Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft

Synopsis: 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.

“Senlin loved nothing more in the world than a warm hearth to set his feet upon and a good book to pour his whole mind into. While an evening storm rattled the shutters and a glass of port wine warmed in his hand, Senlin would read into the wee hours of the night. He especially delighted in the old tales, the epics in which heroes set out on some impossible and noble errand, confronting the dangers in their path with fatalistic bravery. Men often died along the way, killed in brutal and unnatural ways; they were gored by war machines, trampled by steeds, and dismembered by their heartless enemies. Their deaths were boastful and lyrical and always, always more romantic than real. Death was not an end. It was an ellipsis.”

Well, fuck. I don’t know if I have enough superlatives to describe how much I loved this book! You know that feeling of having read something so refreshingly original & wholly unique, yet it also feels so bloody comfortable.. like you’ve been reading it over & over for years? That’s how I felt with this. Because reading experiences are, by their very nature, incredibly personal & subjective things. Only half of the reading experience is what the author puts on the page. The other half is what you bring to it. What I brought to the experience was a purging of deep emotions. I mean.. I was not expecting such a poignant love story. Oof. Senlin Ascends was a spiraling gut-punch. WHO GAVE YOU THE RIGHT, BANCROFT?!? ::sigh:: This was everything.

Josiah Bancroft has created something so damn special here, I would be hard-pressed to recommend this any higher. It’s a fucking masterpiece! I truly believe it’s one of those unparalleled stories that has something for everyone.

“I’m glad your self-righteousness has given you some exercise, but you forget: we are not such a tidy, reasonable, and humane race. Our thoughts don’t stand in grammatical rows, our hearts don’t draw equations, our consciences don’t have the benefit of historians whispering the answers to us.”

Thomas Senlin has saved up enough money to take his new wife Marya to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon, a world-renowned destination that Senlin has obsessively studied throughout the years. Each level of the Tower is a ringdom, which is essentially a separate city within this ancient structure. How many levels there are, no one really knows except that each level you ascend is supposedly more magnificent than the next. However, once the newlyweds arrive, Senlin makes a dire mistake. One that is specifically outlined in the guidebook. Keep your companions always in view. The crowd was overwhelming, it was unlike anything they ever expected.

What follows is a cacophony of towering highs & brutal lows.

Thomas Senlin is such an interesting character. He isn’t your typical hero, which I adore. He is an intelligent teacher in a wee village, loves books & is.. well.. dude is awkward as hell. His character development is fucking glorious! But this is not just his story alone. There is an incredible cast of secondary characters like Adam, Voleta, Iren, Edith, The Red Hand & the mysterious Marya.. just such fully-realized individuals. They don’t fade into the background (well.. Marya does for a bit, but.. I’VE ALREADY SAID TOO MUCH!!) Rather, they are massively vibrant & functioning in their own right.

Senlin Ascends was originally self-published in 2013. There it sat in relative obscurity until it was picked up by the genius Mark Lawrence in the annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) contest. In 2016. Yes.. shockingly, this took years before it started to gain attention. From there, it was swooped up by the badass people at Orbit & widely published earlier this year. You cannot make this shit up! Like Senlin’s search, Bancroft’s story of how this series came to be is quite an unexpected journey itself.

As I said over on Twitter, this is grimsy. Grim as fuck, yet delightfully whimsical. It’s so fucking technically gorgeous, slowly unraveling these beautiful details. Bancroft is an absolutely brilliant weaver of words.

I pre-ordered The Hod King lightning quick (I already own Arm of the Sphinx because I KNOW WHAT I LIKE!!) Josiah Bancroft is now an auto-buy author for me. I almost never write my reviews directly after finishing a book, but I did with this one. I needed to vomit out my feelings in a raw, instantaneous way. Needed to try to do this story justice. I hope I did.

Senlin Ascends is one of those books that just fucking grabbed me by the throat from the beginning & didn’t let go. It was an average length book, but there is such wondrous adventure throughout that is anything but average. This landscape of darkness & hopefulness..

This. This is what reading is all about. Goddamn.

-Holly

 

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