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Fearing an uprising, the Sphinx sends Senlin to investigate a plot that has taken hold in the ringdom of Pelphia. Alone in the city, Senlin infiltrates a bloody arena where hods battle for the public's entertainment. But his investigation is quickly derailed by a gruesome crime and an unexpected reunion.

Posing as a noble lady and her handmaid, Voleta and Iren attempt to reach Marya, who is isolated by her fame. While navigating the court, Voleta attracts the unwanted attention of a powerful prince whose pursuit of her threatens their plan.

Edith, now captain of the Sphinx's fierce flagship, joins forces with a fellow wakeman to investigate the disappearance of a beloved friend. She must decide who to trust as her desperate search brings her nearer to the Black Trail where the hods climb in darkness and whisper of the Hod King.

As Senlin and his crew become further dragged in to the conspiracies of the Tower, everything falls to one question: Who is The Hod King?

608 pages

First published January 22, 2019

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About the author

Josiah Bancroft

14 books3,255 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 1,172 reviews
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
August 7, 2023
As an author I know there’s an inevitable degree of fear when you cast your book out on the waters of the reading public and offer them the chance to tell you that your baby is ugly, or worse … average.

I’m less familiar with the other side of the equation, the fear that a long awaited and much anticipated book will not capture the magic held by earlier books from the same author. In a series this can be a particularly sharp anxiety as the author holds in their hands the legacy of beloved characters. To see that squandered would be a sad thing.

This is a long book. Not a George RR Martin doorstop, but substantially longer than anything I’ve written. And … let me end your suspense … it is not merely a 5* book, it’s a masterpiece.

The recent explosion of adoration for these books doesn't surprise me. What shocks me is that it's not much bigger. I’m not surprised that Senlin Ascends made the Goodreads Choice Award semi-final, just sad that it didn’t make the final. My prediction is that readers will be talking about these books long after much of what currently keeps them company on the shelves is forgotten.

Reading these books makes me feel as if I'm a really clever intellectual sharing in something magnificent that only a rarefied few could appreciate. When of course that is the genius of the writing. Actually the series is highly accessible and loved by many, as witnessed by the high ratings and general praise.

To the book then! It’s no secret that I love Bancroft’s prose. If the story were mediocre this book would squeeze 5* from me just because of the razor sharp wit edging the lines. The descriptions deliver whole personas in a single line. In context they are amazing, even in isolation they are impressive. They encapsulate new characters immediately:

Lady Xenia de Clarke talked with the urgency of a burst pipe.

Or deliciously remind you why you love familiar ones:

Voleta surveyed her options miserably. "I think humanity peaked at the spoon, don't you?"

"And I will tell you again, if you ever eat your fish with a spoon, I will appear out of thin air wherever you are in the world, snatch the spoon from your hand, and rap you on the head with it!"

The observational wit had me chuckling on many occasions and I am not given to chuckling.

The Hod King is a masterclass in contrast. In the book a particular ride is described as including a ponderous rise and a sudden terrifying fall. The story begins with a similarly slow (but fascinating rise) then takes sudden appalling turn into darkness. After that it’s a sequence of dizzying highs and terrifying lows. Sometimes in the space of two lines. At one point I was starting to laugh at one line and startled out of it by the next line, one that made my face fall and had my eyes prickling. You’ll know it when you get there.

I read a chunk of this book on a trip to a hospital, a day on which I laughed out loud in a hospital foyer beside a bald skeletal child on chemo and later on the bus home had tears in my eyes while crammed on a bus beside a giant with world class, paint-peeling BO. And not from the ammonia stink … though that would have done it soon enough had I not opted to stand.

There is, on nearly every page, a line so weighted with warmth, wit, or humanity that it makes you pause to consider it. Sometimes all three at once.

A word on the plot, which will potentially have SPOILERS for book 1 & 2, so if you haven’t read them … go do that.

The books so far have centred on Senlin’s quest to find Marya. The previous book ended with us seeing that the Sphinx has located her. In The Hod King Senlin is sent to spy on the ringdom where Marya is. The story unfolds from Senlin’s point of view, and from those of Edith, Voleta, Iren, and Bryon. I love Bryon, he’s such a complex character and so artfully rude. Actually I love all of them. We spend a long time with each of them and it’s generally a leisurely stay, I never felt bounced around. The story telling device has us moving to a new character as the current one falls into peril but I was always captured by the new view on the unfolding but glorious mess. In several places we step back in time to see how the other characters separately arrive at some critical point. It’s all very well done and adds a nice multi-layering to some scenes.

The stakes are raised and raised again, both at the world level and at the character level. Bancroft is not gentle with us. Nobody feels safe. Nobody is safe. And the villains are oh so villainous, while at the same time being frighteningly ordinary and understandable. Take random people and allow wealth and a regimented class system to elevate them above the constraints of morality … and a fair few will become monsters.

Anyway. To conclude. I was thrilled by the story, wildly jealous of the writing, and am now very keen to read the final book.

If you’ve seen my ravings about the previous books. Well this was certainly as excellent, and very possibly better. I would have to re-read to be sure, but this one felt as if it raised the bar in terms of heart-in-the-mouth moments while maintaining the wonder and charm.

I will be sad to see the Books of Babel come to an end, but also (assuming that the last book is good) I'll have a strange sense of relief that the lid has been screwed on and that their legacy is safe, not at risk from the declining quality often seen in long running series.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
687 reviews45.9k followers
December 8, 2021
The Hod King is Bancroft’s best work so far; a novel that's stunning in originality enhanced with suspenseful and exciting moments.

Before I start my review, I would like to mention that, if you need a detailed summary of the series so far as I did, check out www.bookseriesrecaps.com for their great plot overviews—tons of spoilers, of course—of both Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx. I finished reading Arm of the Sphinx in July 2017 and since then I’ve read and reviewed almost 200 novels. Saying that I needed a reread of the series or at least a memory refreshment is a massive understatement. A reread is always preferable but if you’re being crushed by your TBR tower—I know you are—and don’t have the time to reread the series at the moment, this website is your solution; without it, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate this book without rereading the entire series. For the sake of making this review as spoiler-free as possible, I'll keep this review shorter than usual and there won't be any in-world characters’ names mentioned.

“My sense of being, my identity, whatever you want to call it, it doesn't reside in my parts. It lives in my past, and in the continuity of my present thoughts, and in my hopes for the future. I'm more afraid of losing a memory than a limb.”

Good things come in threes. This doesn’t mean that The Hod King is the last book of the series; it’s the third installment of The Books of Babel series by Josiah Bancroft, and it’s easily my favorite volume in the series so far. Additionally, Bancroft integrates the rule of three cleverly by using three different storylines, three different main POV characters, and three climax sequences to provide a perilous journey imbued with powerful drama, heartwarming moments, and spectacular character development that constantly escalates to reach an explosive and bloody convergence in the last section of the book. Plus, the novel was so superbly paced that even when the narrative felt a bit experimental—few head-hopping in Part II—and unconventional, I was never bored and I was thoroughly entertained by Bancroft’s diabolical imagination.

“All I know is that, at the end of the day, dreams don't matter, but neither does regret. We aren't what we want or wish for. We are only what we do.”

The story takes place entirely in the ringdom of Pelphia and it continues immediately from where the second book left off. The three main characters of this installment have their own personal mission to accomplish in the ringdom. Considering that this is the penultimate installment of the series, I highly appreciate that Bancroft shows the result of the character’s development wonderfully. These characters have overcome a lot of ordeals to reach where they are now. Seeing how much the conflicts they’ve faced in the tower so far have shaped them was immensely satisfying, to say the least. None of the characters stayed the same as they were when first introduced, their interactions with each other were compelling, and I truly enjoyed the way Bancroft juggled these characters’ perspectives to create strong connectivity in the storyline even when the characters were separated from each other.

