*Book Review* Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel #1) by Josiah Bancroft
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.
Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.
Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.
This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.
Senlin Ascends tells the story of Thomas Senlin, an upright headmaster of a small coastal village school who take his new bride to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. As soon as he arrives everything goes wrong, his new wife goes missing, hie naivety is absolute, and his eyes are fully opened to the truth about the tower. Now, Senlin must ascend the tower if he hopes to see his wife again.
I first heard of Senlin Ascends when author Mark Lawrence (who is awesome by the way) waxed lyrical about it, and its author Josiah Bancroft. But what I found within the pages isn’t exactly what I was expecting…
Senlin Ascends has been described as “Weird Fantasy” and a “Triumph” but it’s also been a difficult read for a lot of fantasy fans, myself included. I actually red the book over two months ago but just didn’t know how I felt about it, or why. I’ll use this review to try and explore my feelings now I’ve reflected on the book, here goes….
First of all, the premise s intriguing, I mean, a fantasy book based on a nightmarish honeymoon? That’s new. A headmaster-protagonist (in a fantasy book!) that’s also new. And a well-known tower, well that’s not so new but you see what I’m getting at. The whole story is just intriguing and it made me think “Shit, really? Ok, I’ll read it” and there I went, into the weird and wonderful imagination of Mr Bancroft.
Now, I think I started reading the book with too high an expectation, but that’s not surprising. After all, this is a story that was originally self-published but was then touted highly via word of mouth and eventually picked up by Orbit books (who can do very little wrong in my opinion) so the hype was always going to precede my reading of it. Not only that but as I mentioned earlier, it was raved over by Mark Lawrence, who just so happens to be one of my favourite authors, and a man who is wholly ensconced in the fantasy community via social media, a fantasy darling (it’s a good job he’ll never read this, I can imagine the scoff!). When you have a man with that much respect shouting from the rooftops about your work, you know you’ve done something right. But I wonder if that isn’t what caused my initial struggle with the story.
To the book itself. After around 40% of the book, I just didn’t know what this story was, it’s been described as “dizzying”, and it’s not far wrong, I was absolutely befuddled by what was happening, and why. The fantasy element (at least what I’m used to) just wasn’t coming through for me and i really struggled with that. Also, I found it hair-pullingly difficult to form any kind of attachment to Thomas Senlin – that in itself was hard as he is pretty much the only character we meet until around 50% into the book. He’s stiff, he’s cold, and he confused the shit out of me.
What I did like about the book came at around 65% and it started to gather some pace. We meet new characters, new factions, and new ‘Ringdoms’; the author’s ability to write action actually shines quite bright. I just wish it was present before the book was almost over.
There are some really good features to the book; the author’s imagination is never in doubt, even when the story is sluggishly plodding along, but it’s when the characters are pushed that it really get going. Bancroft introduces piracy, villains, and some steampunk elements that help to build the world he’s creating. We meet a frightening antagonist and his fantasy-filled tool (yeah, I see what I’ve done there), with the ability to bloodlet in a mystifying and ultra-efficient way. We need more.
Perhaps the strangest feeling I had a bout the book was the desire to read more. I mean, fuck me, really? After all that, I still want to read it?! Well yeah, I do actually. I’m just not sure if I’ll
like it dislike it agreeably hate it finish it, ah fuck it, we’ll see.
PS. If you haven’t already, follow Josiah Bancroft on Facebook, the guy is massively talented and uses a huge chalkboard to draw lots of cool stuff, highly recommended. And yeah, pick up Senlin Ascends, there’s a 50% chance you’ll love it.
Where to find Josiah Bancroft;
Where to find Senlin Ascends;