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The Books of Babel #1

Senlin Ascends

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The first book in the stunning and strange debut fantasy series that's receiving major praise from some of fantasy's biggest authors such as Mark Lawrence and Django Wexler.

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, assassins, 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.

370 pages, Paperback

First published February 18, 2013

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About the author

Josiah Bancroft

14 books3,266 followers
Before settling down to write fantasy novels, Josiah Bancroft was a poet, college instructor, and aspiring comic book artist. When he is not writing, he enjoys recording the Crit Faced podcast with his authorial friends, drawing the world of the Tower, and cooking dinner without a recipe. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sharon, their daughter Maddie, and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,126 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
September 13, 2016
We MUST talk about this hidden indie treasure.

Over the years, I have read a lot of books. I've picked my way through the so-called "Classics", got lost in Fantasy and Science-Fiction, been taken to other times by Historical Fiction, stayed up late to find out the answers in the latest Psychological Thriller, fallen in love with Romance, and rode the wave of every YA trend. And yet, I have never read a book like this one.

Requests for indie/self-pub reviews come to me all the time. I usually take a glance at the first few pages and am almost always put off by the poor grammar or writing. I rarely make it past the first chapter and, if I do, the story quickly loses my attention. And, to be honest, I didn't expect Senlin Ascends to be any different.

However, I took a chance on this because it came so highly recommended by Mark Lawrence, and I didn't come up for breath until I'd finished the final page. It is both a masterfully-crafted work of art AND an addictive pageturner.
“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.”

Just so you know: it's nothing like Mark Lawrence's work. As I said, it's unlike anything I've ever read. Senlin Ascends is about a man who loses his wife on their honeymoon to the Tower of Babel. Concluding that she must have entered the Tower, the book chronicles his ascent through the ringdoms of the Tower - each a unique, dazzling and completely weird world of its own - on a mission to find his beloved Marya.

The writing is gorgeous and oh so very compelling. It's a bizarre tale that at times feels like one of those strange, suffocating dreams where everything is familiar but also not. There's this undercurrent of wrongness to the novel, even when Senlin finds himself merrily drinking wine on the Baths level of the Tower.
Senlin was unprepared for marriage in every way. He possessed neither the imagination nor emotional warmth that intimacy required.

Marya was so much better at taking the flaws of the world in stride, which was why she was indomitable and difficult to disappoint. She probably found the bull snails and drunken merry-go-round charming.

Characters major and minor come bounding off the pages. I always feel like the best tell for an author truly adept at creating characters is when smaller, secondary characters are important, well-developed and worthy of our interest and/or sympathy. Of course Senlin is important to us, but I also really enjoyed reading about the many people he meets on his journey - Tarrou, Edith, Adam, etc.

But, really, it's so hard to explain why this book is so good. The best tool of a reviewer is comparison but Senlin Ascends just stands on its own. It's depth is almost literary, and yet it is hard to put down. It's unsettling, and yet darkly comical. The protagonist is a stuffy old headmaster, and yet lovable. Add to that some beautiful descriptions of each ringdom, portrayed in exquisite detail with everything from bloodthirsty executioners to clockwork animals... how can you resist stepping in?

And the best thing about this? There's a whole sequel to enjoy!! Arm of the Sphinx is next on my wishlist.

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Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
July 5, 2023
Wow. That was unexpected!

Senlin Ascends is one of the best reads I've had in ages. I decided to read it because one of the bloggers judging in my self-published fantasy contest had a very difficult time choosing between this title and another for the best of his bunch of 30 novels. In the end he went for the other book, which left me thinking that it was harsh luck to miss out by such a fine margin to a very different kind of story.

Anyway, I was dragged in and didn't escape until I'd finished two or three days later.

Don't read this book because you like mine. It's not like mine. It is, however, excellent.

For me Senlin's Ascent hits on pretty much every level (no pun intended).

It's the story of a man's literal ascent up the many tiers of the Tower of Babel, a series of bizarre ring-doms standing at the centre of a huge and varied empire. Senlin goes there on honeymoon armed with his expertise on the subject in hand, and finds the reality very different to what his reading has led him to expect. As with all journeys of consequence, Senlin's ascent has an impact on both the traveler and those encountered on his travels.

It has truly excellent prose. So many lines made me deeply jealous. Clever, literary, insightful lines that cut to the quick of the matter.

The story is compelling. It unfolds and unfolds. Because the characters are excellently drawn I cared very much about where it was all going.

The imagination is unbound and intriguing. This has a strong Jack Vance, Dying Earth vibe, mixed in with overtones of Kafka, but it's also very much its own thing with hope and defiance to offset the cynicism.

It starts rather gently and with a style you might find in many works of literary fiction but dark undertones build and so does the violence/action/excitement so that at the end it becomes a work that actually fits more closely to the kind of fantasy I've read a lot of recently (and remains an excellent read).

So, in short, this is just the sort of find I was hoping would come out of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO). A truly fine book that after 3 years had only managed to gather 50 ratings on Goodreads (& as I am editing this review it's been released by a traditional publisher and has 8,900 ratings here!). It's a pity that it didn't make the final and l hope to read the book that beat it there, but I also hope it finds the audience it deserves and that this review will inspire some of you to give it a try!

As a fanboy I decided to see how the tower (and Barad Dur) stack up against modern buildings.

Go here to see it in high resolution.


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Profile Image for Petrik.
687 reviews46k followers
September 23, 2021
Buddy read with my awesome friend: Melanie

4.5/5 Stars

If you need extra proof that a self-published fantasy can be on par/superior compared to traditionally published fantasy books, Senlin Ascends is it.

Relatively, not a lot of readers will spend their time reading self-published fantasy books. It’s the harsh truth; the stigma that existed in self-published fantasy—bad cover art, cliché stories, typos, and grammatical errors—were there for valid reasons. Even to this day, it’s still easy to find a self-published fantasy work that has all the negative aspects I just mentioned. However, these issues exist in traditionally published fantasy books as well. If you know where to look, you can find a LOT of amazing self-published fantasy books. Senlin Ascends, Josiah Bancroft’s debut and the first book in The Books of Babel series, is one of them; the novel is filled with the exact opposite of all the negative points I mentioned. Orbit books have picked up this series, and Senlin Ascends will be re-released in January 2018. This means that the self-published edition is about to become a rare edition; I strongly suggest you get it now.

“We shouldn't have to go around congratulating each other for behaving with basic human dignity.”

Orbit Books made the right decision to traditionally publish this series. In every element of the novel, you can see how much passion the author infused into the narrative. The plot, the characters, the world-building, the prose; even the quality of the physical book were all wonderful. No kidding, the self-published trade paperback edition of the novel put a lot of traditionally published books to shame; under the lights, you can actually see the ink shone.

Senlin Ascends has a simple premise. Thomas Senlin, a timid, kind-hearted, and sensible teacher is on a honeymoon with his newlywed wife—Marya—to stay on the third level of the majestic and literally gigantic Tower of Babel. Before they even got the chance to start their honeymoon properly, Thomas lost track of Marya in the hectic and chaotic market. Now, Senlin will have to explore the tower of Babel—which turns out to be, of course, not as beautiful as he expected—on a wild goose chase to find his missing wife.

Picture: Senlin Ascends by Tom Kidd

But the simple premise is backed by many strong factors. Senlin Ascends is different from many mainstream fantasy novels, but it still retains elements that make any fantasy novel compelling and intriguing. Friendship, philosophies, adventure, heists, hope, despair, and a tiny section of well-written romance; readers will find a lot of relatable themes in this book. The complexity of the plot kept on unfolding; the narrative is divided into three acts, and in my opinion, the three acts felt like three sequential novellas that formed a bigger and connecting story.

“Senlin did not believe in that sort of love: sudden and selfish and insatiable. Love, as the poets so often painted it, was just bald lust wearing a pompous wig. He believed true love was more like an education: it was deep and subtle and never complete.”

The characters were well-written. Thomas Senlin’s character development was amazing; his growth from the first part—when he was timid, sensible, innocent—to how he became the man he must become to achieve his goal felt gradual and realistic. Thomas has always been a man of the written words, and now, he must use his wit and intelligence to become a man of action. However, another thing to be praised of Bancroft’s storytelling style was that every side character—Marya, Edith, Adam, Iren—received the same quality of treatment as Senlin did. Backgrounds of the characters were revealed, and each supporting character’s circumstances and personality were explored as efficiently as possible.