“In my experience, the men that lean hardest on their titles are the ones who did nothing to earn them. I loathe men whose greatest accomplishment was being born.”

This book is a treasure trove for quotes, and as always, Bancroft’s prose is enviable. The Hod King is beautifully written, it shows Bancroft at the top of his writing game so far—though it will most likely will be toppled by his next book—as he implemented a lot of resonating themes such as love, loyalty, family, rich vs poor, and the importance of memories. The setting of this series may be filled with wonder but the depletion of energy caused by the poison of hope continues to ravage the citizens of the tower; the poor suffer, and tyranny rules.

“A man may rot like an egg: His shell does not show it, but all that is within him has gone foul.”

The story, characters, themes, settings, and prose are all reasons why I loved every moment spent reading this emotionally gripping book. I thought the novelty of the world-building within the series would’ve been lost by now, but I was proven wrong repeatedly here. The Hod King is a marvel that stitches immersive fantasy escapism, pulse-pounding steampunk adventure, and accessible literary prose into one tremendously impactful penultimate volume. By improving upon all the incredible aspects of the previous installments and setting the cinematic set pieces in an apt stopping place, the arrival of the last book is pretty much almost guaranteed to carve The Books of Babel into the reader’s hall of fame for being one of the best literary fantasy series they will ever read. I'll end this review by saying if you're craving an original fantasy series and yet haven't read this, fix that mistake now.

“I mean, who said music had to be such a serious thing? I find musicians who just plink through the notes like a music box to be horribly dull. Songs are emotional. It’s better to play sincere mistakes than lifeless perfection.”

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
January 1, 2020

ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Senlin Ascends ★★★★★
2.) Arm of the Sphinx ★★★★

“The world is full of wolves and lambs, but precious few shepherds.”

I can’t believe that Josiah Bancroft did it again, but he truly did it again. This is such a wonderful installment in a world that I never want to leave. This entire series is such a unique treat that is truly unlike any other fantasy out there. Every paragraph is so smart, every chapter so perfectly crafted, and each book makes me more and more invested. I am at such a loss for words because of this book’s pure magnificence, but I’m going to try to write this review anyway.

The basic, starting premise of this tale is that a man named Senlin, who is from a small fishing village, recently has gotten married to a woman named Marya. And on their honeymoon, he takes her to this mysterious tower that he is obsessed with, and each level inside this tower is completely unique and an entire world all on its own. Senlin comes equipped with a guidebook and feels confident that he and his new bride will be able to have a safe visit, that is, until his new bride goes missing before they even are able to set foot inside the mysterious tower together. And not to get too spoilery, but we are three books in, and he still hasn’t retrieved Marya, but we have gotten to travel alongside him discovering the individual beauty and horror of each unique level.

Yet, this book is set entirely in Pelphia. And this book is all about the Hods that are forced to live as servants for the rest of the tower. Even though each level of this tower is completely different and unique, the Hods are always present, traveling through the inhumane passages, that are completely unforgiving, but they are forced to walk though nonetheless. But the true mystery of the tower, that this book focuses on, is who is The Hod King and what they and their followers are up to.

“It’s possible, I think, to be so many things at once, that you’re practically nothing at all. If you crush a mountain and spread it across a continent, it doesn’t make little mountains; it just vanishes into dust.”

And this book did surprise me with switching perspectives a few times, but this book starts out with Senlin being sent on a very important mission by the Sphinx, which also happens to be in the same Ringdom that he believes Marya is currently living in. Senlin is truly at a crossroads in this book, and he needs to make a choice to listen to his heart and do what he feels is right, or to listen to his mind and trust in the friends he has made during his time in the tower.

This third installment shines a spotlight on abuse, abusers, and the cycle of abuse those abusers will use to keep their victims stuck in the cycle. This book shows that abusers can be charming, they can be charismatic, they can be leaders and pillars in their community, and abusers can fool you and others into thinking that they are not abusers. But none of these things will ever negate the fact that an abuser is an abuser, and this is a constant theme in The Hod King that I really appreciated. And I truly think that it was so well done, and it really meant a lot to me.

“If someone has absolute control over you, it’s easy to believe they have absolute power over everything and everyone. They can’t be defied or challenged or disobeyed, and every opportunity for escape just feels like a cruel test.”

I also think this book discusses how the tower is very much like our own world, where men view women as resources and investments. Whether that means getting and keeping a woman’s name in the spotlight, to ensuring one will carry your child, to just forcing women in molds that cater to men’s wants and desires. I think Josiah mirrors a lot of relevant themes in our world, but this theme was expertly done and really stood out to me. Especially with how we live in a world that is always expecting and asking more and more of women.

I want this review to be spoiler free, and I don’t want to make this review about the author whatsoever, but I just also wanted to add a little caveat that I think that Josiah becoming a father recently may have subconsciously (or consciously) worked its way into his writing. And, friends, I’m soft, and weak, and I truly think that this element is why The Hod King ended up being my favorite of the series so far. I am not a parent yet, but I think most people can understand that being a parent raises the stakes higher for every aspect of your life. We get to see this very much so in this book, and I completely adored it. I also loved the constant discussion on what it means to raise a child, and what makes a caregiver a parent. Found family is always at the heart of these novels, but it shined so beautifully though in this third installment.

I also loved the theme on how societies do not want to take care or even acknowledge impoverished and underprivileged areas. The rich would rather ignore and exploit the poor than to make a conscious effort to help improve their living conditions that would in turn improve the entire society. In 2014, city officials switched Flint's water supply to cut costs and poisoned an entire city. When I read Senlin Ascends two years ago, Flint was still without clean water. And in 2019, Flint is still without clean water, when powerful men in this world could easily fix an entire city’s plumbing without even noticing they donated the money. I don’t want to get too preachy, but Josiah is a really smart and really talented author, and the messages he wove throughout this book were not missed on me. And this entire story really shows that empathy could improve every world.

What else can I even say? Edith has my heart, Violet is such a badass, I want Iren and Ann to be my moms, because I would already die for that sapphic f/f side relationship, glimpses of Bryon, Goll, and Tarrou made my entire 2019 and we are only in the first month, and getting to learn a little bit about Marya felt like Christmas after being on this journey alongside Senlin for so long.

“I will find her. I will offer my help if she needs it, my heart if she wants it, my head, even if she would see it on a stake!”

Overall, I don’t think I’d fare as well at Tom has in this magical tower that has somehow taken root in my heart, but I’d love to be able to go nonetheless. I truly think that Josiah Bancroft’s storytelling is on a completely different plane of existence than any other SFF writer currently. I truly know that is a very bold sentence to write as a reviewer, but I truly mean it with my entire heart. These characters who I think are some of the best ever crafted, these themes that meant the world to me, these perfectly constructed sentences with a lyrical prose that leaves me highlighting quote after quote, these different adventures that are all completely enthralling, this hidden world that is unlike anything in literature, I am just left in complete and utter awe, friends. Just, please pick up Senlin Ascends if you haven’t already, and come gush with me forever about how astounding this series really is. This final book is truly going to slay me.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for slavery, abuse, torture, talk of human trafficking, murder, death, loss of a loved one, violence, captivity, abduction, and war themes.
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,343 followers
February 4, 2019
I received an advanced review copy of The Hod King in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Josiah Bancroft and Orbit Books for the opportunity.

