Last month saw the release of Locklands, the final installment in the Foundryside trilogy that began four years ago. This series follows mercenary thief Sancia Grado as she navigates a fascinating and labyrinthine steampunk-Italian Renaissance mashup world where any object can be programmed, or scrived, to do fantastic things with the help of a magical key named Clef. Sancia, Clef, and love interest Berenice have battled against a city full of corporations that want to enslave them, unleashed the hierophant Crasedes mad with his own power, and watched their friend Gregor turn into a super villain run by a collective intelligence.

This super collective intelligence, introduced at the end of Shorefall, calls itself Tevanne since it appropriated the city of Tevanne to its consciousness. Now, the magic system here is delightfully complicated, which creates a wonderful effect where characters can fly, and I don’t remember how, but I know there’s logic. Still, it’s important to remember that some scriving requires stealing energy from a living human. Tevanne steps up mind control devices that require a roomful of people, for example, whom he ropes into the process voluntarily, so Tevanne is not only a hive mind but also leaching off a large group of people.

Tevanne stands counterpoint to Crasedes as a secondary antagonist. Crasedes, by now, has become so ancient he no longer has a corporeal form beyond mummy wrappings held together by more scrivings, and he became a self-perpetuating system of programs. What’s a system of programs if not a computer? It’s not inaccurate to say that a robot fights against the singularity using crossbows, battleaxes, and siege warfare. That means so many and of the stunt-filled fight scenes that have become the Foundryside calling card. But which side has Sancia, Berenice, and Clef taken? Their own.

Berenice serves both as a military leader and a de facto head-of-state for a resistance movement that lives on boats, makes lightning-quick raids, and organizes themselves into collectives of their own. For the reductionist keeping score at home: robot vs. singularity vs. pirates. Those collectives include hive minds called Design and Greeter, among others, where users share in the communal consciousness of the being, with the twinning process leaving them in a kind of euphoria, and the characters seem to have zero problems leaving their thoughts completely unguarded from one another. Of course, nobody seems to have any secrets at all, which feels really convenient when running a pirate resistance in a steampunk world, but in my opinion, it will be one of the worst parts about the Last Judgment. At one point, it’s hinted that one of Berenice and Sancia’s recruits, Diela, became a little too close to them, but the rabbit is left unchased, and it has no bearing on the final battle anyway.

Actually, Diela has eight years’ worth of backstory, as does Claudia. She makes the fourth member of their infiltration team when Berenice and Sancia find themselves trying to rescue Crasedes from Tevanne. Unfortunately, much of that eight-year backstory unrolls in an expository fashion. Minor characters from Shorefall die from tetanus in the offing. When it’s eventually revealed that an earlier character had not, in fact, made an appearance before his death in the first chapter, it’s a relief that he wasn’t mistaken for someone else. Still, the emotional weight isn’t as heavy. Most of the war is fought in between the books where we can’t read it, which feels like an oversight for a trilogy of 500+ page volumes.

The Foundryside trilogy clearly has a defined style, though, and this is a series of heist novels, so the story conforms to the precedent set by the others, down to the single-word title. I rarely see reviews mention titles, but I don’t know if the word “Locklands” ever appears in the text (I returned my copy to the library, so I can’t count), and even though I understand what is meant by it, it underwhelms. It’s merely the location of the nearest caper that Sancia and Clef pull off, in this case bringing Crasedes to a mysterious door that can change the fabric of reality so that they can shut it down before Tevanne does. It’s revealed there that Tevanne has decided to contact God to make him fix the world’s suffering.

Tevanne’s religious concerns, however, quickly take a backseat to some welcome exploration of Clef’s past in the far ancient and yet unchanging past. There’s an interesting cyclical nature to the city of Tevanne’s past that leaves with the eerie impression that all that has happened here might happen again. Crasedes’ own semi-religious beliefs expressed in the last book have moved to the back burner during a long period of imprisonment by Tevanne that occurs (you guessed it) in between books. The job of using Clef to open a hole in reality simply takes up too much emotional headspace, even for characters with a shared consciousness.

The epilogue, though bittersweet, displayed a kind of idealism in the collective that felt off against previous darker endings. Both Tevanne and Crasedes showed how destructive the collective being could be, so the prominent roles given to Greeter and Design in the aftermath feel like a betrayal. But this is an ending, after all, so it must be more resolute than the two before it. Besides, maybe this won’t be the end.

Three stars out of five.

Favorite quote: “People come and go, just like butterflies in the wind.”

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