Since I really enjoyed this author's previous series (The Divine Cities, which starts with City of Stairs), I was keen to get hold of Foundryside even though the thought of starting another trilogy really didn't appeal.
This book is set in a different world from the previous series, one where all of the action takes place in an area dominated by four great merchant houses - there's a clear demarcation between the areas they control and where the rest of the population scrape a living, with the mechanisms they employ (a kind of writing called scriving that works like computer code for reality) keeping everyone in their place. It's in this very ordered world that we initially meet two of our protagonists - a thief (Sancia) who is hyper-sensitive to everything and a son of one of the merchant houses (Gregor) who's returned from war with a different perspective on how things ought to be.
Sancia is hired to steal something and that something turns out to be an artefact created by the people who first invented scriving. Except they went one better and started messing with reality, using items just like the one Sancia now has in her possession. When one of the merchant houses is looking to stockpile these artefacts and start to mess with the system, corrupt as it is, Sancia and Gregor reluctantly join forces to steal those artefacts, with the help of a few other folks they pick up along the way. Yes, it's a heist movie!
As they discover along the way, the enemy is not necessarily who it seems to be and both Sancia and Gregor are going to get unpleasant surprises about who they are and what they have lived through. They're not the only one with unpleasant experiences, as two people literally explode at one point and another implodes, so while I wouldn't necessarily categorise this book as 'grimdark' there are probably going to be people it won't work for as a result.
I've happily given Foundryside 4 stars because I enjoyed it, look forward to seeing what happens as a result of the decisions made here and expect I'll re-read it when the next book comes out. It still didn't quite blow my socks off and that was partly because of the flatness of some of the supporting characters. Sancia and, to a lesser extent, Gregor are pretty convincing - though I'd have liked more from Gregor's point of view following a pretty big reveal towards the end - but the other characters are a bit less real to me. Still, assuming they all survive the trilogy, there's still time to sort that out...
I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.