When I concluded my review of Arm of the Sphinx I stated that I would be counting down the days until I could rejoin Senlin and his companions adventures in The Hod King. As soon as I received this novel all other books failed to exist to me until this was completed.

The narrative is mainly set within the Ringdom of Pelphia where our colourful cast split up in to smaller groups to complete objectives for the Sphinx. Senlin has to find out information regarding wagers and gambling in the Hod fighting pits, and the fact that Voletta needs to potentially infiltrate high society under the guise of a highborn lady are two examples of these assigned missions. It also transpires that Senlin's missing wife Marya lives in this Ringdom and is married to Duke Wilhelm Horace Pell. Marya has also become a major celebrity who is adored by Pelphia's citizens. With Marya finally within touching distance will Senlin focus on completing the Sphinx's strict objectives or go his own way and try to converse with his lost wife again? Bearing in mind that the Sphinx has eyes everywhere.

Stating that The Hod King is beautifully written does not actually give the quality showcased here enough justice. I can see The Books of Babel being literary classics that are taught at schools in a hundred years time in similar fashion to the adventure stories in Jules Verne's Extraordinary Voyages collection. The narrative starts off at a steady pace, almost massaging the beautiful descriptions, events and exceptional dialogue into our mind with intoxicating fashion. It is presented in such as exceptional way that when confrontations, heart-pounding action sequences, or 'are you kidding me?' twists occur the emotional punches are heightened to a breathless degree. There are three main parts to this narrative. Each following a different one Bancroft's players and each concludes phenomenally. I had to take a break to register what had just occurred and sometimes re-read the sections because they were that unbelievable but brilliantly constructed. Bancroft is a genius at work and every single entry in the series is getting better. Bearing in mind that The Hod King is probably the length of Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx combined.

Senlin, like many readers, is my favourite character in this series. Senlin Ascends was essentially the 'Thomas Senlin show' whereas Arm of the Sphinx fleshed out the players that were until that point merely side characters. The main point of view perspectives this time are Senlin, Voletta, and Edith. I must admit when Senlin's parts ended I uttered a sigh of annoyance, but within ten pages of the next new point of view I forgot about my issues and braced myself for the Tower's ride following these other players thoughts, agendas, missions, and planned end-game. Even incorporating the side members in the ensemble, there are no weak or 2d creations and this includes new characters that are presented for the first time here.

There are so many emotional scenes, amazing set-pieces, and charming intricacies that fill The Hod King to the brim. I enjoyed reading about the flying squirrel Squit, finding out more about Bryon, understanding the motives of the intriguing machine/ human hybrid pilot Reddleman, and getting an insight further into what the Hods are up to. Past enemies have to work together, betrayal could be around every corner and new alliances may be created when least expected. I would not try to predict for a second what will happen next as you'll just disappoint yourself. Just brace yourself for a hell of a rollercoaster journey through the beautiful and intricately crafted tower. I'm questioning myself as a reviewer as my words can't do this book justice. It's my equal top rated read ever on Fantasy Book Review. I will stop gushing now but press the pre-order button. Bancroft is a world-class literary author and I can't think of another writer who is better or more consistent right now. I can't wait to see how this all concludes in the series finale.
Profile Image for Matt's Fantasy Book Reviews.
264 reviews3,934 followers
April 27, 2022
Check out my new youtube channel where I show my instant reactions to reading fantasy books seconds after I finish the book.

One of the worst fantasy books I've ever read

I really hate to give such a bad rating here because I felt like the first book showed so much promise, and I truly enjoy the protagonist. Senlin feels like a real person that you can connect with and his initial quest to save his wife felt compelling and worth investing in. The first book showed a fun, inventive episodic story about a man slowly moving up a tower that had extremely unique floors.

The problem for me is that he's the only character I like. The rest of the characters feel so weak and uninteresting, and it's extremely frustrating that the second and third book here are making them more and more of the focus. The story is also turning into a frustrating "mystery", and I only find mystery stories interesting when the story has strong characters to move the story along - which I do not feel is the case here.

This book essentially abandons a major character that we as the reader have been heavily invested in. It then requires that the reader re-invest into different characters that would struggle to hold up a chapter, let alone a book. It also sells us in the first book of this fun concept of a constantly changing landscape of different environments, and then makes us read for 500+ pages about the same location.

I'm disappointed that I have not gotten the enjoyment out of this that so many others have, and sadly I think I am going to give up on this series. I have a typically hard policy of not giving up on a series when I am more than halfway, but this one is the exception for me. I just can't.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,115 followers
January 18, 2021
“Come the Hod King.”

Loving this series!

This third instalment in the Senlin Ascends series is split into 3 sections following different characters over the same timeline.

Senlin and his crew, along with the help of the Sphinx have landed in Pelphia, and Senlin is determined to find his estranged wife Marya. But does she want to be found?

Meanwhile Iren and Voleta have also been given a task, should Senlin’s not work. How far will Voleta go for a bit of danger and excitement?

Finally we have Edith and Byron - set the task of defending the ship at all costs whilst also trying to retrieve an item the Sphinx desperately wants. Has Edith put her trust in the wrong person? And just what are all the hods planning?

This book was just as jam packed with action and humour, I was fully invested in the characters and their adventures.

Now I have to wait until November for book 4 😭😭

Excited for more of Senlin and the crew.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
February 2, 2019
These books have become a delightful diversion for me. Most importantly, they're FUN.

Most of my interest stemmed first from the whole Victorian Tower of Babel vibe with steampunk cyborgs, ancient genetic tampering, airships, and Senlin's total fish-out-of-water story. In the second, we enjoy the fruits of this schoolmaster after he has become a notorious pirate captain and we learn a lot about the history of the Tower. The Sphinx is something else.

But it's the third book that really pushed the core tale forward. The Hods, the slaves that keep the world running, have always been a tragic underbelly, but until now we never got deep into the reality of it. Who is the Hod King? (No spoilers. But I likey.) :)

What I think I like best about this is not Senlin's continuing story, although his particular tragedy is redefining him in a much more interesting way. His finding his lost love is a perfect segue to the horror to come. Nope, I like our acrobat and Ethel best. :) New PoVs! Equal time, even! I really enjoyed the new airship, the battles, and the twisting of all our expectations. Any previous issues I might have had with women's roles and story tropes are overturned here. :) Senlin is paying, perhaps overpaying, for his assumptions. :)

Such fun! I'm so glad this is out there. Most of the old fantasy tropes get introduced and twisted nicely in this series. I heartily approve. :)
464 reviews401 followers
December 16, 2018
This is one of my most anticipated reads of the year, I’ve been blown away by the skill of this author in his previous books and could not wait to get my hands on this. THANK YOU SO MUCH ORBIT!!!

This is going to be a tough review for me because I’m going to try and keep this as spoiler free as possible – but how to do that with a third book in the series? I’ll give it a go.

Senlin is now a wanted man, his “likeness” is posted throughout the Tower portraying him as the feared pirate Thomas Mudd. Luckily for Senlin, his portrait isn’t all that accurate so he can continue to blend into the crowd. This is helped along by his new disguise as a member of the “Boskop” ringdom. They’re known for their muted and dull behavior, preferring lukewarm water over an alcoholic beverage, no spices on their food, and a monotone wardrobe of mostly grey. Boskop people are beneath most people’s notice, so it makes it easier to be a spy for the Sphinx. Senlin and the Sphinx have a shared interest in the fifth ringdom, Pelphia, which is sometimes known as “The Closet” They’re known for their clothes, fashion seasons that only last a month or so, and stiff competition between dressmakers. This makes him dressing as a Boskop the perfect way for people to ignore him because he’s not worth their time or interest.

