Well done Bancroft, your wonder of a novel earned itself the top spot in my favourite books I’ve read this year. Senlin Ascends deserves to be on bookshelves everywhere.
“Newcomers may expect the ringdoms of the Tower to be like the layers of a cake where each layer is much like the last. But this is not the case. Not at all. Each ringdom is unique and bewildering. The ringdoms of the Tower share only two things in common: the shape of their outermost walls, which are roughly circular, and the price of beef, which is outrageous. The rest is novel.”
Can I just give this book a hug? It gripped me from page one. And from there, I was hooked. As somebody who read books of all genres, I have never encountered anything like Senlin Ascends before, and it was such a wonderful unexpected surprise to come across a story that captured my imagination so fully.
As you might be able to tell, this review is going to be nothing but praise, and it deserves no less.
The story follows Thomas Senlin, a mild-mannered school teacher and his young new wife Marya, as they embark on their honeymoon to the Tower of Babel. A tower built of ringdoms that Thomas has idealised for years, and so tall, it is unknown where it ends. Just before entering, they are separated from one another in a vast crowd, but determined to be reunited with his wife and bring her home, Senlin begins to ascend the tower on his quest to find Marya. Soon after entering the first ringdom, it is clear not everything thing is as it seems, and this will be no easy task. Learning the hard way, Senlin has to endure and survive slums, attacks, theatres, prisons, beer-me-go-rounds (yes, they are a thing), assassinations and betrayal.
Oh, so much betrayal. Which you know, sucks for Senlin, but makes for one heck of a read.
If you were to ask what this genre this book falls under, I don’t think there’s a simple answer. I would have to say, it’s a blend of fantasy with elements of steampunk, Sci-fi, possibly a little dystopia, crime, adventure, romance, mystery and action. So I honestly believe anyone could enjoy this book, and if nothing I have said so far makes you the least bit interested in this book, how about I tell you that there are flying ships and fortresses? ….*whispers* because there are.
I won’t be going into too much detail as I believe it’s best to know as little as possible when going into this book, and uncover the wonder of it yourself.
The setting of this book is unlike any other, and is so incredibly vivid and immense, with so much mystery surrounding it. Knowing that each ringdom of the tower would be completely different from the one below, it’s exciting and suspenseful to discover what will come next, because from the levels you do see, you know they can get pretty weird, surreal and plain terrifying. The nation of Ur gave me this Ancient Rome / Victorian England kind of vibe, which I especially liked.
“It’s odd you should mention my wife. I seem to have lost her.”
Not only is the quest to find Marya enough to keep you reading, but the subplots, backstories as well the characters you can’t help but care about that you meet along the way, were all well-balanced, and add to the charm of the plot. The tone and direction of the book changes with each encounter and experience, alongside finding out just who are your friends, and who are enemies. Despite Marya absent for the majority of the book, it’s great that you get to know more about her character through the snippets of the past.
The character development in this book is beyond brilliant. Thomas isn’t your typical fantasy protagonist. No, he’s just an average guy, naïve and a plain old headmaster. No supernatural or magical abilities and not some sort of ‘chosen one’. In a tower full of corruption and greed, he has to rely on his wits and be careful of who he trusts if he’s ever going to be reunited with his wife. The tower changes people and one of them is Senlin.
This story is told with confidence and if you are looking for something fast paced, set in an intriguing world with complex lively vibrant characters, and a story that keeps on uncovering secrets and mysteries, I would point you in the direction of Senlin Ascends. It’s an absolute delight to read, and original, not to mention Bancroft’s writing is exceptional.
I cannot recommend this book enough.
Arm of the Sphinx (The Books of Babel #2) has shot to the top of my to read list, and I am anxiously awaiting what comes next.