Bennett (City of Miracles, 2017, etc.) inaugurates another series of imaginative, thoroughly idiosyncratic fantasy novels.
Mona Lisa meets The Matrix in Bennett’s introduction to the carefully constructed world of Tevanne, a city-state dominated by four merchant houses—literally. The four big boys (think Amazon, Google, Facebook, and…well, Penguin Random House, maybe) occupy fortresses that, though stoutly built and heavily patrolled, are no match for Sancia Grado, a gamin version of the Tom Cruise of Mission Impossible, if not Spiderman. Sancia scales walls and penetrates castle keeps with ease, and she’s not above dispatching a guard or two in the pursuit of her work: “She did have her stiletto, and she was an able sneak, and though she was small, she was strong for her size.” Bless her heart, Sancia shows mercy, pulls off the heist she was hired for, then retreats into the teeming, seething world between the walls of those great houses, whose masters have made a killing with a thing called “scriving”—“instructions written upon mindless objects that convinced them to disobey reality in select ways.” Thus a carriage on a horizontal plane might be commanded to roll as if on a steep slope, removing the need for horses to pull it. But what if some corporate villain were to scrive a person in such a way that he or she might become a soldier impervious to pain or discomfort, an arrow that might travel with the wall-breaking force of a cannonball? That’s the scenario Sancia tumbles into when she discovers that she’s stolen—wait for it—a talking key named, naturally, Clef. The baddies want Clef to complete their job of world domination, Clef wants to find the lock of his dreams, and Sancia—well, Sancia has many a fish to fry, alternately helped along and hindered by fellow criminal masterminds, proletarians, a well-connected cop worthy of Umberto Eco, executives of ill intent, and a few other talking inanimate objects.
If you accept the notion that the laws of gravity are just suggestions, this makes for a grand entertainment.