Arm of the Sphinx, the second book in the Books of Babel series continues months after the end of previous book. Each chapter still begins with memorable and philosophical quotes such as:
“We are, each of us, a multitude. I am not the man I was this morning, nor the man of yesterday. I am a throng of myself queued through time. We are, gentle reader, each a crowd within a crowd.”
I’ll get to the cons I had with the book later on, right now let me start with the things I love about the book.
First, the myriad amount of characters developments and Senlin’s crew friendship. This is easily the main highlight of the book for me. Honestly, in terms of plot, it doesn’t really progressed that much. However, in this book we have a myriad of beautifully written development for all the characters. The author changes his narrative to multi POV now unlike the previous book where it focused solely on Senlin’s POV, and multi POV is almost always a plus for me. Senlin’s crew interactions and relationship also proceeds at a gradual and believable pace that I enjoyed immensely.
Secondly, the amount of mystery and setup that were started here is amazing. I’m talking about the Part III or the second half of the book where the story was so compelling to read that I finished reading the last half in two sitting. I can safely say this is almost the same case with 'The Wise Man’s Fear' by Patrick Rothfuss, not in terms of the waiting game for the next book but for the plots thread that has to be resolved in the next book.
Thirdly, the shift into steam punk genre is better than before. Skyship and sky pirates are now more dominant in the story and the mechanism are written with high intricacy that I adore, specifically on The Stone Cloud, Senlin’s crew main ship.
Picture: The Stone Cloud (Art drawn by the author himself)
And last but not least, the prose and the philosophical inclusion in the book. I don’t think I can explain the author’s prose here, it’s beautiful and every time the writing goes philosophical mode, I’m glued to the page completely. The climax sequence of the book itself for example is a philosophical fest that I enjoyed reading very much.
“The essential lesson of the zoetrope is this: movement, indeed all progress, even the passage of time, is an illusion. Life is the repetition of stillness.”
Now for the cons I had with the book, most of these are an "it's not you, it's me" situation so there's a high chance you won't agree with me.
One of the biggest strength from 'Senlin Ascends' was its unique and bizarre settings that the author kept on throwing at us relentlessly. The previous book had four area of the Tower to explore, in this book; we only get two, The Silk Gardens and The Bottomless Library and none of them ever reached how great ‘The Bath’ was. This could be just me but my experience with the first half of the book isn’t something memorable. In fact, I find the pacing felt off and the story was boring for the first half, I was never compelled to pick up the book every time I took a break during part I and part II of the book. Finally, I can’t seem to bring myself to love the action sequences of the series so far. In the previous book, I had trouble immersing myself in the story every time an action sequence appeared and the same case can be applied here. I feel like the story is so much better when the characters were just talking, planning and executing their plans in comparison to when they're fighting.
I honestly can’t wait to see how the story will continue or ends on ‘The Hod King’. There's a lot of things that needs to be resolved in the next book but if Josiah Bancroft could pull it off, this will become a trilogy to remember in the genre. Arm of the Sphinx, while slightly inferior compared to 'Senlin Ascends', is still a fantastic book. Orbit books truly landed a hidden gem here and coming next year, I'm sure this series will launch itself into success and popularity with its quality and I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves steampunk with great characterization and beautiful philosophical prose.