Hob’s review of Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel #1)

by Josiah Bancroft

Paperback, 448 pages

Published January 16th 2018 by Orbit (first published February 18th 2013)


The Blurb

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade. —Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel, I. V

Do you know about the “real” Tower of Babel? It is in the bible. Check this out real quick.

And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.  So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.  Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. — Genesis 11:6–9

Now that is really bad Prose but basically people built a tower so high (300 ft) that it scared GOD so he cursed us with different languages so the foreman couldn’t communicate with the architect or the laborers about the plans or something. Not sure why GOD always talks to himself but that’s a whole different story.

While I don’t blame GOD for it, this book does confound me just a bit.   Not the plot or the writing, but the classifying its genre. The closest I think I can get would be …. It is a Steampunk Alternative History Fantasy of Manners with a touch of Gaslight elements tucked inside ready to be unleashed.  What? How could you not know what that means? UM wait a second I don’t really know what that means either, let’s just say it’s a great book with unusual people set in the past that might have been.  That takes place in a tower the size of a mountain powered by steam and possibly magic of some kind.

The Tower’s well produces a water that is famously crisp and pure.  It is this untainted source that gives the local beer its ballyhooed flavor.  —Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel

The cover is pretty cool and even the editing in my ARC copy was well polished. I haven’t listened to the Audiobook but it is available and I have animated the sample from Audible. The narration sounds good and you might recognize John Banks  (His Voice not the face,  that’s not really him in the animation) from audiobooks in the Warhamer 40k universe or the Malazan books written by Ian C. Esslemont

Savvy shoppers will revel in the Market that coils about the foot of the Tower. Don’t be afraid to walk away while haggling; a little retreat may win a great bargain.  —Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel,

Have you ever gone shopping with your wife or husband on Black Friday? Unless you brought walkie talkies you probably lost each other in a matter of minutes. (For the readers outside of the US think of a warzone instead of a store) Then you might know what Thomas Senlin felt after stepping from the train with his new bride into the chaos of the market surrounding the Tower of Babel. The plan was to get a hotel on the 3rd floor so when he loses his wife he will just meet her there. Well it’s not quite that easy.

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. —Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel, I. X


Every level of the tower is so massive that it is actually its own Kingdom with its own laws and ways of doing things. Thomas rushes in trusting in his copy of the Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel and his wits to keep him safe. Well the guide may not be as accurate as he had thought and even the smartest of people are likely to do stupid things in strange circumstances.

The handkerchief is the universal utensil of the seasoned traveler. It can be a sanitizing device, a seat cover, a dust mask, a garrote, a bandage, a gag, or a white flag. One may feel well prepared with nothing but a pocket square. —Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel,

Final Thoughts

While not action packed this story flowed well and the writing is fantastic. It is definitely not the standard fantasy book about the chosen one saving the world. No this is the story of a newlywed 30 something nerdy school teacher getting separated from his wife while on his honeymoon.  I never would have guessed what a fantastic story that could be. I give Senlin Ascends 4 out of 5 stars. I am really looking forward to diving back in the Tower with book 2 The Arm of the Sphinx.

I received a free E-book of Senlin Ascends from NetGalley but that has no bearing on this review. As always my opinions are my own.

One thought on “Hob’s review of Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

  1. My most pressing questions coming into your review: what genre did he decide to go with?! Well… you were definitely very specific! 😛

    Random comment: I just noticed your “Book everyone should read” on the side bar, and I glad to see Mac Turner there! His series is highly underrated and I can’t belive more sf/f fans aren’t reading all his novels.

    Liked by 1 person

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