The Foundryside Series Comes to an Epic Sci-Fantasy Conclusion in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Locklands

From his myriad standalone novels and novellas, to the City of Stairs trilogy and the Foundryside series, author Robert Jackson Bennett continues to craft larger and more expansive stakes, more high octane action set pieces, and pushes genre into new and fresh spaces, all while grappling with deep and complex questions of character, morality, community, and more. And here in Locklands, Bennett once again sticks the landing as he brings the Foundryside story to a beautiful, bittersweet, and heart-soaring close.

Sancia, Berenice, and Clef are among the few survivors who have thus far escaped indoctrination into the scrived-intelligence known as Tevanne, who took its name from the city it swallowed. Eight years after its awakening, Tevanne went to work, quickly amassing and incorporating the majority of sentient human beings into its mind. Able to puppet these humans, it has single-mindedly pursued one course of action: to gain control over all reality. To do what with, no one knows, making their singular drive all the more alien and terrifying. But with the ability to join their own minds together and push back against Tevanne’s consumption of the world, Sancia, Bereniece, and Clef are on the cusp of figuring out how to stop the monster they accidentally made—and in the process, learn the truth of how the world became the one they know, and maybe how to fix the future, too.

Bennett’s renaissance Italy-inspired world started off in Foundryside as purely fantasy with some dashes of the science fictional, adding to the worldbuilding of a culture on the cusp of truly mind-bending, magical discoveries. In Locklands, he fulfills the promise of the premise, giving us a fully-blown sci-fi novel in the confines of his fantastical world. Though the terms may be different, this is a fantasy world full of artificial intelligence, connected hiveminds, and drones of varying intellect, as the magic of scriving has been pushed to truly miraculous heights. In this final book in the series, Bennett showcases how the world has changed with these new technological improvements: Communities link up to become their own entities and verbal speech begins to give way to empathic and emotional psychic conversation, and there is equal evolution on the battlefield as linked squads of soldiers share information freely, finding each other like pins on a map. Likewise, the enemy has learned as well, and Bennet paints a both impressive and chilling picture of war, as an artificial intelligence and their reality-editing software (for lack of a better term) goes up against soldiers sharing minds and tactics with advanced weaponry. That the book starts there and ends up somewhere totally breathtaking should be no shock at all when it comes to Bennett.

But of course, as always, no book lives on worldbuilding alone and with the stakes being so high, none of it would matter if we didn’t care for the characters along the way. The massive communal minds, born around concepts like empathy and ingenuity, showcase the beauty of a shared experience and the potential loss of individuality. Crasedes— former hierophant and seeming god among men—has new depths explored and showcased in the quest to stop his former servant. And Clef, the sentient mind and former ancient scriver bound to a key, begins to uncover bits of his past, a time he would soon forget, but one that explains so much of the present moment as we learn how this cycle of progress and violence began.

But truly, this book belongs to Sancia and Berenice, as it is their love that moves and shapes so much of what is to come. A seasoned couple and leaders of a fractured people during wartime, Bennett crafts intricate layer after intricate layer of these two tremendous characters, each having grown and changed so much from their debut in Foundryside. Aging magically from a scriving in her skull, Sancia pushes herself further and further, determined to save this world and keep her wife safe at the same time. Berenice, having become a true leader for the forces remaining, must contend with her wife’s continued degradation as the war wears them both down and come to terms with what may be required to succeed. Throughout their harrowing journey, there is nothing but love and understanding as Bennett navigates and explores the kind of relationship you could have by being so connected to someone you love, and showcases moment after moment of hard decisions made at the same time as their love is celebrated.

Ultimately, Locklands nails the landing. Throughout the series, the refrain “Move thoughtfully and bring freedom to others,” has been invoked as a means to showcase the mission of all civilizations: to do right by others, to free your fellow citizen from bondage, and protect society. In Locklands, maybe most triumphant of all, Bennett’s thesis is that if these things cannot be done, then it is up to civilization itself to change; to become better than the forebearers who made it and in doing so, live up to the innovations of the present and move into a more beautiful, progressive, and inclusive tomorrow. An absolutely remarkable trilogy, combining the best of character and worldbuilding to become something greater than its parts, as always, I cannot wait to see what Robert Jackson Bennett does next.

Locklands is published by Del Rey.

Martin Cahill is a writer living in Queens who works as the Marketing and Publicity Manager for Erewhon Books. He has fiction work forthcoming in 2021 at Serial Box, as well as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. Martin has also written book reviews and essays for Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and the Barnes and Noble SF&F Blog. Follow him online at @mcflycahill90 and his new Substack newsletter, Weathervane, for thoughts on books, gaming, and other wonderfully nerdy whatnots.


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