I picked up Senlin Ascends, the first of the Books of Babel, on a whim, and boy am I glad I did! This book is an absolute delight, as I suspected when I saw that author Mark Lawrence had called it “one of his favorite books of all time.”
Senlin Ascends is technically a fantasy book, though it occupies more of a muddy middle ground between fantasy, sci-fi and even a little magical realism. I’ll give it the “sci fi” tag as well, since there’s definitely some steam punk flavor here too. The story follows Thomas Senlin, a newly married school headmaster, who is finally pursuing his dream of visiting the storied Tower of Babel. The enormous Tower, which exists as sort of a universe within itself, is well-known to be a place of whimsy and delight, or so Senlin’s guidebooks claim. The reality of the Tower, however, turns out to be something quite different, as Senlin and the reader will discover.
This is a difficult book to really pin down. It’s humorous, and a little surreal, but is at its heart a story of adventure and exploration. The Tower is a fascinating setting, the characters seem fully baked, and Bancroft’s prose is quite strong as well. I really have no complaints whatsoever about the book; it accomplishes everything that it sets out to do. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two books in the series, Arm of the Sphinx and The Hod King.
I’ll report back soon!
Rating: 4 – Mandatory Reading