“It is easier to accept who you’ve become than to recollect who you were.”

One of the main highlights of the book, without a doubt, lies in its world-building. I’m going to spare you the details here for your own good, you have to experience every ringdom for yourself. Every part of the Tower of Babel is unique, distinctive, and bizarre; it made me feel like I just went on an unforgettable trip. Below here is a picture of the Tower of Babel illustrated by the author himself, and this is just a tiny fraction of the tower!

Picture: The Tower of Babel, The Lower Ringdoms by Josiah Bancroft

The world-building felt utterly immersive and atmospheric. Bancroft’s prose is accessible, beautiful, and well-polished. the Tower of Babel is a place you want—and should—dive into if you want an amazing and distinctive reading experience. Plus, I’m a sucker for Skyships and sky pirates. I’ve played a lot of steampunk video games, let’s say Bioshock Infinite for example, and Senlin Ascends made me feel like I just played that game again; this is a good thing.

The hype for Senlin Ascends are there for many good reasons. There’s no doubt that luck is required to get a signed deal, but I’m of the mindset that in life, in everything you do, luck can be always be improved. With hard work, perseverance, and patience, something great will not be lost to the world forever, and that’s exactly what happened to Senlin Ascends. Remember, this novel was first published in 2013. Yes, 2013! It took four years for a publishing company to finally pick up this hidden gem.

I owe a gratitude to Mark Lawrence (huge thanks to him, seriously) and Emily May for spreading the awareness for this book. If Bancroft gave up writing after releasing the sequel, Arms of the Sphinx in 2015, he probably won’t be signed by Orbit Books now. Once you know you’ve created something great with all your efforts; persevere and never give up. It's always easier said than done, but that's how it is in this world. Now, Josiah Bancroft has been signed by Orbit, and I��ll say that it’s totally well deserved. I'm going to conclude my review by stating that Senlin Ascends is a stunning fantasy steampunk debut; it’s easily one of the most unique fantasy novels I’ve read.

Bonus Picture: The trade paperbacks looks beautiful!

You can order the book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions | I also have a Booktube channel

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Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
January 17, 2018

Buddy Read with Petrik

This highly praised indie book series has recently been picked up by Orbit! After that news, and seeing the first two beautifully sitting on my shelf for far too long, I decided I wanted to experience this self published series before the year was over, but now I just want all the books immediately, because Senlin Ascends is a literary masterpiece.

“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”

Senlin Ascends is unlike anything I've ever read before. The basic premise seems easy enough: A headmaster that works at a school in a very small and far away village, has newly married a girl who compliments him perfectly. Senlin is a man of planning, habit, and always following the rules, while his new bride, Marya, follows her own beat completely and just wants to see the world. Senlin is also obsessed with a mysterious tower that is far, far away from him and Marya's village. So, what better place for them to honeymoon than the tower that he's been obsessing over his whole life. I mean, Senlin has a guidebook, and he always follows the rules, what could go wrong?

“the Tower is a tar pit. Once you put a toe in her, you’re caught forever. No one leaves. No one goes home.”

Yet, we soon find out that inside the Tower of Babel there are completely different worlds living and dwelling inside each level, or maybe I should say functioning inside each level. And, yes, I said Tower of Babel, like the bible story you probably grew up hearing at least once about why we speak so many different languages. Basically, after the Great Flood happened, a bunch of people came together and agreed to build a tower that would touch Heaven itself. God, realizing what they are attempting, scatters them all around the world and makes them all speak different languages, hence our world today. Yet, obviously, the higher in the tower you are the closer you are to God and Heaven.

Also, unbeknownst to me both times, this is the second Tower of Babel inspired story I've read this month, because I also read Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad, #1) by Scott Reintgen . So now I'm lowkey sitting at my computer like, "Is God trying to tell me something?"

Anyways, this is a glorious painting done by Peter Bruegel, that I found because of my wonderful friend Mike's review, that is a very close interpretation to how I pictured the Tower in this book:

And here is the Tower that the amazingly talented author, Josiah Bancroft, made that shows us around and inside a few of the levels known to man:

(I looked at this constantly once Petrik showed it to me!)

Okay, so now you guys know sort of what the gist of the Tower is and sort of what it looks like, but I'm sure you're reading this review to find out about the story. Oh, my friends, this story is a treat to any book lover who happens to stumble upon this tale. It's mystery after mystery, surprise after surprise, whimsical new steampunk world after whimsical new steampunk world.

“Not a solitary soul will help you here. The good souls don’t have the means or mind for it, and the bad souls will only bleed you dry.”

As Senlin is ascending the Tower, this book will constantly lead you to believe something, and you will, with your whole heart, but it will end up being so completely different. And the book will do this over and over again, but it will never feel forced or gimmicky, but it will always surprise you. I'm not sure any author I've ever read has been capable of doing that before, and, again, this is a debut novel by a self published author. (Which is why we need to support indie authors and find more hidden gems like this little masterpiece.)

And the writing is so fantastic. It's entrancing and addicting, while also being one of the most immersive works I've ever read. Especially the baths, like, I'm still halfway convinced that I was there in my own little pinecone like shelf, watching everything play out through the streets of that city. This story reads like you're in a lucid dream that you're not sure you want to wake up from. Yet, it still feels like you're seeing everything through somewhat of a haze. Again, this tale is glorious and unlike anything I've ever read in my many years of reading.

“It is easier to accept who you’ve become than to recollect who you were.”

And Senlin as a character was wonderful to read about, too. Seeing the Tower shape him into what he needs to be, is worth its own review. I mean, the Tower changes everyone, but Senlin always stays true to his caring self that loves to learn and to teach others and it makes him flourish. Senlin's journey is nothing short of beautiful. I also loved the Tower itself, and how it is so much bigger than anyone realizes. I loved Senlin's theory and I can't wait to ascend the next levels with him.

“The Tower is only as tall as the man that climbs”

The side characters that Senlin meets along his journey are also nothing short of exquisite. Iren, Goll, Tarrou, Edith, Adam, Ogier, they were all such wonderful additions that truly shaped this story into something remarkable that leaves me with a loss for words. I could read side story after side story about each of these individuals and their time spent in the Tower.

At this point, I also believe that Josiah Bancroft could very well just be a genius for crafting this complex tale that is so entrancing yet easy to follow. The only negative thing I can really say is that this book does end, and I mean it ends somewhat abruptly, and if you don't have the next book, Arm of the Sphinx, on hand, you are probably going to cry. If you're looking for a fast paced adventure, with a completely addicting story, with some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read, that is unlike anything you've ever read, please give Senlin Ascends a try.

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Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,343 followers
May 14, 2019
Josiah Bancroft's debut novel is a huge deal in the world of fantasy fiction right now. I truly regret being late to the party but can safely say the hype is well deserved. Seeing only unanimously positive reviews from my blogging peers, I had to check out this 2016 #SPFBO's entrant as soon as I could.

Thomas Senlin planned a seemingly perfect honeymoon at the magnificent, and world renowned Tower of Babel. Each level of the tower is a Ringdom- cities with different characteristics and unique aspects. Rumour has it that each stage is more beautiful than the previous. What better way to spend a honeymoon than to ascend the tower with his savings, guidebook and beautiful wife? Unfortunately, Senlin loses his partner amongst the massive crowds at the start of the narrative. He aims to find her by entering the tower and rising through the levels. He soon realises that the tower isn't exactly the same place which he adored from afar and which his trusty Everyman's Guide to the Tower of Babel had led him to believe it would be.

