Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold

Babylon Steel book cover
Rating 8.8/10
Combines existing fantasy genres to create something new in a carefully constructed world.

Babylon Steel, ex-sword-for-hire, ex-other things, runs the best brothel in Scalentine; city of many portals, two moons, and a wide variety of races, were-creatures, and religions, not to mention the occasional insane warlock. She’s not having a good week. The Vessels of Purity are protesting against brothels, women in the trade are being attacked, it’s tax time, and there’s not enough money to pay the bill. So when the mysterious Darask Fain offers her a job finding a missing girl, Babylon decides to take it. But the missing girl is not what she seems, and neither is Darask Fain. In the meantime twomoon is approaching, and more than just a few night’s takings are at risk when Babylon’s hidden past reaches out to grab her by the throat.

Sometimes I come across a book that feels different. Babylon Steels felt like this. The book features a mix up of fantasy and science fiction elements and it is totally not your standard book. What Gaie Sebold does in Babylon Steel is ingenious and unique, using several daring elements to create a new and very fresh series. I am always on the look out for authors who dare to implement new stuff and combine elements  and I find that sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. And in Babylon Steel they sure did!

Babylon Steel has two interwoven story lines that you follow up after each chapter. Both storylines centre around Babylon Steel herself, but they play part in different times. The first storyline that you get introduced into is when Babylon is running her brothel, and this storyline focuses on the present time and several days leading up to the event known as twomoon. The other storyline explores the more than rich past of Babylon herself, starting off with her being a bag-child and orphaned off and how she eventually became an avatar. I found that both the present and past storyline were nicely balanced and the secrets revealed played directly into the present storyline. In Babylon’s past the overall setting for me was pretty dark, whereas the the present showed Babylon in a more humorous and sassy style. Another great feature about the two storylines is that it added great pace to the book overall, jumping from interesting scenes and revelations to cliff-hangers, and this really urged me to continue reading. Gaie Sebold also managed to give each storyline a certain tone. This combination was carried out very nicely and produced an engaging book.

On top of using the two storylines so well there is also a great strength seen in the narration through the eyes of Babylon, in the present as well as the past. Because you get to know both sides of Babylon the book turns from funny to compelling in just a few paragraphs. It really showed the ups and down of Babylon.

As for Babylon herself she is a well-constructed, well-rounded character on several different levels. Babylon is a great heroin who does not take no for an answer (as seen with the Vessels of Purity) and she can stand her man in a sword fight. You do get to know Babylon on different sides and as she is running the “Red Lantern” with her crew, she has the best put in for them, and put me to thinking if she might try to give them all a better life than she had in her past? I got a true fantasy feeling from the additional crew of the “Red Lantern” there is a Fey: Laney, an Orc cook: Flower, and a somewhat dwarfish, stout door guard: Previous. Where Babylon would go through fire for her crew so would the crew go for her. As you see the crew and Babylon conversing in their encounters you truly get the feeling that they are one team, and this is nicely shown in the ending chapters. Just as for Babylon herself the characters personalities were just as well thought through and gave a uniqueness to each character.

And then there is the world that is created in Babylon Steel, quite immaculately at that and leaving many future possibilities for the books that will follow. When I first picked up Babylon Steel I thought it would play out on different planets, it being a science-fiction book, and that there would be technologically advanced societies. But once I read more about the world and saw the words: planes and portals I didn’t know what to expect, so I just let it wash over me and in the end I could not be more pleased with the rich world that was created. In short: the present story takes places for the most on the plane of Scalentine, but the past story takes place on a wholly different plane, Tiresana. As for Scalentine, it has a number of fixed portals that lead to known planes but also a number of random portal that can spit up unwanted guests, opening and closing at random times. Though I haven’t seen much exploration yet of these portals they do offer up a set of possibilities for Gaie Sebold to explore in the books to come, and from what I could glimpse of the created world there is some tech and each plane is different, limiting for example the magic of Laney, the Fey on Scalentine. I hope that this will further enliven the books to come.

All in all I was more than pleased with Babylon Steel, and it is these types of book that give me a great pleasure in reading. Authors that dare to go outside the box and combine - in a great way - existing fantasy genres to create something new. And in this Gaie Sebold has more than succeeded. Using a great narrative behind the strong character of Babylon, interweaving the past and present , which in the end came neatly together, and all this in a carefully constructed world, which will allow in the books to come more exploration of this great universe. I can only say that this is worth a hearty recommendation.

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