Senlin knows where his wife is, and she’s actually become quite the star in the Pelphia ringdom. She’s known for her piano, playwrights, and singing skills – she puts on performances for the wealthiest people in Pelphia and is quickly becoming a household name. The newspapers have taken to writing about her often, and Senlin sifts through them endlessly hoping to learn more about her condition. She’s been married off to the very rich and powerful Duke, and Senlin doesn’t know if she was coerced or if she’ happy in her new life. The Sphinx has warned him not to go near her, try to contact her, or try and interfere with the Duke. Senlin doesn’t listen, he goes to meet Marya, and it leads him into a load of trouble.

This book is split into three parts, and each part follows one character, so the first part focuses on Senlin, the second part focuses on Voleta, and the third part centers around Edith. I was super upset when we first switched from Senlin to Voleta. I like Voleta but I was so enraptured with what was happening to Senlin that I was like “nnooooooo, what happens to him!?” Then I felt the exact same way about Voleta… and then again with Edith. That’s a sign of some amazing storytelling.

Voleta is the one who is supposed to be making contact with Marya instead of Senlin, she’s supposed to work her way up through the nobles of the city posing as the Sphinx’s niece. This was probably an unwise decision considering Voleta’s temperament being diametrically opposed to the temperament of a noble lady. She makes a scene at one of the parties (no surprise there) but actually manages to win over the hearts of the people because she’s something new to gossip about. Her strange behavior like leaping on rooftops in the middle of the night has made her into a sensation and caught the attention of a prince.

In this one we get answers to so many questions, only to have new questions raised. There’s a lot more to the world building in this one and we hear about many of the other ringdoms and their cultures. There are even more steampunk elements in this one as we get to hear about the backstory of The Red Hand, the Spinx, and how the tower itself works. There are mechanical moths that send messages, mechanical spiders you swallow to keep tabs on each other, there are chimney cats that like to chew on the hods as they make their way through the tunnels of the tower.

Despite this being 608 pages long, I made it through this in just 24 hours – although I did take a break to sleep. The writing in this was just so beautiful and flowing I didn’t notice the hours floating by me. I was relentlessly turning pages to find out what happened next and now I am gutted I have to wait for the conclusion because this left off with a doozy of a revelation.

I thoroughly recommend this, it was an emotional rollercoaster that actually raised my pulse as I was reading it – literally. I’ve got a heart monitor and my heart rate hit 100 more than once reading this book. Watching Senlin change and grow from the first book through this book has been one of the best character arcs I’ve read in a very, very long time. He’s someone I didn’t like in the beginning of the first book, and throughout his journey, I’ve become more and more attached. At this point, I’m 150% behind him and I’m so worried about him and the rest of his journey. The character he was and the character he is now are like day and night and it’s fascinating to watch him reflect on who he was at the start of all this – a naive man with a really bad guidebook. There were multiple times where I felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t have someone to talk to about what I just read. Edge of my seat kind of shit.


Plot: 14/15
Characters: 14/15
World Building: 15/15
Writing: 15/15
Pacing: 14/15
Originality: 15/15
Personal Enjoyment: 10/10

Final Score: 97/100 – the highest score of the year
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews140 followers
February 6, 2019
Loved it. This lived up to my expectations, which were sky high after the first two books, mostly because the writing is superb.

There are some of middle book in the series issues that larger series like Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time face, where by scattering our focus across multiple points of view, not as much ends up happening overall story-wise. This book felt like it started three separate times. I liked all three starts, and I liked what the author did with them and how the threads wove together by the end. No complaints there. But I did wonder where the story could have gone with a little more concentration on one of the throughlines. Mostly that just means I was sad when it was over because I wanted more.

I really love the tower. My favorite part of the first book was experiencing different ringdoms in all their awful, clever, quirky glory as Tom crawled his way up in search of Marya. I didn't like the second book as much because we spent more time in the air cruising around the tower than actually engaging with new messed up floors. This book is a balance of the two, in that there's a concentrated focus on one floor, which comes across as satisfyingly, wonderfully terrible. And there are some great gestures to other awful floors, and some larger explorations of the tower, which I loved too.

The ending sets up some big story and character conflicts for the next book, but if this book is any indication, it seems like this series could stretch on endlessly. I'm certainly excited to see where it goes next. I hope we don't have to wait too long!
Profile Image for Dyrk Ashton.
Author 11 books655 followers
December 30, 2018
I was incredibly lucky enough to receive an ARC - thank you Orbit and Josiah Bancroft!

Once again, Josiah Bancroft amazes. With each of the first two novels in The Books of Babel series, I've thought I had gathered at least some idea of the kind of project Bancroft was trying to accomplish and a decent inkling of how it might proceed. And with each book I've been proven wrong--in the best possible way. The writing is superb, the style and narrative are truly daring, and the world is one of the most imaginative I've ever read. With The Hod King, Bancroft demonstrates even more that he can not only deftly scribe the most intimate and poetic subtleties of life, but also craft a pulse-pounding action scene to rival the best. Thank you, Mr. Bancroft, for another brilliant adventure!
Profile Image for Dave.
3,101 reviews353 followers
September 16, 2021
The Hod King is the long-awaited part three of the Books of Babel, an extraordinarily well-crafted fantasy series. Bancroft plunges the reader right into the deep end of the story without so much as a an effort at providing a synopsis of the two earlier books which offer so much of the background and history not just of the Tower, but of the characters and what they’ve gone through to become what they are. It is therefore highly recommended that the reader peruse those first two volumes before diving into this one even if all your friends are already ahead of you and talking about this one.

Bancroft sets his steampunk fantasy world in the legendary Biblical story of the Tower of Babel which was fabled to be so mighty and strong that it threatened to reach to Heaven itself. This fantasy has its rough familiar base in the Tower and in Ur, the ancient Mesopotamian city. Yet, it quickly leaves familiar territory as a middle aged schoolteacher (Senlin) and his young wife (Marya) set off on their honeymoon to visit the legendary tower and lose each other among the great fair set up on its outskirts. The Tower itself is ancient. It is so large that each level contains different city-states or “ringdoms.” And, upon entering it, it’s as odd and different as entering the mad hatter’s tea party. Like John Carter fighting his way across a planet to rescue the incomparable Dejah Thoris, Senlin has his epic odyssey to find Marya and rescue her, if she will still have him after a year or more of separation. Senlin, too, has met all manner of petty lords and ladies and all manner of fell beast, many which are mechanical inventions of the mythical Sphinx. The world-building is terrific. This Tower is so complex that it’s like it’s own planet and there are even airships traveling between ringdoms.

As we begin this 600-plus page chapter, Senlin, who is more of a bumbling anti-hero than a swashbuckling swordsman, has traveled much of the length and breadth of the Tower, first alone, and then with a crew of companions, the like of which have seldom been seen, including a pirate captain with an engine for an arm, a giantess warrior, and an acrobatic waif with an eye for mischief. Senlin has made enemies across the ringdoms, many as a feared pirate captain. And, he’s starting to get glimpses of how the Tower functions and how all the players are interconnected. He has also traveled into the Sphinx’s lair where mechanical creations are combined with human and animal forms like the most bizarre concoctions to come out of a kitchen.

While the first two books introduced the reader to the mysteries of the Tower, pulling back one curtain after another like traveling through a funhouse, this book draws battle lines as the very future of the Tower is up for grabs. Will the Sphinx continue to control the ringdoms through his Wakeman, his cyborg creations? Will the hods traveling the Black Trail throw of their chains of bondage? What will it take for the living entity of the Tower to continue to function?