This story has a lot of great things going for it. Most notable from the offset is that it is beautifully written. It felt like I was reading a classic rather than a modern self-published fantasy book. (Although Orbit has picked up the rights and this will be re-released next year by the home of Brent Weeks, RJ Barker and Nicholas Eames.) Although not a fair testament to the story as a whole, due to Thomas' character progression; some parts made me think it was similar to what a modern-day Candide would be, with a wide-eyed interesting hero having to deal with some inexplicably bad moments. The way Senlin is forced to change and adapt to these unusual surroundings had me putting myself in his position, therefore, empathy and affinity were created between us for that reason. He is a headmaster, very intelligent and overall a really interesting character. He's not the only person here that makes the story so strong although it seemed that would be the case at first. I won't divulge the reason why I thought that as that could approach spoiler territory and I loved some of the reveals. Unlike much Modern Fantasy, a lot of what happens here isn't too far removed from characteristics and science of our world. Though, in addition, Senlin Ascends does include some very interesting technology. Each Ringdom has its own peculiar politics and hierarchies which Senlin must understand if he ever hopes to progress and find his wife. This book also incorporates some greatly crafted villainous characters. This isn't the most action-packed spectacle but the way Bancroft presents, with slower moments and emotional flashbacks intertwined, the more action-orientated scenes have great impact. Especially the ending. The future possibilities seem awesome with the way things concluded. The finale convinced me this was definitely a 5-star read. This book gets referred to as Steampunk but I don't know what that is and don't really care much for sub-genre descriptions and deviations. I just care if I like it or not.

An extraordinary debut that is well worthy of the hype. A beautifully written, highly engaging page-turning masterpiece where I was on Tom's side every step of the way. I'd read Arm of the Sphinx next if I could but as an #SPFBO judge, I'm currently busy trying to find some more gems like this. James Tivendale.
Profile Image for carol..
1,572 reviews8,222 followers
January 18, 2018
This was one of the most lovely books I almost didn't finish. To certain library books I must ask certain questions: are they worth overdue fines? Perhaps more importantly, are they worth negative karma when late? To both of these questions, Senlin Ascends is an empathetic 'no.' And yet, on the strength of dear Milda's love for the tale and her encouragement, I find myself disregarding my earlier decision to return it.

"You have no idea what the Tower will turn you into!" Tarrou laughed and swatted the air trying to dispel Senlin's sudden piety."

Though the writing is truly gorgeous, the plotting is purposefully meandering. Headmaster Senlin is on a journey with his newly-wed wife to see the famous Tower of Babel. Within minutes of arrival, he loses her in the marketplace, and the rest of the story is a journey upward through the levels of Babel as he searches for the lovely, vivacious Marya. What follows is his experiences through the first four levels of the tower.

I suspect if you mix The Pilgrim's Progress with 1001 Arabian Nights, using the language of In the Night Garden, you'll probably have a good idea what you are getting into. Senlin is forced to reconsider ideas about Tower of Babel, his priorities, his identity, his relationship with Marya, even his conceptions about how the world operates and how he should relate to other people. It is as much a story of the internal self as one of external events.

"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... Their deaths were boastful and lyrical and always, always more romantic than real. Death was not an end. It was an ellipsis" (page 23).

My barrier and sticking point was the idea that Senlin's journey centered on looking for his wife, Marya. Literally by page eight she has disappeared, so the rest of the story is about her from other perspectives. As a feminist, I find this type of structure deeply disturbing. Given that the story is from Senlin's third-person perspective, one may argue that's completely appropriate, so what's the big deal? The big deal is her placeholder status--replace her with 'ring,' or 'Grail,' or 'eighteenth-century silver cow-shaped creamer' and the agency would be the same. She acts in Senlin's memories of their interactions, she appears as a hallucination, Senlin thinks about her in relation to him, we learn of her actions from third parties, but beyond that there are only the barest paragraphs--in flashback, strangely, of Senlin's memories--of Marya being anything other than an Object. She is a mirage, a holding place for the character's own thoughts and emotions. A telling quote, I think, from page 1:

"Thomas Senlin and Marya, his new bride, peered at the human menagerie through the open window of their sunny sleeper car. Her china white hand lay weightlessly atop his long fingers."

Though that, perhaps, is part of the underlying motif of the story: the absence of women and the fickleness of love/relationships. Early on Senlin is told, "women get sucked up the Tower like embers up a flue," and we begin to get the picture that the destruction will be along gender lines. Outside the Tower, Senlin meets Adam, a young man who is missing his sister. On level three, we encounter another significant male character who will 'one day' return to his wife.

Of course, the search for the Other inspires in Senlin reflections on his own character, and his relationship with Marya. The challenge for me is that Senlin is someone I have trouble liking. It could be because Senlin hits too close to teen-Carol., and I don't mean in the hormonal sense, I mean the sense one has when one is young, overly book-smart, and color-blind to shades of grey. He is the headmaster in his small fishing village and he considers himself a leader of the community, although I strongly suspect the feeling is not mutual. He has harped on the wonders of Babel to his students and fellow citizens, which is no doubt supposed to play into the irony as he discovers the reality of Babel has little in common with his conceptions or his much-thumbed Guide to the Wonders of Babel.

In fact, I found myself wondering about the parallels with my most favorite and sometimes wildly inaccurate guidebook, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where vaguely unlikable leading man Arthur also finds himself at a loss, forced to confront wonders and misconceptions. However, Hitchhiker's does it with absurdity and humor, while Senlin does it with gorgeous prose and Victorian sexism. If you'd like beautiful language and imagery without a plot, give The Night Circus a try.

I absolutely enjoyed the writing, but Woman as Object coupled with the perspective of a man who is difficult to connect to means it was a struggle to read. It did pick up a great deal as Senlin reached level four (page 200/350) and started to embrace more duplicitous planing for the future, but it was too little, too late. The fact that most of the character actions were telegraphed in advance means there wasn't that much surprise. I wouldn't rule out Bancroft in the future, but I'd likely enter into it with suspicion, and that's no way to read a book.

*Many thanks to Milda for her encouragement in getting me to completion!

Original review of my first attempt:

Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,949 followers
March 3, 2018
I'm not sure if this was the hype of the book, my mood, or the book itself. I'm going to to with my mood as I found a lot of the book very good. I did take a little bit to get into it but that was because of reading other books I do believe.

So here I am in the most unpopular opinion world. I do have some friends that gave it 2 and 3 stars but for the most part it's 4 and 5. I feel left out. I am going to revisit this book a little later to make sure it wasn't my mood because like I said before, I did like most of the book.

I'm not going to write a long review as there are many long reviews here on Goodreads telling you all about the book. There is no sense in me writing the same thing over.

This was a very strange/weird trip through the Tower of Babel with Senlin trying to find his wife that seemed to have gotten lost in the throng. But I wonder, did she really get lost? Did she get taken? I guess we shall see in the next books.

The happy traveler will look for the broadest, most beaten path, will look to his fellow traveler for behavioral cues, will be an echo but will not raise his voice. It is dangerous to blaze a trail when one is already so clearly cut.

-Everyman's Guide to the Tower of Babel, I. VI

Happy Reading!

Mel ♥

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List

Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
January 6, 2020
”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--

Tom Senlin has dreamed about travelling to see the Tower of Babel, a marvel of the universe, for a long, long time. He is a headmaster and teacher, and so he is not a rich man and must rely upon the age old habit of saving his funds in order to even think about a vacation to see this spectacle of human accomplishment. His copy of Everyman’s Guide has become his Bible in regards to everything he must know about the Tower.

Senlin will soon discover that his Bible of the Tower has the same issues as the Holy Bible. There are inconsistencies with reality that would indicate that whoever wrote it may not have even been to the Tower, but relied upon speculative, second hand information.

But these realizations have not yet been...realized. When we first meet Tom, he is stepping off the train, about to begin his honeymoon with his lovely, much younger wife, Marya. They are about to embark on the adventure of their lives.

If adventure = nightmare.

Within moments of arriving at the Tower of Babel, he has lost his wife. Rather careless of him, wasn’t it? To lose one’s wallet is inconvenient, but to lose one’s wife is rather indefensible. Two eye blinks later, he has lost his luggage, rather burdensome after all when one is running about in a pell mell fashion looking for a misplaced spouse.

He is a rube in a place of desperation.

The Tower is a series of rings, and each ring has its own rules. Senlin is used to playing by the rules and informing others of how to play by the rules, but the rules of the Tower are baffling and rather dangerous for those who don’t learn them very, very quickly. In the first level, he is thrust into a play as an actor. There is no director, and the script seems to be a nebulous creature that changes with the mood and whim of the actors.

