Review: Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel #1) by Josiah Bancroft

MY ⭐️ RATING: 4.75/5

Format: Kindle Whispersync


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 luxury and menace, 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 illusions of the Tower. 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.


With all the darker books I’ve been reading lately, I needed something that was a bit different in tone, and Senlin Ascends was just that. It’s a bit of an oddity, it’s a steampunk story that’s quirky yet chaotic, with a good bit of humor mixed in, which really sets it a part from just about everything else I have read so far. I can see why this was one of the first major success stories of the SPFBO, since this was originally a self-published book, that was later picked up by Orbit. It really shows what these competitions can do for indie authors.

Josiah does a great job of his character development of Senlin who, when we first meet is a timid school teacher, he then has to go through a multitude of trials to find his beloved wife Marya, through these trials he starts to shed that timidness to be more bold and lion-hearted. Even though this is a single POV story, I thought that the side characters were given just as much of that same treatment in developing their character as Senlin was. Iren reminds me of Sigrud, a character that I loved from Robert Jackson Bennett’s, Divine Cities trilogy. I also loved that the narrator, John Banks, sounded a lot like the great Ewan McGregor, and so the entire time all I could think about was Ewan as Senlin as I read and listened to this, and I believe that made me love it even more.

“Powerful men fail just as much, if not more often, than the failures. The exceptional thing is that they admit it; they take and hold up their failures. They claim their disappointments; they move on!”

This story reminds me a bit of The Lies of Locke Lamora with a dash of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I thought the world-building was done very well, The Tower of Babel is just so elegantly bizarre, each ringdom given a breath of life in its own peculiarity. The ringdoms are filled with different types of societal people and each with its own set of rules, break the rules and you could become a hod. As the story keeps unfolding, new layers to the ringdoms unfold as well. I feel like I would be one of the poor souls who gets lost in this place and is never able to make it out to go home.

It’s fun, it’s imaginative and it’ll leave you wanting more. I definitely got exactly what I was looking for when I decided to read this, and I would definitely suggest this to anyone that hasn’t read it yet. This will definitely make its way into my final top 15 list at the end of the year.


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