Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Robert Jackson Bennett about his new novel, Foundryside, which is the first novel in The Founders Trilogy.
Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His seventh novel, City of Miracles, is in stores now.
Robert lives in Austin with his wife and large sons.
Click here to visit his official website.
Click here to read a review about Foundryside.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT
1. Foundryside is the first novel in The Founders Trilogy. Could you tell us what kind of a fantasy novel it is? What can readers expect from it?
In its most tropey forms, magic in fantasy novels works in an extremely static, restricted fashion. There's usually a small village, and one guy in a remote hut practicing it. It seems hard to do and it's hard to get to the guys who can do it, and it never seems to get used for more practical purposes. Like in the Lord of the Rings: Gandalf is theoretically a divine, magic angel of a kind - but he never seems to use his powers to give the Hobbits indoor plumbing, or toilets, or farming techniques, or better roads.
In short, in the broad, tropey, subconscious version of fantasy, magic is not aligned with progress. It's a static element - but it's not a technology.
I wanted to make a world where magic functioned like any other kind of knowledge - it would spread around quickly, mutate, change, and progress from solving practical problems to tackling bigger issues... and would eventually cause problems of its own.
This is a world where the entrepreneurial city of Tevanne figured out a loophole in the rules of magic, exploited it, and went wild, eventually becoming something akin to the Venetian Empire. It's a story of change, disruption, inequality, and how the tools that can make you free one day can be used to imprison you the very next.
2. Is there anything you could tell us about the protagonist, Sancia Grado?
Sancia is an escaped slave who's trying to make a living in Tevanne. Due to a grisly experiment she underwent, she has a phenomenal talent for stealth and skullduggery, and thus makes a living as a thief, scratching out a life in the lice-ridden, overcrowded Commons of Tevanne - the land that isn't owned by any of the elite merchant houses that run the city. She is a brutally practical person, having surrendered most of her pride and dignity in favor of sheer grit and steely determination. She is extremely resourceful, clever, and occasionally cold-blooded, and she's not afraid of crawling through rats, shit, or garbage to survive another day.
3. In this novel, you write about the magical technology known as scriving. What exactly is scriving and what can be done with it?
In the world of Foundryside, there are naturally occurring symbols called "sigils" that, when inscribed on objects and materials, can convince those objects and materials to disregard the normal rules of physics and reality. Tevanne has figured out how to take this to the extreme, writing lengthy, complicated arguments of sigils that can make their tools and belongings do amazing, dangerous things. They've used this technique to capture huge territories and force whole populations into slavery. I previously compared them to the Venetian Empire, and much like the Venetians, Tevanne's empire is just a faint echo of one that came long before: an ancient empire that knew a whole more about scriving than Tevanne does now.
Every once in a while, people find relics and ruins from the old empire - and, since these might hold unprecedented scriving secrets, they're much sought-after by the ruthless elites of Tevanne. Which means it's just Sancia's luck that she accidentally steals probably the most powerful relic ever discovered, which makes her very popular in all the wrong ways.
4. Is there anything you'd like to add?
People seem to really dig scriving. Once they get the gist, a couple of people have sent me their own innovations. I'd encourage anyone who likes the book to consider doing the same.