Let’s just say that things go wrong.

Senlin finds himself suspended outside the Tower in a rusty cage, many stories above the ground with one of his fellow actors, a rather lovely and equally bewildered woman by the name of Edith. They feel completely abandoned ”[e]xcept for the clockwork spider. The machine was the size of a large dog and was at once frightening and marvelous when it crawled above the curvature of the Tower. Steam gassed from the joints of its eight steel legs. It’s internal gears were visible through its copper skeleton. It was the most intricate and elegant clockworks Senlin had ever seen.”

The author Josiah Bancroft is throwing a steampunk nod into the stew of the plot.

”The Earth doesn’t shake the Tower; the Tower shakes the Earth.”

I just threw that quote in there to remind everyone that, yeah, the spider is cool, but the situation is dire. Of course, as we follow along with Senlin, he will look back upon his time suspended in that corroded and oxidized cage as his last sabbatical from complete chaos. His old life, that predictably boring: ”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.” Then off to bed to dream of his own adventures. His own tales of discovery.

What he wouldn’t give to be back there, slightly inebriated, with Marya knitting some socks in the chair next to him.

The levels don’t get any easier. Treachery abounds. He learns to be a thief, a liar, a user, and a manipulator. The intellectual must become a man capable of anything. He must evolve from a man of stories into a man IN stories.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of his wife deepens. She joins the list of many others who have vanished into the bowels of the Tower of Babel. He makes so many enemies that, at one point, one of them mentions that they will have to hold a lottery to see who gets the pleasure of eviscerating him. The most disturbing part of all this is that someone has dispatched a diabolical assassin called The Red Hand after him. ”Senlin could feel the man’s warm breath when The Red Hand said, ‘You intellectuals are always so surprised to discover how fragile your body is. The mind is so robust, so remote. But muscles and bones are as simple as tied-up straw. They unravel and snap. And the more they break, the more the mind shrinks. In the moments before the cascade into death, the great intellect is reduced to a silent kernel. The mind is nothing more than a door into the dark.’”


Senlin becomes a man among wretched men, and when men become desperate, they attempt do-or-die, foolhardy plans, while clinging to the slender hope of escaping the bondage of fear. ”With subjugation comes certainty. Liberty is full of gambles.”

I had no real conceived notions about this book, except that readers I respected were telling me that I HAD to read this book. I certainly identified with Senlin. He is a man who lives in books, who is suddenly thrust into a divergent version of his own life, with a plot that twists and turns like the sweating torso of a man dancing on hot coals. It is easy to make mistakes in this world where the rules are obscure. The punishments are head-separated-from-body severe. Senlin feels acutely the responsibility of staying alive so he can save Marya from whatever fiendish circumstances she has become ensnared. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a story well told. My rating speaks for itself.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
September 18, 2021
oh, dont mind me. i will just be over here, picking my jaw up from off the floor.

whoa, this book is W I L D. if i am ever stranded on a deserted island, i want senlin with me. he goes from reserved headmaster to a total savage in no time. talk about a glow up! i really cant wait to read the second book to see what he does next.

also, you know the age old question, 'if you could live in any fictional world, which one would it be?' its definitely this one. move over hogwarts, because the tower of babel is something else.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.5k followers
July 8, 2022
I was so excited to get to this book because everyone I follow had given it 5 stars.
Sadly for me, it was a huge let down.

I'm not a fan of the "woman in the fridge" trope.
The wife of the main character (much younger wife who used to be his student shall I add...) goes missing as soon as they make it to the Towel of Babel on their honeymoon. He then proceeds to look for her and has to grow as a person for the rest of the series.

I did like how unique the second level was. Terrifying but interesting. I was bored for the rest of the book and barely managed to finish it because it was our book club pick of the month.

Not a fan :/
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,612 reviews10.7k followers
June 30, 2023
Years ago, after watching a few of my favorite BookTubers rave about The Books of Babel, I scurried out and bought the first three books in the series.

I did this, of course, without even reading this first book. Why did I buy all three of them without knowing if I would even like it, you may wonder?

At that time, there were only three published so far, but you better believe your sweet rump that I then bought the fourth book upon its release, again without starting the series.

Last year I began a TBR-Haul Project, where I go back through my Reading Journals, and select one or two books that I hauled for each month and read them.

Senlin Ascends is the 17th-selection for that project. I hauled this book, and the next two, in February of 2019. I'd say it's about time I got around to them.

I'm happy to report, this was absolutely amazing. I was blown away by how creative the world is, not to mention the overall story and characters.

I immediately picked up the second book, The Arm of the Sphinx, upon completion of this one and am now fully immersed in this series, fangirling all the way.

If you aren't aware, this is an Epic Fantasy series, with some light steampunk elements. The world-building is very unique. I would classify it as a slow burn story, but it's so rich and detailed that it makes sense that way.

We follow Thomas Senlin, a recently married headmaster, who takes his new bride on a honeymoon to the Tower a Babel. They've barely exited the train when Thomas and Marya, his wife, are separated in a busy marketplace.

No matter what tactic he takes, Senlin is unsuccessful in finding her in the market, but he can't give up. He doesn't care how long it takes, he is determined to find her. There's no other choice. He will not leave the Tower without her.

And thus it begins...

Y'all, this made me anxious from the start. About 40-pages in and it was already making me sweat. The Skirts, which is what the outside level where the market is located is called, was giving me sort of Goblin Market vibes.

It was all very sinister, without knowing why I was feeling that way. There was just this feeling of dread and wickedness exuding out of it. Senlin had zero people he could trust to help him in his search. No where to turn. It was a very desperate feeling.

As he entered the Tower and began to progress through the ringdoms, circumstances do not get any easier. In fact, they get progressively more dangerous.

Along the way, Senlin does discover tiny clues as to where the missing Marya may be, but how to get there? Perhaps, if the once innocent headmaster transforms himself into a criminal mastermind, he'll be able to reach her.

I love how Bancroft began to reveal the truth of the Tower itself. It's certainly not at all the gleaming, idealized vacation spot that Senlin expected after reading his Everyman's Guide to the Tower.

I also really enjoyed all the characters we meet along the way, the ones Senlin aligns himself with and the ones that are against him. Everyone is out for their own interests. It's a dangerous place.

A bit Alice in Wonderland mixed with Hotel California, 'you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.'

I'm super stoked to be continuing on with this series. We learn a lot about the Tower and how it functions in this one, but there are still SO MANY mysteries.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this progresses and ultimately wraps up!
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
376 reviews1,706 followers
June 19, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

“I’m suspicious of people who are certain”

When starting Senlin Ascends, I had no idea what to expect, and had not checked out what the story was about at all. I read it purely off of hearing consistently great things about it, and the fact that it was on my Audible library. I don’t usually do this, as I have a great list to read, and want to cherry pick the best suited to me. But I’m glad a gave that formula an exception.

Senlin Ascends was great. A mixture of fun and serious content, that handled the tone brilliantly. Despite the contrasting parts of the atmosphere, Josiah Bancroft was very good at subtly going from one to another in a “real” manner, which surprisingly didn’t jar, as it has with many other authors.

“We shouldn't have to go around congratulating each other for behaving with basic human dignity.”

Thomas Senlin is a headmaster who has been fascinated with the Tower of Babel, and is finally going to see it in the flesh with his newly married wife. He is morally upstanding, conforms to social standards, and is what most would label as quite a dull person. This is why I found Bancroft’s character so brilliant. He turned Senlin’s essentially ordinary and largely bland personality into a driving force of the story, as the sole PoV, that made it so much better.

The plot was constantly evolving and always pulled me along to listen to each and every word, subtly dropping clever hints that I noticed but could not successfully resolve, and many that I imagine I missed out on as well. It would be interesting to read this again at some point in the future to appreciate everything that Bancroft incorporated to form such a vibrant and full story.

The Tower of Babel is one of the most unique settings I have read about, with places ranging from slums to the leisure places of the upper-class and ruling parties. I look forward to more of this world being explored further on in the series.

“It is easier to accept who you’ve become than to recollect who you were.”

Senlin Ascends is a book that I would recommend to practically all fantasy readers, despite it perhaps not adhering to their usual type of read.

