Robert Jackson Bennett's new trilogy starter, Foundryside, again shows his love of world buildingand giving readers delicate morsels of that world, whetting the appetite for more answers. In this particular case, though, the major protagonists are just as in the dark as the reader.
Given the characters all refer to the world as Earth, we'll assume we're in a much altered timeline. The action, however, centers on the city of Tevanne, and the four major corporations that run the city and its colonies. Our main character, Sancia, live between the Corporate campos in the foundryside, where laws don't particularly matter. Indeed, Sancia makes her money thieving, and we meet her as she's trying to break into a warehouse on the docks to steal something from a safe.
Her rather improvised methodology for the break in introduces us to the concept of Sigils and the Scriveners who write them. Essentially, with the right signs, one can rewrite reality around objects. Things like making a arrow be convinced it's much more dense than it really is, and has been falling for several more feet than it actually has. (They get deeper into the physics later in the book, but for the sake of ease, we'll define the system here as symbols convince objects to be something they aren't.)
Eventually, and with a small bit of unexpected issues, Sancia gets the box and makes her way back to her safe house. Curiosity gets the best of her, which is when we meet Clef, the talking key that can open just about anything. Having a talking key can be a bit challenging, however, Clef does manage to drag Sancia out of her shell a bit, showing us her upbringing on one of the colonial islands and the forbidden act that frees her. (Briefly put, in a normally fatal proceedure, they insert a scrivened plate in Sancia's head that mostly lets her hear scrivenings.)
Investigating her break in, is Gregor Dandolo, son of the Founder of House Dandolo. Gregor is a former soldier, hero of the Enlightenment Wars, and called revenant for surviving a siege that killed off all of his men. Gregor has a thirst for justice, regardless of whom is guilty. Almost getting killed while trying to arrest Sancia gets him more wrapped into this adventure, that eventually leads to Orso and Berenice, the Master Scriviner of House Dandolo and his assistant. Who eventually all wind up with the Scrappers, folks who are scriviners not affiliated with a Corporate House for whatever reason.
There's a lot going on here.
We hear legends of the Hierophants, giants from prehistory who used the sigils (those which God used to create the world) to recreate the world in their image, and how the wars of the Hierophants left deserts and destroyed parts of the world. We hear of a God in a box used by one of the Hierophants. We even get inklings about certain Founders who are trying to regain the powers of the Hierophants through their artifacts.
By the end, we have an inkling of two sides of the forthcoming conflict promised in subsequent volumes.
It's very interesting, and thankfully, there really isn't any long Jurassic Park style passage were we get told the principles of the concepts involved. I mean, yes we get a few explanations here and there, but there's not a 10 page treatise on how all of this works. Much like his last series, most of the themes involved here deal with the nature of the freedom of man, and thinking of one's self as an item rather than as a human. I look forward to the next book, and hope it's more of a direct continuation than the Divine Cities trilogy gave us.