The incredible final book in the phenomenon fantasy series described as “future classics” follows one man’s dangerous journey through a labyrinthine world and the mysteries he uncovers along the way (Los Angeles Times).
As Marat’s siege engine bores through the Tower, erupting inside ringdoms and leaving chaos in its wake, Senlin can do nothing but observe the mayhem from inside the belly of the beast. Caught in a charade, Senlin desperately tries to sabotage the rampaging Hod King, even as Marat’s objective grows increasingly clear. The leader of the zealots is bound for the Sphinx’s lair and the unimaginable power it contains.
In the city under glass at the Tower’s summit, Adam discovers a utopia where everyone inexplicably knows the details of his past. As Adam unravels the mystery of his fame, he soon discovers the crowning ringdom conceals a much darker secret.
Aboard the State of Art, Edith and her crew adjust to the reality that Voleta has awoken from death changed. She seems to share more in common with the Red Hand now than her former self. While Edith wars for the soul of the young woman, a greater crisis looms: They will have to face Marat on unequal footing and with Senlin caught in the crossfire.
And when the Bridge of Babel is finally opened, and the Brick Layer’s true ambition revealed, neither they nor the Tower will ever be the same again.
At last, the Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft has come to its conclusion – and boy is it great. I first picked up Senlin Ascends based on the recommendation by Mark Lawrence and when the first two books were published with Orbit. Senlin Ascends was, and remains, one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read – and probably books in general. In fact, if you haven’t read these yet, stop reading this review and go do that now. Minor spoilers for the proceeding books follow.
Its been over two years since the publication of The Hod King so to say my expectations were high is a bit of an understatement. I didn’t love the Hod King quite as much as the other two books – mostly because of the separation of the cast and staying stuck in one ringdom for so long – but The Fall of Babel is just as good as Arm of the Sphinx even if it never quite reaches the perfection of SA.
The Fall of Babel begins with an in-world summary of previous books (something I wish more authors did) and immediately jumps into Adam’s POV – a piece desperately missing from the Hod King. Right away, we are given heaps of new creativity from Bancroft about what lies at the peak of the tower. Adams journey impressed from the outset and is basically its own novella for the first act of the book. From there, we pick up with the rest of the diverse and colorful cast who are collecting the rest of the paintings left by the mysterious Brick Layer. It was just so good to be back with these characters and back in the tower itself.
One of the huge draws of these books is the unparalleled creativity and worldbuilding of the Tower and its inhabitants. Each ringdom (which we see several new ones much to my delight) has its own design, world and truly feels like a real place. Each may be delightful, or foreboding or any number of feelings in-between. I could honestly just read a guide written by Bancroft for the whole tower.
Speaking of writing by Bancroft, he remains a master of words and the turn of a pithy phrase. From the epigraphs starting each chapter, to the dialogue, to the nuggets of truth sprinkled throughout the text, every page was a pleasure to read from start to finish.
However, none of the above would work if we didn’t have these wonderful characters to care about and root for. Senlin remains one of my favorite protagonists, but as these books grew – both in scope and size – each and every character won over my heart. The relationship between Adam and Voleta, everyone’s favorite stag and butler Bryon, and above all Captain Edith, each made me teary eyed from their stories.
Each character has had clear growth from where they began the story, and the story concludes in a realistic way for each of their arcs. They all grow in compelling ways but are also shaped by the horrors and pain they have both witnessed and caused. Nothing is clean or easy in their journeys or where they end up. Sort of like life.
If I had one minor gripe, the story takes a bit too long for Senlin to get back with the rest of the cast. Some of the camaraderie we had in the first two books is missing but this is minor and I still loved pretty much every page.
And that leads us to the conclusion to a story that grew in its epicosity (is that a word? probably not) as it went along. We finally get some answers about the tower and the Brick Layer who is behind much of its creation. However, we’re left with almost as many questions. But I think that was kind of the point. The big picture matters and the revelations are stunning but this story was about the characters who entered the tower and how they were shaped by their experiences and each other along the way. This isn’t the end of their story, only the spot that we stop watching them.
The Books of Babel is a masterpiece of a series, and The Fall of Babel is a fitting and worthy conclusion to this adventure. Please, go read these books as they deserve to go down as modern classics.
Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a copy of this book for review. Watch a one-one-one interview with the author by our very own Adrian M. Gibson.