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Book Review: Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

Title: Locklands

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: Founders #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy. Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win. This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds. To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable. [It goes on, but really even if you don’t know a little of what it will be about by this point in the series, I doubt you’re paying much attention to lengthy overviews]. –Goodreads

The Review:

Locklands was a satisfying ending to a unique trilogy.

If I’m honest, I had a weird reading experience with this series. I read the first book, Foundryside, on a complete whim and absolutely loved it. Within days of finishing, an eARC of Locklands became available and I pounced on it without a second thought.

And then I read Shorefall (book 2) and did not enjoy my experience with it at all (in hindsight I’m thinking it was at least partially due to the lack of voice variation in the audio – everything was delivered in full voice and I felt like the book was screaming at me the whole time).

So there I was, clutching my ereader loaded with the final book in the trilogy and feeling absolutely no motivation to pick it up. But I’d committed. So I read it. And I’m happy to report that I enjoyed my experience with it a lot more than I thought I would.

I don’t normally preface my reviews with so much backstory, but it’s important to note that I went into Locklands almost begrudgingly, so my experience was skewed right from the beginning. In evaluating all three books as objectively as I can, I think Locklands will provide a better than 3-star rating for most readers who have loved the series up to this point. I, however, thought it was a good installment, but not quite on the same wow-scale as the first book.

Locklands brought back more of that awesome magic system involving infusing objects with predetermined commands. It’s such a cool combination of magic systems and I think what I liked most about this final book was seeing how all of the technology evolved over the series and the types of things the characters are able to do with it now by contrast. It’s a very satisfying growth arc, and readers who eat up books where smart characters get more adept at cool systems as the story progresses will likely enjoy this series too.

The book was also a great mix of high and low moments, with a culminating arc at the end which was a complete snowball of events. The book had more dynamics than the second one, and I appreciated that it at least gave me a few moments to breathe between hitting me over the head with action scenes.

Another thing I loved about the first book was finding out more about the lore of the world and all of the magic predecessors. Locklands did a great job answering some burning questions and giving more depth to characters we’ve been curious about since the beginning.

It also avoided excessive evil monologuing, which I appreciate tremendously.

So, while reading this when I wasn’t in the mood was a weird experience, one I’ll take more care to avoid in the future when ARC requesting, ultimately I’m glad I got to see how the trilogy ended. I think readers who are less cranky than me about the whole thing will enjoy it immensely.

Recommendations: if you like cheeky characters, cool & intricate magic systems, and loads of action and excitement, this series is a great pick. The audio worked well for the first book but I’d skip it on the second two.

I want to thank Random House Publishing Group, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Locklands.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Title: Shorefall

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: Foundryside #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: 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. -Goodreads

The Review:

After dishing out some of my highest praise for Foundryside, I’m disappointed to say I didn’t like Shorefall nearly as much as I thought I would.

Which is surprising considering 100% of the feedback I got after talking about Foundryside was that “Shorefall is even better!” So what has me the grumpy outlier in a sea of praise for this second book? Possibly inflated expectations. Probably an issue with the story components. And definitely a problem with pacing.

The book starts out with mach-10 level of intense action and drama (which, compared to the relative slower development in of the first book is probably why a lot of people liked this one better) and maintained that same level straight through the first 75% of the book, only to be broken up occasionally for some evil monologing. For me the lack of variety meant no opportunity to reconnect with the characters. No slower moments to appreciate the cool inventions of this world. And no time to give my brain a rest between all of the excitement. It felt like one of those fantasy battle scenes where after a while nothing seems exciting because it’s all exciting so it flat-lines and you start tuning things out until a change of pace startles you back in… and like I said, it took about 75% of the book before that happened for me.

In this case, I can’t tell whether the feeling of continuous fast pacing was due entirely to the text. While I felt the unconventional audiobook narrator was a good match for the first book, I noticed in this one that her non-stop edge of panic and intensity for almost the entire novel was hard to listen to. I’m planning a physical read of the final book, so we’ll see if that makes a significant difference. It’s always unpleasant when you feel like someone is yelling/nagging at you for 10 hours straight.

But alas, once I started getting irritated with the pacing and the narration, it was difficult not to nitpick other elements of the story that just were not working for me. There were a lot.

1. I didn’t like the villain. In the first book he was this creepy enigma that I wasn’t even sure would get a significant role in the second book (it felt like finale sort of buildup), but as soon as the mystery was stripped away I found my interest in him waning. I’ve never been a fan of including villain POVs in books unless you’re willing to do a deep character exploration with the perspective. Otherwise they usually come across superficial and cheesy. No exception here. What’s more, the more opportunities they have to explain their grand plans of evil to the main character where nothing actually happens to said character only serves to take away from the suspense of the story. I think there was a good foundation here for mysterious evil workings on the periphery of the story that would’ve worked well, and I for one would’ve enjoyed it better had all the evil plans not been laid bare at every turn. As it was it was kind of stupid.

2. I didn’t like the “whys” behind the plot. I wasn’t on board with WHY these characters had to be the ones to handle the big bad threat and why they seemed completely isolated in handling it. Compound that with some (I feel) stupid decisions, unnecessary risks, and exceptionally far-fetched plans that only work because the story needs them too, and I’m just meh. Even worse, characters who acknowledge they’re taking a calculated risk, then spend 20 pages whining about it in endless dialogue when they’re betrayed… I’m telling you, it was all I could do to get through this book at 2x my regular reading speed. “Just get it over with” is not a mentality you want to have while reading a book you were excited about.

3. I don’t like where the story is going. All the mystery is gone. All the suspense is gone. I don’t have energy for the angst. And I think this is the reading gods punishing me for requesting an ARC of Locklands before having read the second book. I know better than that. I even wrote a guide, then promptly ignored my own rule.

I’m starting to recognize a few of my personal reading biases. Foremost of which is, once a book isn’t working for me, my critical mind sees that as permission to go hogwild in tearing apart every aspect of the story. So I’m always, always, a lot more harsh on things that probably weren’t as bad as I’m making them out to be. If I step back from the emotion of my review for a moment and look at the book again, it’s fine. Perhaps not my cup of tea, but I can see why a lot of people really enjoyed it. Therefore, my rating is coming in at a 2.5/5 stars. Meaning I can recognize that the book was better than “just okay,” but I personally didn’t like it. If I couldn’t see any merit, it would’ve gotten 2 stars or less. That’s probably more info than most of you needed.

Things I liked: Orso is funny as shit. The magic system is still a blast to read about. The physical book is pretty.

Recommendations: I did a complete 180 from the first book here, but I seem to be in the minority from most people who actually liked Shorefall even more than Foundryside. If I came across my own review, I’d still give the book a go lol.

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by Niki Hawkes