A few words must be said about the pace and plotting of this book. Bancroft has mastered the art of building the suspense as the story starts slowly and then builds to a crescendo. Throughout Senlin and Volleta’s time in the Phelia ringdom, we see a satirical side develop as courtly manners and popularity are shown to be as empty as can be.

The story is not just told through Senlin’s eyes 👀 but through Volleta’s eyes and through Edith’s eyes. That technique of different narrative viewpoints is very popular these days, but it works wonders here.

Overall, like the first two books in the series, this is a wondrous incredible read. There may be 600 plus pages but they melt away under your fingers. You can sleep 💤 again when you finish the story, or at least this chapter of the story as book four is coming.
Profile Image for Hiu Gregg.
113 reviews158 followers
February 4, 2019
If I’m honest, I’m not sure what follows can be thought of as a review. Some books and some series are just too dear to my heart for me to look at with a critical eye, and Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel definitely fall into that category. I want to just vomit my feelings on the book onto this page, but The Hod King gave me so many feelings that I’m going to have to contain myself somewhat, somehow.

The Hod King confirms what many of us already suspected and what more of us already knew: Josiah Bancroft is a truly special author. If Arm of the Sphinx did a lot to dispense with the worry that Senlin Ascends might be a one-hit-wonder, then The Hod King stomps any residual concern into dust.

It has a much stronger sense of direction than the previous books, which does mean that the meandering Wonderland-esque feel isn’t quite as strong. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Senlin Ascends introduced us to the world and the characters, Arm of the Sphinx let us get to know them on a deeper level, and The Hod King takes advantage of that familiarity to go full steam ahead with their stories.

And it is their stories. There is no disconnect between plot, character, and world here. They all fit together seamlessly. In many ways, this is the complete book.

The structure of the book is a little more experimental, and may be something that favours more patient readers. The three main point-of-view characters (not telling you who) get around a third of the book each, but the chapters don’t jump from one POV to another. Instead, you’ll get a block of chapters from one character at the beginning of the book, and then you’ll jump right back to the beginning of the timeline to read from the perspective of another character. It feels a little like sliding back to the bottom of the Snakes and Ladders board, which I can imagine some readers might find a little frustrating, but I found it to be a fun, almost cinematic way to engage with the story.

The characters in these books are some of my favourites in fiction, and it was a joy to watch them adapt and develop as the over-arching story raced towards its conclusion. There are some new (highly anticipated) additions to the character cast, and it’s a credit to Bancroft’s skill that these additions slot in perfectly. The story never feels crowded, and I never felt short-changed with any character arc. I finished the book with that perfect, elusive mix of feeling satisfied with the story, and yet still wanting more.

There shouldn’t be any doubt that the Books of Babel are some of the best books in fantasy at this point in time. The Hod King is yet another great book in the series, and I’m absolutely certain that any fan of the previous books will love this one too.

And if you haven’t read them yet, then what are you waiting for?
Profile Image for Adam.
390 reviews170 followers
July 15, 2021
Re-read, July 2021: This is a book that redefines what constitutes a five-star rating.


Have you heard of the podcast Crit Faced? It’s the one where five fantasy authors record themselves playing Dungeons and Dragons each week. Josiah Bancroft is one of them. His character, Jean Mallerme, is a bard – one of the more challenging occupations to role play, but one of great versatility. Through Bancroft’s full commitment to the role, Mallarme morphs into an actor, a troubadour, a thief, a comic relief, a cad, and a master of disguise. He speaks in Mallarme’s voice and embodies Mallarme’s spirit, bringing this character more to life with each passing week. It is plain to see that these characteristics are not only descriptive of Jean Mallerme, but extensions of Bancroft’s natural talents. Josiah himself is an accomplished musician, visual artist, poet, and writer, and all these qualifications help define his unique storytelling voice. In The Hod King, Bancroft’s third and best entry in the Books of Babel series, Bancroft pools all these talents with remarkable results. The Hod King is a vibrant, wholly original, and finely crafted novel that transcends genre fantasy. An instant literary classic.

This entry in the series is more grounded, both in a literal and personal sense. While the previous books had our heroes explore the full length of the Tower, most of The Hod King takes place in one ringdom: the city of Pelphia, home of a fake, mechanical sun, and fake, mechanical nobility. These Pelphians throw extravagant parties and fool themselves into self-importance while their insecurities bubble just beneath the surface. They bicker and connive to ascend a meaningless social ladder and turn a blind eye to the community’s failures. Their traits are further exacerbated when the narrative shift perspectives from the high society of noble Pelphia to the low society of the Black Trail, home to thousands of indebted hods, swept under society’s rug. As hod rebel Luc Marat’s influence on the Trail continues to rise, it becomes inevitable that a reckoning of the ruling class is ahead. (Note: The interludes that are set within The Black Trail are without chapter annotation, akin to how the Trail is relegated to the back passages and forgotten tunnels of the Tower.)

Identity is one of the major themes that is explored throughout the story. Our heroes are forced to act outside of their comfort zones amidst foreign environments, and in doing so, further explain their own boundaries and capabilities. All our main characters take on new identities and responsibilities: the Sphinx sends Senlin into Pelphia to suss out any news of a hod rebellion, but the temptation to reunite with his wife threatens to destroy everything they’re working towards; Voleta and Iren, posing as a lady and her governess, attempt to infiltrate Pelphia’s noble society with the hopes of gaining access to the elusive Marya; and Edith, fully a Wakeman, learns the shocking truth behind the Tower, and must collect the missing paintings from each ringdom before all is lost. The cast widens considerably as we’re introduced to several new characters - - some are allies, but most are villains. Yet every character – even the brief acquaintances – are given ample depth and personality. It’s plain to see how much Bancroft respects and carefully considers each of his creations while giving them all an important role to play in the story. Much like the intricate machinery that populates the Tower, this book is lovingly crafted, with attentive detail given to all its parts.

As mentioned above, there is no shortage of villains in this book, which brings up another major difference between The Hod King and its predecessors: in the first two novels, the central antagonist was the Tower itself. This time around, the mantle of villainy is passed on to humans. This narrative decision allows the struggles to feel more personal, yielding new and thrilling conflicts of interest. The foils are numerous and not always obvious as Senlin, Edith, Voleta and Iren elbow their way through political conspiracies, social injustice, and acts of domestic terrorism. Even a parrot acts the villain, repeating the most offensive phrases to a crowd at the most inopportune times. It’s as if the closer we scrutinize a ringdom’s society, the more we are privy to its dark underbelly.

And although this book has a lion’s share of tragic moments, it is also rife with hope and redemption. “We aren’t what we hope for; we are only what we do” is a repeated phrase throughout the story and becomes a point of contention during Senlin’s search for his wife. Is it possible that his hope for a reunion and future with Marya is secondary to the consequences of his deeds along the way? He has earned the dedication and love of a small group of friends that have thrown themselves in with his cause, and there’s something truly beautiful about seeing the bonds of their companionship strengthen while society crumbles around them. But what final fates befalls Thomas Senlin and his crew will have to wait until the final book of this series. All the pieces are in place for a truly epic and unpredictable finale, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

9.5 / 10
Profile Image for Megan ❀.
459 reviews226 followers
May 31, 2019
Is it too early to say this is my favorite book of the year? If the mood of the first two books was "oh man I can't put this down, I have to find out what happens next," The Hod King is hands-down "EVERYTHING BAD THAT COULD HAPPEN IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW."

