Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There's a lot to love in this book. I was quite on the edge giving this a chance when I first picked it up, but the whole damn idea of having a full adventure in the mythical Tower of Babylon just struck all my fancies at once. I remember Ted Chiang's short story about the Tower of Babylon so fondly... I just had to imagine it taken as a full novel.
So how did this pan out? Wonderfully! Maybe not the same level as Chiang, but when dealing with a tower that not even airships can reach the top levels and whole cities are contained within, we're dealing with a delicious idea-driven fantasy with a world-building potential with LEGS.
Good? Good. And while it doesn't go all out with the Babylon run, it does strike out a super-solid Steampunk adventure through and through. Focus on a slightly sanctimonious headmaster with his new bride, take them to Babylon as the super-rubes as they are, and then tear them to pieces.
So nice. :) Innocence becomes an adventure to reach the top to find his missing wife as the mean streets of dirty London... ahem, I mean the Basement of Babel, steals, lies, and cheats every noob that lands on its doorsteps. Move on to the whole haves and have-nots in the bathhouses in the third level, or the hucksters in the second, and turn it into a heist novel, a revolutionary novel, a PIRACY novel.
Am I impressed? Sure! I mean, all these elements are pretty commonplace in fantasy anyway, but when you ply them with a deft hand and make sure the awesome core of the Tower of Babylon is still at the core, and I've got to say we've got something pretty original going on here.
I RESPECT original. It's not WILD original, though. It's solid fun, turning steampunk on a brand-new almost hard-SF edge while bringing in a lot of elements of the old Babylonian society all the while. And we have airships. I likey. :)
So many of those steampunk novels have been kinda... lacking. This one seems to do it RIGHT. :) Because it's not really steampunk. It's just plain creative. :)
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