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Publisher's Summary

The first book in the stunning and strange debut fantasy series that's receiving major praise from some of fantasy's biggest authors, such as Mark Lawrence and Django Wexler.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he'll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

The Books of Babel
Senlin Ascends
Arm of the Sphinx

©2017 Josiah Bancroft (P)2018 Hachette Audio

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 01-24-18

Two Worthwhile Books in One

This turns out to be, in effect, two books: one is interesting without quite being that much fun, and the other is a lot of fun while being less interesting. Either way, this weird novel seems to me worth a good bit of the hype it seems suddenly to be getting.

This starts out as a 21st Century Kafka-esque fantasy. An unprepared scholarly newlywed loses his wife on his honeymoon in a fantastically imagined construct. The tower of Babel is so vast that no one seems to know its boundaries let along its details. He’s overwhelmed by his every encounter, and we get a variety of implied questions: what does it mean to be an individual in a world where life is so cheap? How can we establish friendships when all life is a contested negotiation? And What does it mean to have an identity in a place where we’re all defined transactionally?

As I read the first half of this, I felt as if I were reading a fantasy that reflected the world of the internet. I don’t mean that the tower represents the internet; rather, I feel as if this is the kind of twisting and endless world that the internet might be if it were made physical. No one knows who built the tower, yet it goes on forever. It gives us the capacity to perform as others, and it gives us opportunity to interact on intimate terms with strangers, but it seems never to change anything. It’s a book that makes us ask questions about our changed world.

Bancroft does a great job of setting all that up, but things move pretty slowly to start. The teeming market scenes are striking, but there are a lot them. And the extended sequence where Senlin falls into a living-theater experience, where he has to perform an ad-libbed role alongside others doing the same, is largely brilliant. It just doesn’t seem to end with the clarity I expected; I can’t tell whether it’s all a performance within a performance or whether it’s a genuine accident within the well-oiled mechanism of the theater.

But then [SPOILER] this becomes a very different novel. The clearest sign of that change comes in Bancroft’s switch from his default epigraphs to start each chapter – instead of quotes from a goofy and ignorant guidebook, they come from Senlin’s future autobiography. That change reflects a reversal of the narrative position we began with: what was a confused and ill-suited protagonist becomes very quickly a canny leader. He goes, in other words, from Joseph K in The Trial to Spartacus in the Kirk Douglas film.

With that change, the slow-developed philosophical challenge of the beginning fades away. We learn, for instance, [DOUBLE SPOILER] that everything Senlin experienced on the lower levels was part of a test to determine whether he’d be a good employee on the fourth level. Rather than giving the bewildering and beguiling experience of the internet, of happenstance informing so much of the avatar-defining choices we make, we get a more conventional fantasy. There are good guys and bad guys. Senlin’s wife didn’t just happen to take a step away from him; she’s now the object of desire by a powerful figure of the tower. The young man who helped and then betrayed him didn’t happen along; he was a plant, part of the test.

I’m sorry to see that fallen ambition because I do believe the original effect of the novel (which may have been Bancroft’s original intent) had the chance to be deeply memorable…especially if it could be tightened and shortened.

At the same time, I confess that this becomes, by the end, a rollicking adventure. [MORE SPOILER] By the very end, Senlin has declared all-out war on the tower. He’s stolen an airship, acquired a crew of dangerous and effective fighters, and set out to take his wife back by force.

I can’t help feeling that Bancroft changed horses halfway through here, and I think this would be a stronger book and a stronger series if he’d gone back and made things more consistent. Still, there’s a lot to like about each half. I’m curious about where this is going next, and – especially now that this seems to have found its adventurous tone – I may just buy in for volume two.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • joan
  • Atlanta, ga,United States
  • 02-14-18

magical brutal and well narrated

I found the tower and its inhabitants a metaphor for life. the second half is more exciting than the first, and all of it challenged my expectations and world view. I can't wait to read the second book. the narrator did an amazing job - can't believe I haven't run across him yet - and I hope to hear from him again!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fun. Fun. Fun. Unique idea. Very well done.

Had no idea what I was getting myself into, but very enjoyable ride. Neat concept, good book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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sublime

brilliant story, likeable protag, ingenious setting, masterful control of tone and narrative, a ton of fun, and full of suprises. it doesn't get better than this.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Meh.

I was really excited to listen to this audiobook.

I had been waiting to get it.

The synopsis, high rating, and great book reviews had me bypassing other books on my Priority TBR list. However... I was disappointed. To be fair, it's really well written and very creative, but I caught myself zoning out while reading it. Frankly, I was kind of bored. When I had chances to return to reading it, I didn't feel an urgent need to pick the book back up. The primary motivation was a desire to just get it finished so I could go on to read something else. I don't see myself continuing on to the second book.

(And a final note: Senlin's gullability gets tiresome after a while.)

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Very convenient circumstances surround Thomas.

Just when things can't get any worse a person from the past with superpowers shows up to help save the day. The writing is ok and the story entertaining, just predictable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Amazing original story

This is such a refreshing listen. I love how original and well written it is.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A story of a man climbing a tower and so much more

Plot
This was not the book I expected it to be. I expected a fantasy action novel that was at its core a dungeon crawl, but what I got was so much better. The plot of Senlin Ascends is literally the title; Senlin ascends the tower. The pacing was steady and the end had a climactic ending that left it perfectly set up for the next book in the series. Josiah did a phenomenal job in peppering the story with mystery so that you cannot help, but try to figure out what's truly going on.

Characters
Senlin is an unconventional hero. Starting off he's a fairly unpresuming headmaster from a small village school. He's very mild-mannered individual and references his guidebook to the tower frequently. I think this was the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. Josiah created Senlin remarkably. The other characters I have a hard time judging. They have plenty of exposure, but one thing Josiah shows you quite well is that every one on the Tower of Babel has secrets.

Narration
This is the first book I've heard narrated by John Banks. His voicing for Senlin was superb and other male characters were just as outstanding. The only thing I think he fell flat on were voicing female characters. His tone and enunciation were stunning, as was his ability to put emotion in his voice.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A Fascinating New Tale

Senlin Ascends is a fresh narrative in a genre overfull with plots descended from Tolkien.

The book opens with a tone that reminded me of David Eddings or Piers Anthony. Playful, expansive and unafraid to deviate from the over-trod paths of fantasy.

Pleasantly Bancroft darkens and matures the tone and narrative as you work through the first book and follow Senlin's accent of the tower.

At times the plot feels like it is not suited to the main character we start with. His decisions increasingly feel like that of an action hero and not a life long schoolmaster. Still suspension of disbelief is the name of the game and Bancroft delivers over and over again in this book!

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great breakout novel.

This book was just really good. It's a fresh, unique voice and a great story that's just overflowing with creativity and imagination. I feel like we've just stumbled into one of the new big names in fantasy.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the ending. The main conflict of this book isn't in any way resolved by the ending, and it clearly won't be until the series is finished. It's kind of what everyone is doing nowadays, but I still couldn't help be a little disappointed that this book is doing it, since it breaks the mold in so many other way.