Basically, I was white-knuckled on the book the entire time I was reading it.

Josiah Bancroft never ceases to amaze me with his originality. I swear, this man is a bottomless well of creativity. His world-building never stagnates. He never settles into the comfort of this incredible world he's created. With every novel, the Tower becomes ever more complex and detailed. Whatever brain food diet Bancroft is on, I want some.

Unlike Senlin Ascends or Arm of the Sphinx, the majority of this installment takes place in Pelphia, the fifth ringdom. Even though the location is consistent, Pelphia continues to evolve over the course of the novel as the characters experience different facets of its society. Pelphia demonstrates the worst of what "court culture" can be, filled to the brim with the rich and idle. Yet despite the exploitative and sometimes downright evil nature of the scandal-obsessed society, the grotesque never felt graphic. I'm a big fan of dark fantasy, and I think it takes a lot of skill to be able to communicate the same level of moral bankruptcy without doing so in an especially stomach-churning way. Bancroft masterfully balances the reader's sense of whimsy with the reality of the wickedness that occurs within Pelphia and the Tower at large.

I also thought the structure of The Hod King to be especially compelling. Unlike most ensemble narratives that consistently rotate POVs, this novel is split into three main acts (and a mini act at the end), each featuring POVs from a specific set of characters. This structure is especially successful because of how each act is built. Each ends on the sort of cliff-hanger that had me flipping forward to find out when I would be back with that character. But then the next act would build up to a cliff-hanger just as intense, and all I wanted to do was find out what happened to THAT character. It was horrible for my anxiety and you better believe I loved every goddamn minute of it.

Also can we talk about how there's a f/f relationship in this?? Between two middle-aged women??? When does that EVER happen, especially in fantasy?????? JOSIAH BANCROFT WENT THERE. HE DID THAT FOR US.

Overall, I'm just in awe of this series. Each book is so incredible, and none of the installments ever demonstrate a dip in quality. The prose is clever and whimsical, the characters are wildly realistic, and the world-building is just of such a high caliber it makes me want to weep. I cannot recommend these books enough. I know plenty of people with more authority and several years of life on me have already said this, but sincerely, these books are classics and I adore them with all my heart. You better believe that I'm going to get up at some ungodly hour and order that Anderida Books edition as soon as it's announced.

Also, I still love Byron and would give my left leg to protect him at all costs.

Pre-release review:

UPDATE: Me, hibernating until January 22nd because nothing matters until this book releases

One of my most anticipated reads of 2018-2019, I'm so so excited to get my hands on this!!! I hope the new release date is made known soon, I see a lot of conflicting information.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews882 followers
August 4, 2022
Many writers, developing their world over time, fall into their own traps and limitations created in the first volumes. Not Bancroft. No, he overwrites the limitations with changed perspectives and changes traps into trapezes that allow him to achieve the most spectacular acrobatic stunts. He is a true king of this or I am a hod!Oren Robinson, The Daily Reverie

This is an invaluable ability that far into a series that by book three is entitled to get a little bit boring and even slog before what can be expected as a finale. Rest assured that there is nothing boring about The Hod King and it does not slog for one chapter.

There is one more thing Mr Bancroft excels at and this is the ability to dismantle presumptions. Once the reader forms an image of a protagonist, Mr Bancroft with resolute single-mindedness unmakes said protagonist only to remake him or her into something not quite expected or anticipated. Just think where we started with Thomas and where he is now. Compare the first meeting with Edith Winters with her current incarnation. Voleta, Irene, and Adam underwent similar, if more subtle, processes. Who is left then? The omnipotent and ever knowing Sphinx.

And when you think about the setup to The Hod King, it makes perfect sense as an exercise in de-Sphinxing the plot. Clever, very clever. If you are an ambitious author, you don’t want to have a powerful fix-it-all feature that can deliver your protagonists from every evil. And, after all, would a powerful fix-it-all really send Senlin as a subtle spy impersonating a bland accountant believing he will not defy the prohibition to reach his wife? Would an ever knowing schemer truly believe Voleta with her insatiable hunger for life to be the best candidate for a dainty lady and cast Irene as a docile governess? Would someone omnipotent be forced to resort to cheap diplomatic tricks and theatrics in order to secure something that should be demanded by right?

Unsurprisingly then, each of those poorly paced pawns does what they do best: Senlin - enemies, Voleta - fun, Irene - violence, and Edith - overtures. Nothing goes according to the plan to this extent that the only thing the poor reader can do is start suspecting that these impossible assignments were done quite on purpose.

But what could said purpose be? Expect thrills, aggravations, and coruscations followed by spells of darkness. Do not expect answers. This is not where we even our scores with this Tower.

Also in the series:

1. Senlin Ascends ★★★★☆
2. Arm of the Sphinx ★★★★☆
4. The Fall of Babel ★★★☆☆
Profile Image for FanFiAddict.
548 reviews143 followers
January 15, 2019
Thanks to the publisher and author for an advanced reading copy of The Hod King in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this ARC in no way influenced my thoughts or opinions, though the incentive of having my bathtub scrubbed clean by Josiah was pretty hard to pass up.

Have you ever been reading a novel, or a series, that you wished would never end? You become so completely engrossed with the world and its peculiarities, its characters and their machinations, the… Beer-Me-Go-Rounds? Well, The Books of Babel has been that for me. It is, simply put, a masterpiece. The only negative things I have to say are thus: that I can’t believe this story will soon end, and that I can never read it for the first time EVER AGAIN.

Sigh… where to begin.

The Hod King drops us right where we left of in Arm of the Sphinx. Now, our fascinating gaggle of characters find their way to the ringdom of Pelphia, all on separate missions handed down by the Sphinx.
Senlin must investigate an arena where hods fight for the ringdom’s entertainment, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation and thrust into the Duke’s spotlight.
Voleta and Iren are charged with posing as a noble lady and her handmaid in order to infiltrate the ringdom’s elite and reach Marya. What they didn’t plan on was Voleta garnering the pursuit of a prince whose reputation, though a little soiled, brings with it many obstacles that stand to ruin their plans.
Now captain of the Sphinx’s ship, Edith, with the help of a fellow wakeman, attempts to locate a confidant who has gone missing. Her search takes her into the bowels of the tower where word of The Hod King is whispered in the walls.

But just who is The Hod King, and what does he want?

Soooo, I went into The Hod King thinking it was the last book in the series.

NOPE. Big FAT nope.

And I couldn’t be happier.

If you LOVED Senlin Ascends, and you THOUGHT it couldn’t get any better than Arm of the Sphinx, you are in for the surprise of a lifetime. The Hod King is, in the coveted words of Chris Traeger, LITERALLY, the best book I have read since I began reviewing. It has everything you want in a piece of fantasy fiction, wrapped up with the bow of originality, and signed with an engraved ink pen that states JUST FREAKING READ THIS SERIES.

There really are no words to describe how much I enjoyed this novel. Bancroft continues to outdo himself with rich storytelling, imaginative world-building with vivid detail, and enough wit to last a lifetime. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You may ask the bartender for a warm glass of water just for the confused look you’ll receive in return. But one thing you won’t do is regret picking up this book.

Along with RJ Barker’s ‘The Wounded Kingdom’ trilogy, The Books of Babel is the best series, to date, that I have ever read. I will continue to push these books on family, friends, hods, those people that still take ticket stubs at movie theaters even though everything you need is now on your phone, Uber drivers, gas station attendants (do they still have those?)… you get my point. If you were already planning on reading it, pre-order it. If you haven’t given the series a shot, why not?
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
330 reviews506 followers
November 30, 2021
Please note this review may contain spoilers for the first two books and mild spoilers for The Hod King.

