Warning: This review contains major spoilers for Senlin Ascends.
“The Tower of Babel is proving to be as difficult to reenter as it was to break out of. Forced into a life of piracy, Senlin and his eclectic crew are struggling to survive aboard their stolen airship as the hunt to rescue Senlin’s lost wife continues.
Hopeless and desolate, they turn to a legend of the Tower, the mysterious Sphinx. But help from the Sphinx never comes cheaply, and as Senlin knows, debts aren’t always what they seem in the Tower of Babel.
Time is running out, and now Senlin must choose between his friends, his freedom, and his wife.
Does anyone truly escape the Tower?”
I spent the better part of last year kicking myself for not snapping up a copy of Arm of the Sphinx back when Josiah was a self-published author, so this re-release has been a long wait for me. I’m thrilled to say that it was every bit as exciting and creative as the first book, and that is in large part due to the change in tone and atmosphere. It was a pretty bold move on Bancroft’s part to switch to Multi-PoV but it’s one that absolutely paid off and really opened up the story. Where Senlin Ascends was the desperate and at times claustrophobic account of an unprepared man clinging to who he had been before the tower, in Arm of the Sphinx we meet a craftier Thomas Senlin, changed immeasurably by his time there. Long gone is the optimistic, plucky fop who held fast to the belief that everything would turn out fine despite all evidence to the contrary. He and the merry band of misfits he gathered to him in the first book have now taken to the skies in a stolen airship as pirates, in what proves to be a more prominently Steampunk outing. The primary goal remains to find Marya. In order to do this, they must find a way back in to the tower, which proves approximately as difficult as getting out had been.
Circumstances have grown somewhat more complicated, however. Thomas is struggling in his new position of leadership, not least because he is secretly haunted by visions of his wife, who chides and taunts him. Our secondary characters have their own ideas on the matter and receive a good deal of development, each with their own well plotted arc – Edith, now Senlin’s trusted second in command and closest confidante, continues to be a huge badass. Flighty Voleta marches to the beat of her own drummer and struggles with taking orders, and Adam works to overcome Senlin’s lack of faith in him. But for me it’s Iren, the monosyllabic bodyguard of the previous entry, who became positively loveable. The relationships between the crew grow deeply engaging over the course of the story.
The prose, as with the previous entry, is gorgeous. Descriptions always feel on point no matter how surreal things get, making visualization easy on the reader. Bancroft has a real knack for simile and metaphor, and occasionally he straight up punches you right in the heart with some pithy observation about life, love and loss. It’s quotable stuff. The setting continues to delight with its eccentric creativity – we’re treated to a couple of new ringdoms, including a bottomless library that you wouldn’t actually want to hang out in (proving that Josiah might secretly be a monster) and the silk gardens, the details of which I won’t spoil for you here. The plotting is tight, well planned and towards the finish, breathless. It culminates in an ending that first made me furious with some of the characters and then left me open-mouthed and swearing with amusement. Things are getting very interesting indeed.
Overall, an excellent second entry – the wait for The Hod King is going to be excruciating.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Features a Library
- 2017 Top Novels List
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings (as of 4/2018)
- RRAWR Author