Foundryside takes places in Tevanne, a trading city where the old, rich families live in luxury and nearly everyone else lives in slums. The magic in Tevanne relies on sigils and the people who know how they work. These sigils can be inscribed on items to make heavy things float, make weapons stronger, and even manipulate gravity. Sancia makes a life for herself on the poor side of the side. She is a very good thief with a few special tricks up her sleeve, but when she is tasked with stealing a mysterious magical artifact from one of the powerful merchant houses that rules the city… all hell breaks loose. Sancia and the strange relic she stole have the possibility to turn the city and its magic upside down.
I have such mixed feelings about this book, but I really wanted to love it. I love heists, the magic sounded cool, and the world building interested me. If you like heists, this book has a some anxiety-inducing chases and focuses on the planning of the heist with a good amount of detail. The magic system really was interesting. Some people describe it as “hacking,” and I can see why. For example, the sigils on an lock may command it to only open for a certain type of key, but if you have a key that is also magically altered, it can convince the lock that it is actually the correct key. That is a simplified example, but the magic can alter the properties of other objects and materials, which makes the possibilities for the magic system nearly endless. The book explains the magic system in depth a few times, so while you will get a lot of detail about it, I was a little bored by some of the overly long explanations since I felt like I already knew how it worked from the last few times it was explained.
The characterization was pretty good. I liked the main character, Sancia. She was strong and independent but it was shown and not just told to us. She had an interesting backstory too, and I enjoyed following her around as a main character. She was competent but not flawless at thieving, which was realistic and created suspense. I also liked a few of the side characters, like Orso and Berenice, who were two of the most talented magic-users, or scrivers, in the city. Orso is a bit of a mad scientist, and Berenice is talented assistant who puts up with his demands. There’s also Gregor, a son of one of the merchant families who has a strong drive for attaining justice. There is some romance in the novel and some lesbian or bi representation among our heroes. While the heroes are quite likable and interesting to read about, the villain(s) in this book were a little thin. One in particular was so over the top in how evil they acted that it came off a bit cheesy.
Although I liked a lot of what was happening in the book, the author crammed in a lot of topics all at once like class warfare, slavery, human experimentation, gods and mythology of the world, and a complex magic, economic, and political system. I liked how vast the world felt, but I could see some readers being confused by all the detail or simply wanting more focus on the plot.
Speaking of plot, some of the foreshadowing was heavy handed. At the end of one chapter it said something like, “Wow, I sure wish we had this strong friend of ours and that magic weapon we saw earlier.” Now, guess what happened in the next chapter?! And although this is shelved as an adult fantasy, the writing felt as if it had a slightly younger slant to it but I wouldn’t call it YA. In fact, maybe I feel this way because some of the banter between the characters felt juvenile or silly. Personally, I disliked how long some of the banter went on, and your mileage will vary, but I did not think most of it was funny.
One last thing I’ll mention that may turn off some readers is that there is a lot of internal dialogue between characters’ minds. The text to represent this is in italic font and surrounded by symbols. It sets the internal speaking apart from the rest of the text, but I could see some readers being annoyed by the unique formatting. I didn’t think it was a problem, but it was worth mentioning.
So, that’s my inconclusive review! I wasn’t wowed by the book, but I may not be the best reader for it. I don’t think I will be continuing this series. It had potential, I liked many parts of it, but at the end of the day I have so many other series I’d like to finish first. So, please decide for yourself on this one, but I gave it three out of five stars.