The Founders Trilogy, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Second paragraph of third chapter of Foundryside:

She cringed as she did so— she hated changing clothes. She stood in the alley and shut her eyes, wincing as the sensations of mud and smoke and soil and dark wool bled out of her thoughts, and bright, crunchy, crispy hemp fabric surged in to replace them. It was like stepping out of a nice warm bath and jumping into an icy lake, and it took some time for her mind to recalibrate.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Shorefall:

“Sign there,” said Moretti. He winced as he touched the side of his face. “And there. And there…”

Second paragraph of third chapter of Locklands:

There was what Berenice and her compatriots thought of as conventional scriving, wherein one convinced everyday objects or materials to disobey reality by writing elaborate arguments upon them, arguments that called upon other arguments and definitions to make their case, all stored nearby in a lexicon. This was the art of scriving that Berenice had grown up with, the industry that had formed the empire of Old Tevanne, ran fortresses like Grattiara, and had once allowed the merchant houses to capture the whole of the world.

This trilogy was on the Hugo ballot for Best Series this year, and I finished two of the three before the deadline and put it third (well, fourth behind No Award at the top). I very much enjoyed Bennett’s previous Divine Cities trilogy; this is a different fantasy world, but one where magic and machinery intersect according to a series of complex rules. So often in books like this, worldbuilding stops at the point where the writer needs it to in order to drive the plot; I really don’t get that sense here, I feel that the writer is playing fair with us all the way through, and the barriers that the characters face because of how the world has been created don’t seem artificial. There’s also a good spectrum of emotional engagement, romance, parent-child dynamics, deep and committed friendships; and Bennett’s not afraid to kill off important characters as he goes. And the sense of place is very well realised, whether it’s a cityscape, a blasted heath or a vast natural fortress.

I felt that the middle book was not quite as strong as the first and last; the baddy seemed a bit too powerful and that constrains the plot a bit. But otherwise this is a good series of novels set in an unusually thoughtfully constructed world. You can get them here, here and here.