The Hod King is the culmination of much that Josiah Bancroft has been building up to with the previous two books in the Towers of Babel series, Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx. Not only in the story, which sees each of the unique cast of characters go through devastating lows but also some impressive highs (and thank god for them), but also in Josiah Bancroft’s style.
Bancroft’s prose is mind-bogglingly brilliant, and sharp enough to rival anyone’s – be they Hobb, Abercrombie, Lawrence, or Erikson. Josiah is a true wordsmith, using words and sentences always with purpose, and to great effect. I laughed out loud at every single chapter – even at the height of tragedy and when the characters I care so deeply about were at their lowest points, the wry dialogue or poignant descriptions had me giggling almost hysterically. Bancroft’s ability to go to absolute comedic highs to emotional lows (and the other way around) will stagger every reader and provide cathartic experiences more often than even the previous books of the series.
Sometimes, he’ll start a paragraph with solemnity, only to induce a fit of laughter by its end, like in this epigraph:
“The Tower is a pestle grinding upon the mortar of the earth. It pulverizes bones, fortunes, kings, love, youth, and beauty. That is its purpose—to crush. So, no, I will not retract my one-star review of Café Sotto’s shortbread. I’m sorry the baker is despondent to the point of suicide, but at least he knows now how I felt after eating his wretched biscuits.”
I won’t even bother giving examples of the brilliant dialogue – you can find it on nearly every page, soaked with keen wit I could never get enough of. It’s clever, funny, poignant and so much more, a true lesson in everything dialogue can accomplish in the hands of the truly talented and skilled. It never overstays its welcome, helping shape a pace that never fails to move the story forward in unpredictable ways.
From this point onwards, some minor spoilers for Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx will be included.
The Hod King is almost entirely set in the ringdom of Pelphya, and spans about a week, barring a number of flashbacks which follow the end of Arm of the Sphinx immediately. Senlin returns as our principal character along with Voleta and Edith, who are the major point-of-view characters of the novel. They are joined by badass warrior-bodyguard Iren, as well as Byron, the Sphinx’s antler-headed stag-man majordomo, and a pilot that any Senlin Ascends veteran will be familiar with…and feel a mixture of exhilaration and horror at seeing serve under captain Edith Winters.
Senlin once again has to transform himself, from the daring pirate captain Mudd in Arm of the Sphinx to the Sphinx’s spy in Pelphya, where his lost wife has finally been discovered. The catch? He’s not supposed to contact her under any condition. That job is left to Voleta, who is tasked with infiltrating high society and bringing Marya word from her husband. Edith, meanwhile, is given the task of parading around all the levels of the Tower and showing off with the Sphinx’s airship…though horrifying battle-cruiser is far better a description, to be entirely honest.
Each of these characters makes unlikely bonds, meets new faces or old ones; some even get a romantic interest! But in The Hod King, more than even in the previous books, no one is safe, and no character can be taken for granted. Danger is a constant companion to old captain Mudd’s former crewmates, and not all of them walk away from this novel unscathed. Even as long-awaited questions are answered, the stakes are raised in dramatic and unexpected ways which both excite and distress me for the fourth and final book in the series.
Jaws will drop, I can promise you that much.
The Hod King goes above and beyond the lofty expectations I had set up after reading Josiah’s previous two novels, and it does it in style. I truly believe we’re witnessing the birth of a series that will be regarded as a modern masterpiece, several years from now.
…Which is why, this is an absolute 12/10, a 6/5, and butchers any sort of grading system you’d like to use to preach its merits. It’s still early in 2019, but we already have such a fierce contender for book of the year! Do yourself a favour and read it; or in case you haven’t yet, get your hands on the previous two novels in the series! And if you have, by some twist of fate, not read Senlin Ascends, I can promise you one thing – you won’t like Senlin at first, but you will grow to love him!
I leave you with the following quote:
“Ecstasy lies in that brief silence at the end of a play, when the performance is over but the applause has not yet begun.”
I suppose that’s why it took me this long to sit down and review The Hod King. I wished to prolong that ecstasy for as long as I could.