“The Tower did not care if a man was righteous or vile. The Tower ruined the just and the unjust with equal appetite.”

The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft is the third instalment in the Books of Babel quartet and once again I was transported to the surreal, bizarre, whimsical and cruel world within the Tower of Babel. With the looming threat of a Hod uprising Senlin and his friends are all sent on separate assignments at the bidding of the Sphinx, this time the crew find themselves travelling to the lavish ringdom of Pelphia.

Under the disguise of Cyril Pinfield, Senlin is the first to enter the ringdom alone, his task is to discover where the Sphinx’s missing mechanical moths, which all contain hidden messages, have disappeared to. More importantly he’s also to uncover what the Hods and Luc Marat are up to within the ringdom, as the heart of a rebellion is thought to be igniting there. Yet Senlin has other reasons for wanting to be in Pelphia, it is also where Marya is, living a seemingly happy life with Duke Wilhelm Pell. The Sphinx has prohibited Senlin from engaging with Marya, but with his esteemed wife finally so close, can Senlin resist?

Meanwhile the Sphinx makes Edith captain of The State of Art, the Sphinx’s very own airship. Edith is to fly to Pelphia with Byron, Iren, Voleta and the highly disliked pilot Reddleman, where Voleta will infiltrate the nobility to get closer to Marya and help Senlin discover if her life is as happy as it appears to be. Iren, of course, is to protect Voleta at all costs. Edith on the other hand, is to recover a copy of The Bricklayer’s Daughter painting from the King, where she will also finally discover why the Sphinx is obsessed with collecting them all.

The Hod King is entirely set in the ringdom of Pelphia, and I felt that this was a good choice because it allowed us to experience the culture, people and way of life in greater detail, something which I don’t believe we’ve had before. Bancroft once again presents us with exquisite worldbuilding filled with aristocratic luxury, artificial nature and mechanical weirdness. Pelphia is known as the pinnacle of high fashion and for its three magnificent architectural buildings including The Colosseum which Senlin visits on many occasions. It is a place filled with wonderment, from the mysterious Will-o’-the-Wisp to the mechanical sun. But underneath the surface it’s a place full of seediness too, Hods are mercilessly mistreated, the nobles show false pretences, smiles never quite reach the peoples eyes, the very air feels taut, as though something is on the edge of snapping. It is this atmosphere which Bancroft creates that effectively kept me nervous for each character as they entered Pelphia.

“I will find her. I will offer my help if she needs it, my heart if she wants it, my head, even if she would see it on a stake! And you, with your plots and contracts, you with your cowardly mask and tick- tock heart, you will not stop me!”

Bancroft structures his novel into three parts, with each part following the characters on their separate missions. We begin with Senlin as he takes on his new persona. We knew from Senlin Ascends he could adapt, but at that point in the series he had a lot of help from others. In The Hod King Senlin is on his own and he has to adapt even further to navigate his way out of some tricky situations. Senlin has to show his determination to carry on despite the hardship, and trust me, Bancroft puts him through a lot of hardship. It’s almost as if Bancroft enjoys everything going wrong for our dear Senlin! What I loved about Senlin’s development in this instalment was that he now sees his own faults, there is a scene where he wallows in self loathing but he quickly recognises that it’s no use doing that so he pulls himself together and gets on with it. It makes Senlin so unique because rather than brute strength he uses his intelligence and morality and common sense to get himself out of all the bizarre scenarios Bancroft puts him in.

Another significant part I enjoyed during Senlin’s narrative was that we finally learn more about his infamous lost wife, Marya. Throughout the previous two books, Marya’s character has been an enigma, her story shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. This changed in The Hod King as we begin to see glimpses into how life has proceeded since she became lost. At first we only learn her tale of meeting Duke Wilhelm Pell through the printed account in the The Daily Reverie newspaper, she’s portrayed as the sensational singer, The Mermaid, rescued by the heroic duke, whisked away on a whirlwind romance, but as we all know, newspapers lie. Yet when Senlin decides to defy the Sphinx and meet Marya, we finally discover some truth. As the story continues and the other characters meet Marya, we see even more of the real life she’s led.

I have always found The Books of Babel contain a lot of humour, Bancroft’s prose is filled with cynicism and fantastic witty dialogue. This is where Voleta truly shines in this instalment, her carefree, whimsical and erratic antics were the absolute best and most hilarious to follow. From the moment she learns to be a “lady” by Byron, to her entering Pelphia and freeing her pet squirrel from its cage, to her mixing with nobility, there was just never a dull moment. However we also see a different side to Voleta, she is far more capable than most give her credit for, and once you begin to look under the surface you realise she masks a lot of her painful past. In this cruel unfair world, you can see why Irene’s motherly protective kindness, Senlin’s endearing friendship and Byron’s ongoing tutelage are crucial to her mental well-being.

“I am the wind, Voleta, and you are my exotic little scarf. And I shall carry you off as I please.”
She fixed him with an unwavering stare, and said, “Francis, I’ve blown stiffer winds out of my arse.”
She brought her knee up with such force it stole his breath.”

I also thoroughly appreciated Bancroft exploring Byron’s character in greater depth. From his tragic backstory to his growing friendship with Voleta, Edith and Senlin, Byron became one of the most loveable characters. He was made to be the Sphinx’s tool, to obediently follow orders and efficiently get tasks done, yet although Byron is built as part deer and part machine, he is far from robotic. When he begins to deviate from the Sphinx’s commands, we see Byron is capable of emotions, of judging right and wrong, of caring for others, of being human.

At first I found Edith’s chapters somewhat less compelling than Senlin and Voleta’s but that was due to Bancroft leaving two previous cliffhangers, I swear these authors revel in our pain, which I was eager to return to. However my god does Edith’s narrative take an action packed turn. By the end of The Hod King I felt as though something snapped within her character, she has taken a lot of bullshit along the way and she’s done with it.

The Hod King is another psychedelic trip into a world quite like no other. Our beloved characters are put to the test and ultimately how they fare will be seen in the last book, The Fall of Babel. There is no way I can predict how the series will end; what will happen to the Tower? Who will survive and who may perish? Bancroft has one of the strangest unpredictable imaginations, it’s just great that it’s my kind of strange.

“To me and you, the Tower is a home; to the hod, it is prison. To us, it is a life; to them, it is a life sentence.”
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 6 books378 followers
September 29, 2022
Masterful characters, setting and themes.

Ok now I get why this series is so good. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first two but I still wasn't getting why this series blew up. But after reading The Hod King, I get it now. This is one of my all time favorite fantasy/speculative fiction reads ever. If you're wondering if you should pick up this series, believe me you should. This book does many many things well and nothing wrong. I absolutely adored it.

The characters are incredible. From Senlin, to Edith and Voleta and wow, Iren, I finally fell in love with these characters. Bancroft finally brings a lot together with their backgrounds and their relationships in such a way that they converge in this book. The characters are fleshed out and make sense and they are so very lovable and imperfect. We also get some new development with Byron and Ann is definitely an interesting development.

The world is unlike anything you've read. Yes this takes place at the Tower of Babel but it's not what you think. There is depth, politics, societies, kingdoms (ringdoms) and a slave class. The ringdom of Phelia in this book was incredibly well done with its opulent hollowness. The contrast of the loyalty of the main cast with the vapid society of Phelia was so well done. Classism is a major, major theme for this book and the entire series. Bancroft is not heavy handed with this at all and does a really good job of writing a book about revolution in the background of everything.

