (and you) thinking. Had he known how to make a PowerPoint he might have even won some of them over.

And Bennett doesn’t stop there. He further muddies things by having Sancia’s best ally, the just-as-old-and-nearly-as-powerful-as-Crasedes construct Valeria (she’d been created by the First back in the day) clearly working within her own agenda even as she helps Sancia and her companions fend off Crasedes. So, the Big Bad is not as mindlessly bad as usual, and the Big Ally might be kind of bad. Well, at least we can fall back on Gregor’s mother Ofelia, the scheming matriarch willing to sacrifice even her son to her own greed. At least Bennett gives us one simple villain to, wait, hold on, my people are telling me that, yes, no sorry, turns out Bennett makes her more complicated also. Well, damn.

Throw in Polina, a former slave turned revolutionary who tries to convince Sancia that she should give up her “bloodless revolution” and turn to more direct means of breaking Tevanne’s “hold upon the world,” lots of talk about humanity’s nature and our species’ relationship to power, and the group’s own rising doubts about the efficacy of their methods, and things no longer seem so simple. In fact, they are stimulatingly complex, giving the reader lots to chew over with the higher plane of their reading mind even as their less-snooty part eats up all the explosions, thefts, horror-style- killings, sword fights, torture scenes, unexpected betrayals, stunning revelations, and hi-speed car chases. OK, maybe not that last.

But seriously, this is a roller-coaster of a novel, certainly more action-oriented and fast-paced than other Bennett works I’ve read. I wouldn’t call it “breathless;” we do get time for some of those nature of humanity debates mentioned above, and some quieter moments between characters, but it certainly grabs you and pulls you along at near break-neck speed. On the one hand, the compelling nature of the pace is definitely a strength. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded a little more time spent with the characters — their internal debates, their relationships among themselves — especially as I know just how good Bennett is at such things. Plus, I enjoyed the layered way in which the character’s personal situations are microcosms of the larger discussion surrounding power, technology, empathy, and what we do (or don’t do) with them. And since we’re in minor criticism territory, I’ll just toss in that at times the magic system, which is generally great, was perhaps a little too detailed or relied a little too often on the innovation Sancia’s group came up with (“twinning”).

But those are, as noted, minor criticisms. Shorefall is an excellent follow-up to Foundryside. Different in style, but equally as thoughtful and, even better, thought-provoking. It ends in brilliantly contradictory fashion both with a bang and a lovely, quiet meditation. Though as one character notes, “This isn’t over at all, is it?”

Lucky for us readers, the answer is no. We’ve got more of Sancia and friends to go…

Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett

~Bill Capossere


Shorefall by Robert Jackson BennettI have only one thing to add to Bill’s review of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Shorefall (2020). I can’t remember the last book I read where, by the end of the book, everything had changed. I’m used to works that have dramatic changes, that have betrayals and revelations, but usually something remains the same. I think that in Shorefall, every single thing we knew or thought we knew about the world of the Founders — or this corner of it — is different in some way.

Some of these changes are small and happen early. For instance, Orso’s campo, Foundryside, pivoted into consultancy sometime in the three-year interval between the end of Foundryside and the beginning of Shorefall. The reasons for this are clear and compelling, but it’s a change. Sancia seems changed, and changes by the minute, as the book progresses (and that’s before the really big changes start).

When the big changes come, many of them are revelatory, and I liked that. I like it when I’m forced to reconsider an opinion I hold because of new information. Actually, in real life I usually hate that. I love it here, though.

Bennett always amazes me with what he takes on as a writer, and what he accomplishes. Bill points out in the first paragraph of his review that Bennett takes a plot outline that is conventional, on the surface at least, and changes it. The changes don’t start there, and they don’t stop there. And I am eagerly awaiting the next book, to see what changes next.

~Marion Deeds

Published in April 2020. As a magical revolution remakes a city, an ancient evil is awakened in a brilliant new novel from the Hugo-nominated author of Foundryside and the Divine Cities trilogy. 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. The awe-inspiring second installment of the Founders Trilogy, Shorefall returns us to the world Robert Jackson Bennett created in his acclaimed Foundryside . . . and forges it anew.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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7 comments

  1. I have to wait four more days before my copy arrives. Four. More. Days. Oh, the humanity!

  2. Aha! I thought this was to be the second of two, and now you’re telling us that there’s more to come — which I can only greet as truly excellent news. I’d been waiting for this second novel to read them back to back, but I can’t possibly wait for the third to be published; I’ll just have to dive into Shorefall immediately and take my lumps.

    Bill, you sure do write excellent reviews, completely entertaining in their own right.

    • thanks Terry!

      Usually I just read series books by themselves
      as they come out–for the really good ones I’ll reread the prior book (sometimes books) in advance. This one I’ll reread both before reading the third. . .

  3. Mike Glyer /

    Terrific review!

  4. Great review. After the superb Divine Cities trilogy he’s become one of my favorite authors.

    I’m so very happy to say my book was mailed today and is on it’s way, NOT from Amazon.

  5. I’m so behind on my reading! I’ve heard nothing but great things about this series!

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