Profile Image for Luna. ✨.
92 reviews1,233 followers
July 6, 2017

“I am the riddle in the mouth of the Sphinx. I am the slaver that chews the living chain. I am the farmer of dead seeds, the filler of holes. Who am I?”

Buddy read with this whacky squad - Dewi, Chumlee, Mantis Shrimp and Choko.

Let me just start by saying there's a lot of HYPE around how good this book is and I must say I fell victim to the HYPE and loved every second of it. Don't hate me because I'm hypey.
This book was whacky, fun, amazing and absolutely wonderful . I am actually so glad I found this treasure of a book, it isn't a favorite but it definitely blew my mind.
The writing was smooth and flawless, Josiah Bancroft has a very unique writing style, I can't even compare his writing to another author because to be honest I've actually never read anything like this before. I envy his writing skills, he is so talented it's ridiculous and guess what? This is a debut novel. So I'm expecting fantastic things from this author in the future. I'm going to keep this review spoiler free, so if I'm vague on details I'm sorry I just don't want to spoil this book for you. It's a must read for all avid readers.

"Their deaths (in stories)were boastful and lyrical and always, always more romantic than real. Death was not an end. It was an ellipsis. There was no romance in the scene before him. There were no ellipses here. The bodies lay upon the ground like broken exclamation points.”

The plot is really weird/different and it also had some badass moments and a fair bit of gore (yay). So it pretty much ticked all the boxes. If you don't like this book your mudding crazy.
I did have a tiny little minuscule problem, it did get boring and lose some of the weird acid trip vibes around the middle, however that ending truly made up for everything it was lacking. I want to fangirl over this book FOREVER. This book is a masterpiece.

So basically it is about the Tower of Babel. Tom Senlin & his wife Marya go on their honeymoon to the tower, both coming from a simple small village are shocked when they see how huge the tower is. They arrive in the Markets which is crowded and extremely busy, Marya wants to buy sexy lingerie. Tom is the biggest prude on earth and can't think of anything worse then looking at woman look at bras, the thought alone makes him blush, lol. So he tells Marya to meet him at a sock stand. Marya never returns and Tom is sent on a wild goose chase through the tower, but to Tom's dismay his Everman Guide to the tower didn't explain how strange the tower actually is. Nothing goes Tom's way and he finds himself to in the most bizarre situations.
"the tower is a tar pit. Once you put a toe in her, you're caught forever. No one leaves. No one goes home."
The tower is basically made up of different ringdoms. Every level is different and every level offers it known strange theme. The basement which was my favorite level had Beer-me-go-rounds where you would receive free beer by powering it up. So it's official guys, I'm moving to this basement, for free beer.. Anyway the tower is literally a maze we only got to see the "lower ringdoms" so I'm excited to continue with this series and get my mind blown some more. Senlin Ascends definitely doesn't lack creativity. A very unpredictable story with lovable characters.description
My favorite character was Marya, I fell in love with her very early on in the story. Her eccentricity attracted me straight away. '"And you, sir, did you find my playing unusual?” "You meant it to be unusual. You are proud of your strangeness,” he said'. I also fell inlove with her relationship with Tom. Holy shit I love them, they are literally the cutest couple ever. It was a very realistic, a real heart tugger (crying fake tears).
Now her husband Tom Senlin is also another amazing character, his character development through this book was awesome. Tom continuously changed throughout the story, by the end he was no longer a prudish headmaster. He actually became a prudish, clever, determined animal. There was one moment in this, he literally gave me goosebumps nerd turned badass gangster: "What does the key open?” ____ asked in his distracted, almost dreamy way. Senlin cleared his muddy throat. He teetered on his feet and said without inflection, “You.” He pulled the small trigger inside the key’s bow.' He is my precious and I'm currently in the process of adopting him.
I did have another favorite character but I can't talk about him because he was the bad guy. But I will tell you a secret *starts whispering* his fucking badass.

I strongly recommend this book to all fantasy lovers. People who don't read fantasy but are looking for something different, this is definitely the book for you. Please everyone read this piece of art, you won't regret it.


- Every Man’s Tower, One Man’s Travails by T. Senlin
Profile Image for Samir.
111 reviews177 followers
September 8, 2019
Hype is a bad thing. It raises expectations and sets the bar high so there is only one possible outcome; it gives the book a polarizing effect.

I wanted to find out is the hype around this book justified and when I was done reading it there was only one answer: I don't know.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the book (hence the four stars) but I don't think of it as one the best I've read or that was amazing as most of the reviews show. But it is certainly different. In a good way.

The story begins with an introduction of Senlin and his wife Marya,who are traveling to the Tower of Babel, their honeymoon destination. But shortly after their arrival Marya is lost in the crowd and thus begins Senlin's quest, a search for his significant other.

When I draw the line, there wasn't much happening plot wise in the first half of the book. I got an impression that the first half of the book is a symbolism art depicting different levels of society through Ringdoms (levels of the Tower), society full of decadence in all aspects, a world Senlin never experienced before. This focus on world-building and lack of progress story wise can be off-puting for some readers who expect a bit more action and even discourage them to go on but I never had such issues.

Don't think of Senlin as a classical hero destined to save the day, or in this case, a damsel in distress. Think of him as a regular, slightly conservative man trying to defeat the system, a Don Quixote, if you will, fighting against windmills, windmills of course being a symbol of obstacles we encounter in our society, obstacles we can hardly skip over, a symbol of a fight that can't be won. Or maybe it can because Senlin's quest to find his wife is a symbol of force that drives him forward, forcing him to step out of his comfort zone and that is the moment when the story picks up the pace and we are presented with an interesting turn of events, events that involve scheming, betrayal, assassination and some great action sequences ending this book with a bang and setting the ground for the sequel.

One thing that I found amazing was the writing. This was one of the most beautiful prose I've ever encountered and it is hard to believe that this is a debut novel.

“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.”

Very mysterious and unpredictable, a thought-provoking book, a book that may not appeal to everyone but it appealed to me and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
489 reviews39k followers
September 4, 2020
This book was utterly chaotic and it was wonderful. This was like the pounding and rushing sensation after the fall of a rollercoaster but right before it reaches that highest peak, before dropping down again.

It was dizzyingly drastic and delightful. I loved the progress of this book; the main character, Thomas Senlin, literally and figuratively, ascends into a hero we all root and empathize with. This was no 'mary sue' or 'the chosen one' moment or story. Senlin is flawed, naive, and frustratingly unaware of most of his surroundings and their deeper intents and darker purposes. What he does excel in tho, is the act of what it means to be human, or extending the hand of 'human kindness'. What exactly does conjure up the image of what it means to survive but still abide in the decency of what it means to be human, to treat others like so?

This book was surprising and every way an adventure into the unknown, the bliss of danger, and figuring out if love can prevail and overcome any obstacle. To me— to this reader, so far, Love has proven to be a sufficient and formidable force of nature. Isn't so that in the fairy tales and stories we read as children, love conquers all? This story, this book, is no different.

Not without its own problems of course, but me, being of simple mind and body and soul, found this book to be extremely hard to navigate in terms of understanding.....well EVERYTHING. To the descriptions of certain buildings, the layout of the every different lever of the Tower, to the dialogue of the characters.....I had a hard time grasping it all with my weak ass mind. I don't really know what this says about me or my imagination or lack thereof, but I still thoroughly enjoyed my time here at the Tower of Babel and look forward to ascending through these treacherous levels; pray for me to reach the top, if I ever will.

Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,114 followers
November 23, 2019
"We have society, but we are alone. We have light, but we have no sun. The Tower sucks our lives and gives us only a little diversion and a little death."

Loved this!

A truly fantastic and original fantasy! Thomas Senlin is newly married and heading on his honeymoon to the Tower of Babel, a tower with more levels than anyone really can be sure of. The tower is famous in its mystery, and everyone wants to go there.

However, shortly after arriving, Senlin and his wife become separated. They were supposed to be staying on the third level of the tower; The Baths, so Senlin decides to make his way there.

The people he meets and the scrapes he gets into are just brilliant. This Tower is full of criminals and strange rules. From the beer carousels on Level 1 to the world of actors on Level 2.

