Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
Book of the Month
Josiah Bancroft's debut novel is a huge deal in the world of fantasy fiction right now. I truly regret being late to the party but can safely say the hype is well deserved. Seeing only unanimously positive reviews from my blogging peers, I had to check out this 2016 #SPFBO's entrant as soon as I could.
Thomas Senlin planned a seemingly perfect honeymoon at the magnificent, and world renowned Tower of Babel. Each level of the tower is a Ringdom - cities with different characteristics and unique aspects. Rumour has it that each stage is more beautiful than the previous. What better way to spend a honeymoon than to ascend the tower with his savings, guidebook and beautiful wife? Unfortunately, Senlin loses his partner amongst the massive crowds at the start of the narrative. He aims to find her by entering the tower and rising through the levels. He soon realises that the tower isn't exactly the same place which he adored from afar and which his trusty Everyman's Guide to the Tower of Babel had led him to believe it would be.
This story has a lot of great things going for it. Most notable from the offset is that it is beautifully written. It felt like I was reading a classic rather than a modern self-published fantasy book. (Although Orbit has picked up the rights and this will be re-released next year by the home of Brent Weeks, RJ Barker and Nicholas Eames.) Although not a fair testament to the story as a whole, due to Thomas' character progression; some parts made me think it was similar to what a modern-day Candide would be, with a wide-eyed interesting hero having to deal with some inexplicably bad moments. The way Senlin is forced to change and adapt to these unusual surroundings had me putting myself in his position, therefore, empathy and affinity were created between us for that reason. He is a headmaster, very intelligent and overall a really interesting character. He's not the only person here that makes the story so strong although it seemed that would be the case at first. I won't divulge the reason why I thought that as that could approach spoiler territory and I loved some of the reveals. Unlike much Modern Fantasy, a lot of what happens here isn't too far removed from characteristics and science of our world. Though, in addition, Senlin Ascends does include some very interesting technology. Each Ringdom has its own peculiar politics and hierarchies which Senlin must understand if he ever hopes to progress and find his wife. This book also incorporates some greatly crafted villainous characters. This isn't the most action-packed spectacle but the way Bancroft presents, with slower moments and emotional flashbacks intertwined, the more action-oriented scenes have great impact. Especially the ending. The future possibilities seem awesome with the way things concluded. The ending convinced me this was definitely a 5-star read. This book gets referred to as Steampunk but I don't know what that is and don't really care much for sub-genre descriptions and deviations. I just care if I like it or not.
An extraordinary debut that is well worthy of the hype. A beautifully written, highly engaging page-turning masterpiece where I was on Tom's side every step of the way. I'd read Arm of the Sphinx next if I could but as an #SPFBO judge, I'm currently busy trying to find some more gems like this.
This Senlin Ascends book review was written by James Tivendale
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