Prepare yourself for approximately eight days of frantically written out reviews. I’m desperately attempting to get all the ‘best’ books reviewed, just so I can something to link to in my eventual Top Ten Books of 2019 list. That should probably give you a pretty good indication of how I felt about Senlin Ascends. Well, that and the fact that I managed to read three whole books in the same series, in one year. That never happens.
Plot summary for Senlin Ascends:
Star rating for Senlin Ascends: * * * * * (5 stars)
I was really taken aback by how much I ended up loving the first book in the Tower of Babel series, Senlin Ascends. That may be partially because I find the cover really misleading. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I’m pleased that they all match and look lovely on my shelf. But I can’t help feeling that it gives off slightly Communist, red, vibes, and I suppose I was sort of expecting some dry, political, ranty tome. Luckily, this book is distinctly Not That and instead I ended up enjoying this sort-of fantasy, unique, fascinating story with incredible world-building.
The whole story takes place inside ‘The Tower.’ Picture a giant building that goes up into the clouds; so huge that nobody is really sure how many levels it has. Each floor (each ‘Ringdom) is essentially a country in its own right – the second floor is a giant theatre where tourists are forced into acting out roles within a macabre psuedo-play, and the third floor is vaguely reminiscent of a seaside resort in the Victorian era. It’s so creative and unique. In addition to this, there is the innermost workings of the Tower – the machinations of the behind-the-scenes players form the majority of the over-arching plot. Because, whilst Thomas Senlin is looking for his wife, that quickly becomes overshadowed by the political maneuverings of the Sphinx, the shadowy puppeteer master of the Tower.
Essentially, as Senlin works his way up the Tower, he manages to anger an awful lot of important people and becomes drawn in to all sorts of shady deals. I’ve genuinely never read anything like this series. The tone is relatively formal but still accessible, and the pages just fly by. It’s sort of like a half-steam punk, half-sci-fi voyage… with a smidge of romance.
There’s a whole range of characters with backstories, hopes, dreams and flaws. I won’t spoil the surprise by detailing every member of the motley crew that Senlin ends up travelling with, but I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite. They’re all unique and believable, and I would travel with them any day.
Book Two, The Arm of the Sphinx, and Book Three, The Hod King, also do not disappoint. They do sort of meld into one for me because I read them so close together, but that’s not a criticism. There is no Second Book Syndrome – I was just as interested in The Arm of the Sphinx as I had been in the first book. Whilst I will say that The Hod King was the weakest of the three, that’s possibly just because I was expecting the series to conclude and… it didn’t.
That’s my only criticism really. Going in, I’d thought that this series was a trilogy that had now been completed. I was approaching the end of The Hod King in a slightly skeptical fashion, wondering how everything was going to be wrapped up in an even vaguely acceptable ending. Well, I guess one way around that is to… not end it. I am disappointed. Not just because I was so proud of reading a whole trilogy in a year, but because Josiah Bancroft’s website says that the final installment isn’t due out until 2021. It was supposed to be 2020, but he says there has been a delay. I mean, of course, these things happen. I just wish I’d known going in that the story wasn’t yet finished.
Still, that should absolutely not stop you picking up Senlin Ascends, and then cracking right on to The Arm of the Sphinx and The Hod King. I keep using the word ‘unique,’ but that’s because there is genuinely nothing to compare these books to. Despite whining about the delay before the fourth book, I will definitely be pre-ordering it and then reading it immediately. I love this series and I just can’t wait to read more of it.
Visit Josiah Bancroft’s website (where there is merch!).