As Senlin makes his way up the Tower, he makes both friends and enemies. His character development is fantastic. He is such a great protagonist, from the shy intelligent headteacher to a brave hero .

I am so up for Book 2!

"The Tower is only as tall as the man that climbs it."
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews884 followers
August 4, 2022
I think one needs to be in a mood for something a tad bizarre in order to fully enjoy this quirky novel. Like: you agree to read a book but it turns out that it is an out loud reading. And you must be dressed up (pirate’s uniform is provided). And then if you do not read it, somebody you do not know but surely could befriend - dies. Yes, you can withdraw but we are putting a tattoo on your forehead in such an unfortunate case (no, you cannot choose the pattern).

This is precisely what happens to Thomas Senlin and his new bride Marya who are visiting the wonder of the Babel Tower for their honeymoon. They think they are into a whimsy, adventure and romance because this is how the Tower is advertised. What they get instead is something neither of them expects nor is prepared for. So this is a book about transcending oneself during painful metamorphosis, about growing, reaching one’s potential or whatever poetic phrase you’d like to use to describe this process of leaving behind the known and comfortable and facing the unknown and challenging.

“The Tower is only as tall as the man that climbs it.”

It sounds like pretty much your average YA coming-of-age fantasy but if you take the main protagonist into consideration, you will immediately understand that the Author aims at something extraordinary, because he attempts the above not via an unformed adolescent but with a mature man. Not only mature, but also consolidated (ossified even) in his views, and habits and dreams. His are the views, and habits, and dreams of a small man. Thomas is shy, somewhat rigid, a natural introvert, principled to the point of being pompous and so naive that nearly bordering on silly. A man who loses wife first thing after leaving the train, for two days does nothing, and then goes on much longer simply clinging to his delusions.

Such an individual is about the last person you’d pitch against any kinds of tests and trials. Nobody you’d put your bet on. A headmaster of a backwater school, that is to say—a puffed up nobody—coming to heads with the real masters of the world? Impossible. And yet, Mr Bacncroft achieves it. Desperate times call for a desperate man and Thomas is nothing if not desperate. I was amazed to discover how subtly this sanctimonious fool transformed from somebody I didn’t like to somebody I found myself cheering for. Somebody shrewd enough to understand that everything he considered to be a virtue is a flaw and what he believed a luxury is a necessity.

“Do not accept a little death! Demand a great, booming demise!”

But it also means that it might take you some time to warm up for this novel. I thought it would be a 2-star tread at first as the beginning is ludicrous and slow, and I was half disgusted half pitying the main character and not that interested in his progress at all. I really started liking the story once Thomas got into the second level, enjoying the book only in the third ringdom, and fully appreciating the intricate design of it all in the fourth one. This is when it becomes evident that as Thomas ascends, and makes both friends and enemies, every detail matters and is masterly worked into a grand scheme of things. Every little encounter, sentence, trifle - does count and indeed brings fruit! The final part is amazing in this regard.

Even though the beginning might seem slow, the book is very well written. Beautiful prose, well designed chapters and wonders of an original and well-developed world. I liked how the Author incorporated the flashbacks and personal reflections into the tale. They were toned and didn’t disrupt the flow of the story but provided the necessary context for many events and decisions, also concerning characters other than the protagonist himself.

“If you wander off, we’ll meet again at the top of the tower.”

Some of my friends disliked this book on the grounds that it objectifies women because Thomas goes to the rescue of his hapless wife. I did not mind this setup because even the short glimpses into Marya’s affairs make apparent that pianos are not the only things she is able to effortlessly detune but that she does the same with other people’s sinister machinations. It is evident that Marya is far more resourceful and entrepreneurial than her husband . Therefore, for me the book is not about a mediocre male “saving” a damsel in distress. It is, first and foremost, a story about how much we need love, and how love allows us to ascend. Thomas’ evolution, infinitesimally slow and incremental, happens because he loves. And his love is as beautiful as it is powerful. This is the force that enables him to become more than the sum of his adventures and misfortunes.

Despite the slow start, and some personal pet peeves, I discovered that the first instalment in The Books of Babel does take the reader to new heights with each passing chapter. I finished breathless and with my head spinning; the feeling very similar to the one you have gaining altitude too quickly. And I am very much looking forward to continuing this climb.

Also in the series:

2. Arm of the Sphinx ★★★★☆
3. The Hod King ★★★★☆
4. The Fall of Babel ★★★☆☆
Author 1 book360 followers
February 28, 2017
When I first laid eyes on this book, I felt that it isn't my sort of thing. I knew that I wouldn't like it.
When I witnessed all the recent hype about it, I thought that it would be short lived. I knew that I wouldn't like it.
When I was given the first book, I felt compelled to read it, but still, I was sure that I wouldn't like it.
I liked it...

Senlin and Marya are newlyweds on their honeymoon. What better destination could they chose than the Tower of Babel; an immense building of unknown high, where every floor is a completely different world. But Senlin learns the hard way that not everything is like it was promised in his guidebook. When his loses his wife in the crowd, his is left with only one option. To ascend the whole Tower and meet her again on the top. Thieves, Tyrants, Traitors, Men-turned-killing-machines and women with metal arms are nothing but mere obstacles in his way.

"If the law is malleable, Mr. Senlin, if it bends and conforms to man, then man will become resolute in his flaws. The law exists to give shape to man's ideals. When you think about it, doesn't mercy serve the wicked at the expense of the law?"

Senlin Ascends is an enchanting and exquisite tale that delivers οn every front. I was fascinated by the combination of Bancroft's immense imagination and his ability to ground this story in reality. The setting was as powerful as the characters, with power plays and backstabbings and enigmas that were illuminated by the characters' own actions while the story unfolds page by page. The wonderful prose is enriched with the excellent use of proverbial expressions, Ad Hominems, and the Protagonist's imminent catharsis.

All in all, Josiah Bancroft's debut is a fascinating story and an admirable paradigm of the rare occasion where excellent prose, productive imagination, and intellectual creativity are masterfully intertwined, creating a story of untold beauty.

You can find more of my reviews over at http://BookNest.eu/
464 reviews401 followers
January 3, 2018
Ah yes, the book that began my love of indie writing – I read this book a long time ago before I really had any kind of reviewing style. It was a short paragraph about me ranting “THIS BOOK IS AMAZING, BUY IT”. So, I’m redoing the review to give it the fleshed out review it deserves!

Senlin and his new wife are going on a honeymoon, he takes her to the Tower of Babel which is a very popular tourist spot. The pedestrian traffic around the Tower is immense, and so is the Tower itself. It would dwarf mountains and most other fantasy architecture. It’s absolutely enormous and I’ve found a picture online that demonstrates the sheer scale of the Tower.

Senlin becomes separated from his wife with all the hustle and bustle going on, and he has to find her. That may sound like an ‘eh’ plot – but the things he has to go through to try and find her are amazing and kept me turning pages until the wee hours of the night.

Senlin starts at the bottom of the Tower, where the lowest of the low stay and start their journey. The first Ringdom is dirty, crowded and suffocating. There are so many people in there it’s definitely not for those who are claustrophobic – think of the largest Indian or Chinese city and magnify it.

All along the way Senlin doesn’t know who to trust, or what to do. Each Ringdom is the size of a CITY, and he’s trying to find one person lost among the crowd.

The second Ringdom is by far the craziest – it’s a city that’s dedicated to plays and acting – but people have gone insane and start murdering each other. He has to run to get to the next Ringdom which is almost like Roman opulence. There are baths, artwork, fine food and drink and hotels. All the while he’s meeting some super interesting people, I think John Tarrou was my favorite. He becomes a “friend” of Senlin and sort of gives him the run down on how things work in the third Ringdom, including the fact that if you run out of money you’ll be seized by authorities and turned into a Hod (slave).

Final Score: 9/10

The first book in this series is single POV, all seen through the eyes of Senlin. He starts out rather fuddy duddy, very stiff and very sure of himself and his guidebook – which is the worst guidebook in the history of guidebooks. It always leads him down the wrong path and watching him grapple with what he thinks he knew, and what the reality of the situation is was fascinating. He had a lot of growth from beginning to end which was great to see, and by the second book he’s almost a totally different person. He really grows and learns how to think and fend for himself rather than relying on knowledge from his past.

