Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel #1), by Josiah Bancroft
Senlin Ascends reminded me of many things: the intellectual protagonist, lost in a world that feels part dream like in Zamyatin's We, a metaphorical world that reflects our own social order like in Snowpiercer, the cruel tourist traps hiding horror like in Song of Kali. But the book is anything but derivative. Josiah Bancroft writes this in his own voice, slowly building both the world and the characters.
Have to admit that I've found it difficult to keep reading the book. The naïve character that never seems to catch a break and keeps getting abused by an uncaring world makes it hard to enjoy. The book is very well written, but starts by destroying your faith in humanity. This also does make the last quarter of the book a little jarring, as the winds suddenly blow in a slightly different direction. It is possible that Bancroft found it as hard to torture his protagonist as I found it to bear reading about it. Yet, he seems to have kept at it, as this is just the first book of a series of four books (and a series of shorts).
The book is a steampunkish novel set in a fictional tower of Babel where a teacher and his new bride go on a honeymoon, only to be swept into the tumultuous world contained by the tower. Each level of the tower is separate in culture and resources: the higher the level, the harder to get to and the richer the society. But that doesn't mean better, in any way.
That's the plot in a nutshell, but the beauty is in the details. I can't say the book is perfect, but I am going to give it my highest rating because it is certainly a good book and refreshingly original.
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