Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

9.2/10
Shorefall is a slice of genius slathered with unfiltered madness; it is an innovation on invention.
Shorefall book cover

Book of the Year 2020 (see all)

“What a critical and crushing thing, perspective is …”

Robert Jackson Bennett is in both an enviable and a difficult situation. He’s one of the most imaginative writers in fantasy today, but that carries a sky-high level of expectation that can be difficult to meet. His latest book, Shorefall, is the second book of the Founders trilogy, and often the middle book of any trilogy is the weakest, so I admit to having some trepidation before starting it. I could not fathom how Bennett could improve upon the unique and deeply-developed groundwork that Foundryside provided while offering deeper dives into the science of scriving, building massive action set pieces, presenting fresh takes on creation and innovation, and stretching the limits of reality without sacrificing character growth, pathos, and heart. Shorefall put my fears to rest in the first three chapters. And then it started to get really good.

"Humankind is most innovative at turning innovation to the cruelest ends."

Three years have passed since Team Foundryside was formed, and Sancia, Gregor, Berenice, and Orso have help shift some of the balance of power outside the merchant campos of Tevanne. The team has been utilizing their mental resources, newfound time, and combined experience to pull off some daring and magnificent feats. But at the conclusion of Foundryside, Valeria warned of a dire threat that is tied to Gregor’s past. This horror starts to rear its ugly head, and a truly, truly terrifying villain is suddenly only moments away from acquiring the means to manipulate reality itself.

What’s even more horrifying, and it is a credit to Bennett for pulling this off, is that this villain makes a pretty-damn good case for the endgame of his acts of terror.

Along the way, we sink into an even deeper dive of intricate and mind-bendingly creative ways to explore scriving, object sentience, reality manipulation, and what can result when each effect starts to stack upon the other. Somehow, all this chaos makes a beautiful sense, as Bennett never loses sight of placing his characters’ relationships at the heart of it all. Although the lines between objects and living things become blurrier over time, the bonds that this team shares becomes clearer and stronger. But love can be exploited, and these relationships never turn out the way that you expected them to, do they?

“When humanity gains a new tool, what will it become?”

To say anymore about the plot of the story would rob the author of his intended delivery. But I will say that nearly every chapter introduces a clever new wrinkle to the equation that challenges the status quo. By the end of the story, Bennett had built a Jenga tower of theories and ideas that could not be toppled.

Shorefall is a slice of genius slathered with unfiltered madness; it is an innovation on invention. I want to scrive in this world, to create and experiment with Berenice and Orso, to scale towers and improvise with Sancia, to fight battles and defend my friends with Gregor. I loved this book. Bennett is one of the brightest talents around. Read the Divine Cities trilogy. Read Foundryside. Read Shorefall. Read whatever comes next.

ARC via NetGalley

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