Final Score: 9/10

World Building:
The Tower is mysterious, no one knows how many Ringdoms there really are, or how the Tower itself was built or who built it. There are a lot of theories floating around, but no one has a full map of the Tower.

Hods are slaves that have either broken the rules or run out of money, they are all over the Tower usually using alternate stairwells and it’s possible they are part of what keeps the Tower running.

The Red Hand is a creepy and terrifying “policeman” that enforces the law in the third Ringdom. The scenes with him had me on the edge of my seat – he injects some kind of red substance into himself and becomes ridiculously powerful, able to rip heads from peoples bodies. Senlin gets on his bad side and it was intense to read about.

Steampunk elements are everywhere, and there’s a touch of animal fantacism as well with giant snails crawling up the walls.

Final Score: 9/10

The pacing of the book started out slower, you’re getting to know the character and get introduced to the world, but the more you get into it the fast it goes.

The tone is definitely adventurous, exploring all of the Ringdoms with Senlin was a lot of fun.

The writing in this book is absolutely phenomonal. It’s one of the best written books I’ve ever read – I’m not usually into more flowery writing, I find it can take away and distract me from the story. But, with this book I was absolutely enamored with the writing and I immediately picked up the next book.

Pacing Final Score: 8/10

Writing Final Score: 10/10

This takes the cake on originality, I’ve never read anything like this before ever, not just this year or last year. The Tower was a completely new experience for me, as was basically everything else about this book.

Final Score: 10/10

For people looking for something very different
For people who like adventure stories
For people who like single pov
For poeple who want excellent prose
For people who like steam punk
Final Score: 55/60 or 9.2/10
Profile Image for Paul O’Neill.
Author 3 books185 followers
April 5, 2017
You need to read this! Don't read the blurb, dive in blind (which is the best way to read any book).

This is one surprisingly awesome adventure through an entirely original world. It is hard to compare it. I'd describe it as a fantasy, high speed thriller. Also made me think of charlie and the chocolate factory for some reason.

I will definitely pick up book two soon and this author deserves all the props for writing one of the best books I've read this year.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,184 followers
November 25, 2020
“Up is not at all a straightforward direction.”

A book like “Senlin Ascends” is tricky to describe: it’s speculative fiction that mashes together historical fiction, urban fantasy and steampunk-y sci-fi in a rather dizzying way. It’s also tricky to review, because the least you know about it, the more enjoyable it is! But let me try to tell you about it as coyly as possible, so that you still enjoy every flipping of its pages.

Thomas Senlin is the headmaster of a school, in a small seaside town in an alternate version of what most of us would think of as the Middle East, at an indeterminate time in history. He is a stern man who led a quiet, almost rigid life before his somewhat hasty wedding to the lively Marya, a young woman from his small town. For their honeymoon, they decide to go on a journey Senlin has dreamt of his entire life: to the Towel of Babel. The legendary structure has always fascinated him, but the great cost and distance of travelling to it as prevented him from experiencing its wonders in any form besides the pages of his faithful travel guide. Alas, the young couple as only been off the train for a few minutes when Marya vanishes in the bustling crowd surrounding the Tower. Senlin suddenly finds himself alone, in the strangest, wildest place he has ever been, and here, his intellect, good manners and poise will not help him find Marya. He will have to learn the ways of the Tower if he is to make his way up, where his bride had promised to meet him.

Senlin is one of the strangest, most unlikely protagonist I have come across in a long time. He is unlikable and inept, completely out of his depth in the lawless place he suddenly finds himself in - but what better guide could a reader ask to explore this Kafkaesque world Bancroft created? We blindly follow him up (and sometimes down) as he realizes that his guidebook in no way prepared him for the reality of the Tower, and that everything he thought he knew about it was a quaint fantasy.

The world building is so ingenuous and unique: try to imagine civilizations that have never touched the ground! I loved what Ted Chiang did with the same basic idea in “Stories of Your Life” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but Bancroft tells a very different story, one that is not about divine engineering, but more about what it means to come out of one’s shell and face the unexpected life is sure to throw at you. The side characters Senlin encounters on his way “up” are all interesting, and their interactions and roles in his story deepen the world building. Everyone keeps telling him that there are no “friends” in the tower, but Senlin has a heart, and he learns to use it as a weapon – and not as the weakness it is presumed to be.

There is such an interesting thought experiment here on the difference between living in books and living in the real world. This is a theme that I am sure many bookworms will feel strongly about: to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, I have lived in books almost more than I have lived in the real world, and while that is often a good thing, I sometimes wonder if it doesn’t mean I might have missed out on some stuff (not to mention that it gave me very unrealistic expectations on quite a few things, which led to serious disappointments down the road…). Senlin is like that: an armchair explorer, an armchair stargazer, an armchair adventurer. Nothing he has ever read could have prepared him for what it means to suddenly have to be a man of action when quiet reflection has always been more his thing.

I was not sure what I was getting into with “Senlin Ascends”, but I must say it was a very rewarding leap of faith. I am very excited about the sequel! 4 and a half stars, rounded up.
September 17, 2020
· Well Well Well This Didn't Go Quite As Planned Surprise Surprise Buddy Read (WWWTDGQAPSSBR™) with My Dearest of Wives, The Ex Noob, The New Noob and The Girl with the Mostest Awesomest Name Ever ·

💀 DNF at 69%. 256 pages that felt like 10,589. Go me.

Actual rating: 2.5 stars. Yeah, I'm generous like that.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I DNFed read this one wrong.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that this overhyped book is one glorious masterpiece of originality and creativity , wackiness , darkness and grittiness and goredom , excitement , and general awesomeness .

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I should be kicked out of Goodreads for being so damn contrary all the time and callous enough to dare voice my mistaken, incorrect, faulty, erroneous opinion. Such outrageously revolting behavior should NOT be tolerated! I should be profoundly, deeply, acutely ashamed of my little self for not fully appreciating the wonderful wonderfulness of this wonderfully wonderful specimen of self-published literature. And, I deserve to be severely, intensely, thoroughly, seriously, vigorously punished for my lack of discernment .

And you know what else I know? That I didn't because it wasn't so I won't be and I'm not but do I still want to be? Hell yeahneed a decoder for this one? That's so sad, I am momentarily out of stock.

» And the moral of this I DNF Therefore I Am Crappy Non Review (IDTIACNR™) is: there is a slight possibility that I might possibly not be entirely enthused by the idea of reading the next instalment in this most wondrous series. But hey, you never know, miracles happen sometimes. I mean, I could also unexpectedly turn out to be slightly overwhelmed by the need to stay the hell away from book 2. Never say never and all that crap.

» And the other moral of this I DNF Therefore I Am Crappy Non Review (IDTIACNR™) is: come one, Edward, let's bail.

[Pre review nonsense]

I loved this book. I really did. It's just that it didn't love me back. Damn, it sucks so much to be me sometimes.

The world might be falling apart, but Groucho Marx will always save the day. Always.

►► Full I'm as Excited at the Thought of Writing this Crappy Non Review as I Was While Reading this Book Yay Crappy Non Review Yay (IaEatToWtCNRaIwWRtBYCNRY™) to come.
Profile Image for Matt's Fantasy Book Reviews.
264 reviews3,946 followers
March 28, 2022
A fun journey in a unique fantasy world

Senlin Ascends is a fascinating book that really grips you from the start, especially if you are into fantasy books already due to it's unique spin on fantasy. This book is ultimately about a man moving up incredibly unique floors in a fantastical tower. It has an episodic feel to it, which works in it's benefit unlike some other fantasy books that attempt the same.

I'm held off on giving 5 stars because I thought the ending was pretty weak, but overall I would recommend this book and look forward to reading the next one.

Check out my new youtube channel where I show my instant reactions to reading fantasy books seconds after I finish the book.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
August 7, 2018
There's a lot to love in this book. I was quite on the edge giving this a chance when I first picked it up, but the whole damn idea of having a full adventure in the mythical Tower of Babylon just struck all my fancies at once. I remember Ted Chiang's short story about the Tower of Babylon so fondly... I just had to imagine it taken as a full novel.

