I’m just going to say it right off the bat, the matter of fact is, not a lot of readers will spend their time reading an indie works. It’s almost always a risky bet to dive into an indie book, most people don’t want to give it a try most of the time for a good reason, whether from their bad covers, cliché stories, myriad of typos and grammatical errors, my point is, sometimes the harsh truth is that some indie books stayed indie for a reason, or just in the worse case, bad luck. Exclude the luck factor, Senlin Ascends, Josiah Bancroft’s debut and the first book in ‘The Books of Babel’ series is the exact opposite from all these points I mentioned. Orbit books have picked up this series and it will be re-released in January 2018, I strongly suggest you to get it or even better, as soon as you can if it’s still available now.
The reason is simple, everything in this book, you can feel how much love the author has infused into this book, whether it’s from the plot, character, worlds, prose, or even the book production. I swear, the trade paperback of this book could very well put a lot of publishing company to shame shame shame with their trade paperback productions. The paper is formed of high grade material and the ink is crisp that shone by the lights, you can see the letters glimmer.
The plot started out very simple. Thomas Senlin, a timid, kind hearted and sensible teacher is on a honeymoon with his newlywed wife, Marya to stay in the 3rd level of the majestic and literally gigantic Tower of Babel. Before they even got the chance to start their honeymoon properly, Marya was lost in the hectic and chaotic market and now, Senlin will have to explore the tower (which turns out to be of course, not what he expected) on a wild goose chase to find his missing wife.
Yes, this is the main plot but don’t let it fool you into thinking this is a simple story. The plot has almost every factor that will make any fantasy book intriguing. Friendship, adventure, heists, books, hope, despair and even (I can’t believe I’m saying this) a tiny section of well written romance, this means reader will most likely something they can relate to here. The plot kept on unfolding with each part, which in my opinion is like three continuous novellas that were combined into one to form a bigger story.
“We shouldn't have to go around congratulating each other for behaving with basic human dignity.”
The characters are also very well written. Thomas Senlin’s character development is amazing, his growth from the first part, where he was timid, sensible, innocent, to the man he must become to achieve his goal is gradual and realistic. He'll use all his wit and become a man of action rather than his usual stay true to his usual calm demeanor. However, another thing to be praised of is that every side character, Marya, Edith, Adam, Iren did receive the same treatment by receiving plenty of backgrounds information, circumstances, personalities and developments that will actually make them not just a simple side character to be excluded.
“It is easier to accept who you’ve become than to recollect who you were.”
One of the main highlight of the book without a doubt lies in its worldbuilding. I’m going to spare you a lot of details here for your own good, you must experience every ringdom for yourself. It’s all filled with unique settings, bizarre, made me feel like I was on LSD or high on drugs. Here’s a picture drawn by the author himself to show you what kind of world you’re getting yourself into, this is just a tiny fraction of the tower.
Picture: The Tower of Babel, The Lower Ringdoms (From the author’s official blog)
The world is immersive, atmospheric, and combined with a unique, beautiful and well polished prose, the Tower of Babel is a place you want and should dive into if you want an amazing and unique experience. Plus, I’m also a sucker for Skyships and sky pirates. I’ve played a lot of video games around steampunk, skyship, let’s say 'Bioshock Infinite' example. So far there’s only one or two novels I read that utilized this feature wonderfully and this became another addition to that list.
Why not a full 5 stars with all the praises? Here’s the thing. My minor problem with the book is because of the hype it gets. Senlin Ascends is honestly the most hyped indie book I've ever known in my whole life and I won’t lie, this caused my expectation of the book to increase and it disappoint me a bit because despite all the greatness of the book, I actually found some part less thrilling than it was supposed to be. This is honestly an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation so you might want to take my con with the book with a grain of salt.
The hype is definitely there for a good reason. There’s no doubt that luck is required to get a signed deal, but I’m on the mindset that in life, in everything you do, luck can be always be improved. With hard work, perseverance, patience, something great will not be lost in the world forever and that’s exactly what happened to 'Senlin Ascends. This book was published in 2013! Yes 2013! It took 4 years for a publishing company to finally pick up this gem. SPFBO happened, Mark Lawrence (a huge thanks to him seriously) and Emily May spread awareness for this book, if Josiah gave up writing after releasing the sequel, 'Arms of the Sphinx' in 2015, he won’t ever be signed. Once you know you create something great with all your efforts, persevere and never give up, it's always easier said than done but that's how it is. Now, Josiah Bancroft has been signed by Orbit, and I’ll say that it’s totally well deserved.
I'm going to conclude my review by stating that Senlin Ascends is a stunning fantasy steampunk debut. I may have fallen into the hype a bit and it slightly lowered my rating of the book but there’s no doubt that this is a magnificent book that any lover of fantasy or steampunk must try to read, for right now, this is one of the most unique novels I've ever read.