The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

“There is no pain that cannot be endured and survived, no obstacle that cannot be overcome. All that is required is the will to succeed, a will that allows for no distractions.” – The Waking Fire

In the world of The Waking Fire, .1% of each generation are born with the ability to gain inhuman powers from drinking the blood of Drakes, also known as dragons. The invention of the thermoplasmic engine, a device which can only be operated by these “blood-blessed”, has accelerated the pace of naval technology by decades. Thus, the blood-blessed, and the blood they rely on for their abilities, have become vital to society. A company known as the Ironship Trading Syndicate, by virtue of being the largest supplier of refined Drake blood, has become a political and military force to rival established empires. The Syndicate employs independent mercenaries called “Contractors” to hunt Drakes in the interior, bringing back their blood or, preferably, living specimens for the breeding pens. It should also be noted that, while this is an epic fantasy novel, Contractors make use of firearms.

The Waking Fire is told from three different perspectives. First is Claydon Torcreek, an orphaned blood-blessed recruited by Ironship to go on a mysterious mission to the Interior, an untamed wilderness overrun with wild Drakes, with his estranged uncle’s contractor crew. The group is tasked with finding the White Drake, an elusive new breed believed by some to be only legend. To find it, they will need a map lost to history. This is where the second narrator comes onto the stage. Lizanne Lethbridge always knew that her famous name might turn out to be a curse. After all, being the granddaughter of the man who invented revolutionary thermoplasmic engine was bound to attract unwanted attention, especially in her profession. As an agent for Exceptional Initiatives, a division of the Ironship Trading Syndicate, Lizanne has been trained since childhood to be a secret agent. Her job is to steal corporate secrets, sabotage Ironship’s competitors, and if necessary to carry out targeted assassinations. Her latest mission is to go deep undercover inside one of the most dangerous cities of the Corventine Empire, one of Ironship’s oldest enemies. She is tasked with finding a map, one that will lead to the White. Finally, there is Lieutenant Corrick Hilemore, an officer in the Ironship Navy. His ship, the Viable Opportunity, is headed to the edge of the world to do battle with one of the most famous pirate ships to sail the seas. But there is a war brewing on the horizon, and even the Viable Opportunity may not be able to escape it.

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In The Waking Fire, Anthony Ryan has created a world unlike anything else in his genre. He effortlessly blends long used techniques of the fantasy genre with his own original ideas about the Thermoplasmic Age. Overall, the book achieves the rare feat of appealing both to those who are long time fans of fantasy and new comers to the genre. Last but not least, the ideas Ryan discusses through the thought experiment of the Ironhship Trading Syndicate are pertinent to our modern world.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

“Every innovation—technological, sociological, or otherwise—begins as a crusade, organizes itself into a practical business, and then, over time, degrades into common exploitation. This is simply the life cycle of how human ingenuity manifests in the material world. What goes forgotten, though, is that those who partake in this system undergo a similar transformation: people begin as comrades and fellow citizens, then become labor resources and assets, and then, as their utility shifts or degrades, transmute into liabilities, and thus must be appropriately managed. This is a fact of nature just as much as the currents of the winds and the seas. The flow of force and matter is a system, with laws and maturation patterns. We should harbor no guilt for complying with those laws—even if they sometimes require a little inhumanity. —TRIBUNO CANDIANO, LETTER TO THE COMPANY CANDIANO CHIEF OFFICER’S ASSEMBLY” –Foundryside

The world of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside is not so much a world as it is a city, a single city at the heart of the world. In the city of Tevanne, everything relies on magic. However, this is not the kind of magic present in most fantasy novels. Tevanne’s magic is known as scriving, the art of convincing everyday objects that they are not what they believe themselves to be using the language of reality itself. Paint the right scrivings on the wheels of a carriage, and they will always believe they are on a downhill slope and turn accordingly. A different set of markings, and the wooden wheels might become as hard as iron, as light as a feather, or as hot as the surface of the sun. There are no limits to the capabilities of scrivings, other than the limits of human imagination. Scrived rigs are so essential to the city of Tevanne that the four merchant houses who create them are rich enough to control everything that happens within the city’s walls, playing out elaborate games of sabotage and espionage from within gated compounds and guarding their scriving designs with entire private armies.

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Sancia Grado is a thief, some even say the best in Tevanne. What most don’t know is that her legendary feats are not entirely due to talent, because Sancia is not entirely human. She has the ability to extend her consciousness into the objects around her, sensing everything from weaknesses in a brick wall to the minute pressure of footsteps on a wooden floor to the telltale hollowness of a crawlspace. Sancia has used her talents to make a life for herself which, if not comfortable, will eventually allow her to become fully human again. All that changes when Sancia is hired to steal a mysterious box, a box she has been instructed not to open. What she finds inside seems at first unbelievable, but Sancia soon comes to realize that it is all too real, and it may have the power to forever alter the course of her life, and perhaps the course of history.

There are three main aspects that make Foundryside an incredible book. First, the story deals with a lot of important issues of the real world. Sancia’s journey through Tevanne touches on issues ranging from copyright law to poverty to sexism. Second, all of the major characters in the story are both unique and complex, bringing with them their own problems, ideas, and personalities that only add to the larger story. Third, Foundryside is, first and foremost, a heist story and, like many heist stories, it is also a story about hope. It’s about an unlikely team of misfit criminals working together to outwit a far more powerful force with a dastardly clever plan. It’s about people who thought there was no more hope standing up to fight for one last chance. And lastly, it’s about the hope that, no matter how much the world might change, all we need to do to forge a better future is to keep working toward it.

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