So how did this pan out? Wonderfully! Maybe not the same level as Chiang, but when dealing with a tower that not even airships can reach the top levels and whole cities are contained within, we're dealing with a delicious idea-driven fantasy with a world-building potential with LEGS.

Good? Good. And while it doesn't go all out with the Babylon run, it does strike out a super-solid Steampunk adventure through and through. Focus on a slightly sanctimonious headmaster with his new bride, take them to Babylon as the super-rubes as they are, and then tear them to pieces.

So nice. :) Innocence becomes an adventure to reach the top to find his missing wife as the mean streets of dirty London... ahem, I mean the Basement of Babel, steals, lies, and cheats every noob that lands on its doorsteps. Move on to the whole haves and have-nots in the bathhouses in the third level, or the hucksters in the second, and turn it into a heist novel, a revolutionary novel, a PIRACY novel.

Am I impressed? Sure! I mean, all these elements are pretty commonplace in fantasy anyway, but when you ply them with a deft hand and make sure the awesome core of the Tower of Babylon is still at the core, and I've got to say we've got something pretty original going on here.

I RESPECT original. It's not WILD original, though. It's solid fun, turning steampunk on a brand-new almost hard-SF edge while bringing in a lot of elements of the old Babylonian society all the while. And we have airships. I likey. :)

So many of those steampunk novels have been kinda... lacking. This one seems to do it RIGHT. :) Because it's not really steampunk. It's just plain creative. :)
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,096 reviews17.7k followers
January 1, 2020
This book was so much fun. Following a normally shy teacher who ascends a mysterious and mythic tower in search of his missing wife, Senlin Ascends brings both the intrigue and the magic to the table.

Senlin Ascends follows schoolmaster Thomas Senlin as he looks for his wife, lost on a vacation to the Tower. As he attempts to look for her up the first six levels of the tower, he meets a large array of strange characters… and perhaps learns a little courage and determination, along the way.

This book loves the unexpected, and the random, and the dark and weird. This world is excellently crafted, with each level holding a different story.

My favorite thing about this book, I think, was the fantastic cast of distinguished and compelling side characters.

I really feel like all of these female characters feel very realized for a book written in 2013 by a man, and am hoping that trend continues on to later books. I also enjoyed how this works as a takeoff of the dead-wife-motivator trope: while Marya does not appear within much of the actual book, we get a good sense that she is not only brave, but very clever. While Senlin’s motivation is certainly to find his wife, she is not only a motivator.

What I really liked about this story was that it contained so many incredible plot reveals. It is a very particular talent to turn seemingly random details into an interesting plot reveal. I figured out a few plot twists, but that’s okay: there were always more to impress me. It’s also just very satisfying seeing all the pieces come together into a fantastic reveal. Worldbuilding this detailed is hard to make noteworthy to a plot.

Saying anything else about this would start giving way to spoilers, so here we are: any fans of fantasy that’s more full of mystery and intrigue than epic will really enjoy this. I’m excited to see what book two holds in store!

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Profile Image for Anthony Ryan.
Author 68 books8,607 followers
January 30, 2019
Josiah Bancroft’s narrative of the travails suffered by stiff-backed headmaster Thomas Senlin as he ascends the fabled Tower of Babel in search of his lost wife is truly a box of delights. Bancroft displays a Dickens-like gift for characterisation in the unique and memorable cast populating a world as absurd as it is frightening. The setting mixes occasional almost dreamlike weirdness reminiscent of both Lewis Carol and Douglas Adams with a hard-edged sense of omnipresent danger. As he climbs ever higher Senlin begins to understand the Tower as a place designed to strip the humanity from its occupants, and yet his own trials forge him into a stronger and more compassionate soul who one day might actually become a hero.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews684 followers
January 5, 2019
4ish stars.

There comes a point after reading a certain number of "magic school" or "sword and sorcery" novels, when it can be hard to believe that there are any stories left that haven't already been told three or four times. Luckily there are still books like this one that are just familiar enough to be recognizable, but are otherwise in a league of their own. It's sort of like a steampunk adventure version of Breaking Bad meets The Hobbit? Try telling me you've already read that one.

It's almost a surprise that it works so well. Thomas Senlin isn't the most sympathetic lead character, he's pompous and bumbling and foolish, but his journey through the tower is never anything less than fascinating. There isn't a plot so much as a series of various misadventures as Senlin ascends (my favorite is the parlor - who comes up with this stuff?!). He searches for his lost wife but she could just as easily have been replaced with a priceless stolen boot or something for all she contributes. Hopefully she eventually ends up making an appearance as an actual human rather than just a damsel in distress plot point.

The prose is precise and descriptive. The world is vibrant and stimulating. This is a confident, creative debut novel and I'm interested to see what else the tower has in store. Audiobook narration by John Banks is really enjoyable.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Choko.
1,221 reviews2,594 followers
February 7, 2017
*** 4.35 ***

A buddy read with my friends @ BB&B! Because we love great writing!!!

What a great find! When I decided to join on the buddy read for this book, I had only seen the beautiful cover - I miss this type of art on the currently publishing trends .. I had no idea what the book is about and from the name surmised that it must be about the strife of humanity to reach g-d like power. So, being a reader who is up for anything, I thought it looked interesting and after all, what could it hurt?

Well, I have to say, this book did hurt. First, the writing style was so beautiful and simple at the same time, it was a painful reminder of how often all of us are being subjected to mediocre and sub-par all the way down to incompetently written works, to the point that when we encounter a thoughtful and well crafted work, it seems like a rare treasure!

Second, it hurt my soul seeing this vision of the way humanity could have gone if G-D never destroyed the Tower of Babel... The land of Ur, the Tower becoming the center of human culture and advancement. Those who have been given the chance of generations to climb up the "ringdoms" of the Tower and have never stepped outside of its construction, see themselves as higher beings than anyone of "lower" birth. The author gives us a very disturbing and cruel picture of the human condition by juxtaposing the Babel life with the experiences of an optimistic but somewhat starched schoolmaster and his new wife, who come to the Tower for their honeymoon. Although not a very young man, he is full of idealistic views and ideals, wanting to believe only the best of people. His wife is a perfect match for him, despite being younger, because she awakens in him a sense of Whimsy and color in his black and white personality. This bright eyed couple, which we could easily identify with, gets separated almost from the start and we spend the book with Tom Senlin on his frantic search up the Tower for his lovely Marya. The human decay he is faced with is absolutely horrifying!!! It tries to change him and shape him in its own image, and the valiant battle Senlin wages to keep his basic values is vicious and violent. My soul was deeply hurt by the selfish and indifferent way people treated each other. The division of class which comes with the levels of the Tower and the cheapening of values and dignity the lower you are, are only some of the painful examples the author makes us consider. In the tumultuous political and social upheaval we find ourselves today, I can only pray that we can be as strong in spirit and grounded in decency as Senlin shows himself to be!!!!!!!

And lastly, it hurts to be the reader, a person outside the action of the story, not only because it would be awesome to enter this imaginative but so real world, but because of not being able to reach out to the protagonist in some of his most difficult and lonely moments and share his pain with him. The way the Tower culture strips the person to the bare bones, rips away all sense of community, culture as a food for the soul, not a currency exchange, and makes the individual live either lost in the oblivion of slave labor, drunken stupor, basic instinct of survival, or mindless persuites of the flesh, is painful and demoralizing!!! I felt like weeping for the sparks of humanity which were extinguished by the Tower reality. It once again restored my commitment to rejecting the temptation to give in to the bitterness and hate those who want to reduce us to mindless slaves in spirit if not in action, keep trying to bait us to surrender to. We have to be better than that! Senlin manages to learn the rules of his new reality, but stays firm on his beliefs and I personally want to be him when I grow up ☺☺☺!!!

As I went on this tangent, I need not point out how deeply this book affected me. The thoughtfully structured plot had some slower parts, but they didn't bother me, because they felt like quiet moments for us to surrender to the melancholy of the loneliness Senlin was experiencing... They added to the intimate connection we developed with him and his tribulations... The prose was immaculate and being a first in a series of three, we are left with an open ending, looking forward to the next chapter in the ascending of Senlin up the uncharted hights of the Tower!!!
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