The Foundry’s Edge: A nice set up with potential

The Foundry’s Edge by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz middle grade fantasy book reviewsThe Foundry’s Edge by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Foundry’s Edge, by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz, is a solid MG/YA entry that, I’d say, had more potential than was met. In failing to fully take advantage of its possibilities, it never falls so far as to be a “bad” read, but it also rarely inspires or enthralls, though it picks up in the latter quarter of the novel, both in terms of action and emotion.

The story is set at first in the city of Meridian, a technologically advanced (well past any other regions) city thanks to being the home of the Foundry, a corporation that has been spitting out all sort of marvelous inventions/gadgets. Meridian is threatened, though, by surrounding regions, who are both jealous and leery of Meridian’s technical and scientific prowess. Years ago war raged between the two groups, and since that time, the Foundry has been keeping Meridian’s enemies at bay by giving them more and more technology, though things seem to be coming to a dangerous head yet again.

That’s the big picture context. The action focuses mainly on Phoebe Plumm, the spoiled rich brat daughter of Dr. Julies Plumm, one of the Foundry’s upper-level scientists. Phoebe takes full advantage of, well, her advantages. Especially with regard to Micah, the ten-year-old son of their servant who also does work on the Plumm Estate. We’re not far into The Foundry’s Edge before Phoebe’s father has been kidnapped by the Foundry and she and Micah are forced to team up to try to rescue him. That attempt leads them into an unbelievable world of living machines, which the Foundry has obviously been exploiting for its own enrichment, and it is in this land that the majority of action takes place as Phoebe and Micah try to make their way to the Citadel at the heart of this strange new world.

The basic premise is one of the book’s strengths. A world of living metal is an intriguing concept, and the authors offer up some creative creations, some of which are well served by the visual descriptions. The inhabitants are not homogenous, either in in type or opinion, which is nice. Some are said to be in open rebellion against the Foundry, some hate it but fear it, others work both sides, and others are happy to join in with the Foundry, as they seem like the winners. I also like that this world doesn’t simply exist as an “other” place, one which our characters visit and (possibly) return from with little to no connection between the two (think how Narnia worked). Instead, this living metal world is vitally important to Meridian’s world — it has driven the technological advances in the “real” world which has not only made life more comfortable, but has had major repercussions in extending life, curing diseases, etc. And, as mentioned, the appearance of all this new technology has also dramatically shaped the geopolitics of Meridian’s world, as would its sudden absence.

Pacing is mostly well done, with action coming quickly and smoothly, but not relentlessly, as the authors build in some breathing room for the characters and the reader. The chief villain is nicely handled, his motivations and actions made more complicated by several issues, including the possibility of another war, a potentially mutinous underling, and pressure from above him. And the basic questions are good ones for middle graders to wrestle with — what are the limits and responsibilities of power, how much sacrifice is justifiable for our comfort, when is resistance smart and/or morally required, how far can one take empathy, and so forth. And of course, the environmental issue at its core is but timely and important.

The problems with The Foundry’s Edge are not overwhelming, but they do add up. Neither of the two main characters is likable at all at the start and I can’t say one really warms up to either of them throughout the novel. Character development is predictable from the get-go, I imagine even for relatively younger readers. Their requisite comic sidekick, a native who acts as a guide to this new world, Dollop, is an example of that not fully met potential mentioned above. Constantly seeking his purpose in the world, and filled with a faith often looked down upon by his own kind, he is too often served up in silly or trivial fashion, though he has his moments. While I do like the villains, they are admittedly a little over the top as corporate greed stand-ins. And I wish the complicating factors — those that make the villain’s motivations a bit more gray — had come much earlier and played far more of a role in the book rather than coming out in the usual monologue scene. Finally, while this is definitely a Middle Grade book, or a younger YA (I think many older YA readers, including adults, will find its flaws overshadow its strengths), there are a few moments of vivid violence and death, something to consider.

“Solid” is the word I use for those books that carry the reader along but don’t really do a whole lot more. I do think the authors have given themselves a nice set up and potential is certainly there. And I think the themes make The Foundry’s Edge a good shared read for parents and children — there’s a lot here to talk about substance-wise, even if some basic storytelling elements such as character and language fall a bit short. Here’s hoping those aspects are addressed in the sequel.

Publication Date: April 15, 2014. For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner, and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief engineer for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on metal production and technology, Phoebe’s father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal-one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.

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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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