Locklands, the final piece of the Founders trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a story both worthy of discussion and hard to talk about. It is the last step in an increasingly complicated dance that Bennett has been leading and it ends with a beautiful flourish. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about the plot of this book. Even vague gestures to what is going on can spoil the spectacular ending of book two, Shorefall. So as usual in these instances, I will instead talk about the book’s strengths and weaknesses and what you can expect.
To start, the book is mostly all strengths all the time—some of which set new records in my various review categories. Let’s start with the titan in the room, the magic system and the world. Locklands is the end result of an increasingly impressive magic system called Scrivening. I go over it in depth in earlier reviews, but the general gist is it’s essentially using magical computer coding to convince the laws of physics to bend slightly to influence the world. Bennett has spent the last three novels carving out elegant pieces of building materials with his magic system and stacking them up for assembly. Locklands is when it all comes together to create a spectacular masterpiece. Looking back at what the characters started with, and looking forward to where they end, I can barely contain my sense of wonder at all that Bennett has accomplished in getting from point A to B.
The story is great. It combines amazing set pieces, answers to mysteries that have been percolating since book one, and one of the best fight scenes in any fantasy book I have ever read. Bennett is a king of raising the stakes the perfect amount to keep you forever on the edge of your seat. Thematically and narratively the ending is perfect. That might seem like a small thing but endings are often the hardest thing to land in a story like this, and I would give Bennett 10 points.
The characters are an interesting situation. There are five core protagonists of the Founders series, and I like them all. However, Locklands focuses on the one that I was the least attached to, so it didn’t evoke quite the same cult-like fervor of character love the other two books did. Yet, I still adore the main lead of this book, and there is an introduction/exploration of a side character I am crazy about. In the end, I think the characters still remain one of the book’s strengths.
Yet, despite Locklands’ numerous strengths, I wouldn’t entirely give it a perfect score. The book has the same issue as its predecessor; its pacing feels too fast to process everything that is happening. Part of this is by design, as Bennett clearly wanted to set a scene of frantic scrambling to give a sense of panic to the entire story. But at the end of Shorefall, which was starting to show signs of this, there was a lot of information to digest that I was hoping would be explored in the trilogy’s finale. Instead, we get deaths that are unmourning, relationships that are unspoken, memories that are unexamined, and character growth that is unseen. The result is a book that feels truly fantastic, but a keen sense of “it could have been even better.” Yet, don’t let my critical eye distract you, this is still easily one of the best books of the year and a wonderful ending to what has been one of the best stories I have read in the last few years.
Locklands is a triumph and brings the Founders series home to an explosive end. With its unparalleled magic creativity, heartbreaking character stories, heartwarming messages, and satisfying ending, the book locks up another win for Bennett. The entire series is an easy recommendation and has deeply and profoundly influenced the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I am running because I can’t help but steal all the incredible ideas Bennett has stuffed in here. Almost every reviewer at The Quill to Live loves this series at this point, you should definitely check it out.
Rating: Locklands – 9.0/10