This book doesn't span a lot of time but there is just so much plot and I love how Bancroft split up the POVs. There are so many twists and turns and unexpected developments all told with a perfect pace. I literally gasped at one part in this book and that's not something I ever do with a book. Bancroft is an incredible wordsmith. He makes every sentence just delicious with an unexpected simplicity that somehow perfectly describes a character or scene or interaction. The care that he puts into his words is truly something remarkable.

The Hod King is one of my favorite books ever, it's going on my masterpiece shelf. This is a must read series.
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books472 followers
April 25, 2019
I continue to be very impressed by The Books of Babel series. If you expected it to conclude with book three, The Hod King, allow me dissuade you from that right now. We end here on a soft cliff-hanger, so my only negative about this book is THE LONG WAIT THAT WILL NOW OCCUR UNTIL THE NEXT BOOK IS RELEASED damn you Josiah Bancroft.

Find my review of Books 1 and 2 here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... It's a fantastic story that is both quintessentially steampunk and a subversion of the genre.

To reiterate the basic premise: set in roughly Victorian times, a small town teacher (Thomas Senlin) and his young bride take their honeymoon to visit the greatest tower on earth, The Tower of Babel. The Tower is so large that each floor exists as its own city and so tall that its roof is shrouded in clouds. It’s also corrupt, decadent and practically a death trap. Thomas and his wife are separated and the driving force of the series is his quest to survive the trials and tribulations of the tower while attempting to find and rescue his wife. At heart The Books of Babel is a character driven adventure story in a fascinating fantasy setting. The core theme seems to be the struggle to be a moral person when society thrusts one into a Darwinian struggle to survive that makes “being a good” a distinct disadvantage.

Without giving away any spoilers, Book 3 is as good as both previous books, but the focus shifts a bit. While Thomas is still a central character, the focus has turned toward the female characters in the story around him. And there are quite a few. There’s his kidnapped wife Marya, his friend and conflicted love-interest Edith, the young Voleta whom he rescued from a life of servitude, Iren, the giant female warrior who protects Voleta, and Ann, a domestic servant for a spoiled wealthy aristocrat’s adult child. In fact, dare-I-say, Book 3 presents what I think is a strongly feminist point of view overall. All the books have reflected on morality in an immoral society, this one heavily focuses on the role of women in Victorian times yet of course has a lot to say about contemporary society. Bancroft gives us his diverse characters' inner struggles rather than moralistic didacticism and so we can organically feel the social oppression inflicted upon women by patriarchal society. Each character reveals in different ways how social expectations and economic systems have worked to keep women subservient, even using their ultimate power of childbirth to keep them trapped and controlled. These issues are more relevant than ever with a dictator-wannabe as President, all Republicans and many Democrats (noting a growing number endorsing Universal Healthcare) still working to keep healthcare in the hands of greedy corporations, a Supreme Court potentially poised to outlaw abortion and corrupt Trump lackies that include Scott Lloyd formerly at the Office of Refugee Resettlement who KEPT ELABORATE SPREADSHEETS TRACKING THE MENSTRUAL CYCLES OF PREGNANT MINORS under his refugee “care” so that he could prevent them from getting abortions. Yes, look it up…The Handmaid’s Tale is no fantasy. Nor are the realities that Bancroft presents in this fantasy.

Loved the Hod King, and I’m very pleased there will be a fourth book in the series. Highly recommended for any fantasy reader…steampunk fans will be in heaven. And I consider this a great read for anyone who is open to well-crafted fantastical literature.
Profile Image for  Charlie.
477 reviews220 followers
December 6, 2018
The Hod King is another spectacular instalment of The Books of Babel. Fans of the series can rest easy that the break between volumes two and three has not disrupted the style or inherent beauty of the writing and that once again Josiah has produced something that belongs in the very top echelons of the fantasy genre.

We all know that Headmaster Thomas Senlin lost his wife Marya in the first three pages of Senlin Ascends and ever since then it has been a veritable rollarcoaster ride for him and almost every one he encounters. His fierce devotion to locating his wife and offering her rescue is matched only by the loyalty he inspires in his companions and it has been a pleasure watching this family grow. One has a feeling going into this book that those relationships are, apart of course from Senlin himself, the element that sets them apart from so many others who have fallen foul of the Tower. They will need Voleta’s wildness and joy as much as Iren’s muscle and determination especially as the two both reinforce each other simultaneously. Speaking of Voleta she continues to be one of the most irreverent and charming young ladies I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her witty observations and lack of a social filter makes her unpredictable and fun but with the stakes so high she is a ticking time bomb.

"Voleta gazed at him with fresher eyes, “I still don’t understand why you’d say you were a mistake. I think you’re actually rather marvellous, I mean apart from your personality.”

Mark Lawrence’s review mentioned Josiah’s ability to captures the essence of a person with a single sentence and when he describes someone as having “the look of someone who had just been informed that his basement had flooded” it’s hard not to agree, especially as my house has flooded before and I know exactly what I looked like at the time. I think my love for these books just comes down to how much I enjoy the writing and have grown to love the characters and the fact that at any moment I’m reading something that makes me laugh or worry or get excited. You just never know when a line will jump out and surprise you.

“It was something much worse than a trap. It was a dramatic tableau.”

Senlin continues to be an absolute favourite. He has grown so much as a character from his humble beginnings and for the first time you get the sense he might be prepared for what is to come. Josiah of course takes that notion and shatters it, not just for Senlin, but for every character, revealing the pleasant and spectacular culture of Pelphia to contain the most subtle and deadly dangers of all. The Red Hand was a freaking monster ripping peoples heads off; the nobility of Pelphia would never do anything so mercilessly quick.

“Polite society!” Senlin scoffed. “I’ve learned the true nature of civility. Civility is critiquing how another man pronounes a word or knots his necktie, and then saying nothing about how a ringdom hangs its poor. Civility is having ardent opinions and plays and actors and made-up stories, and no opinion whatsoever about the real tragedy of the black trail, Civility is a crowded execution.”

In terms of drama this book has it all. I’ve been reading for 30 plus years. On three of four occasions I’ve had to stop and put the book down and walk away for a few minutes whilst I questioned whether I had actually read the information that was filtering through my brain or just imagined it, I was so desperate to enter a justifiable state of disbelief, In the last 20 years it was Matthew Reilly and Gant, the second time it was Pierce Brown and Pax. Josiah got me twice during The Hod King and once was out of pure joy and exhilaration.

Overall this year it’s been so amazing to see this series getting the legions of fans it deserves. I was a bit disappointed that Senlin Ascend’s could not squeeze into the final for the Goodreads Awards but at the end of the day I have no doubt that these books will be peppering many reviewers top ten lists this year and, certainly if The Hod King is anything to go by, for many years to come.

Thanks to Orbit for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy.

Review originally published at http://fantasy-hive.co.uk/2018/12/the...
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,048 reviews235 followers
January 29, 2020
“Only people who go to bed early believe in happy endings. We night owls understand that happiness does not dwell in finales. It resides in anticipation, in revelry, and in worn-out welcomes. Endings are always sad.”

I've tried to write this review multiple times since finishing earlier this month, yet nothing I put on the screen ever feels adequate.

This is where I tell you that as the third installment in The Books of Babel series, it's inevitable that there will be slight spoilers ahead if you haven't read the prior two books in this brilliant series.. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

"This is about the lives and hearts of others."

A quick summary regarding the background of The Books of Babel: Senlin Ascends was originally self-published in 2013. Years later, it was entered in the annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off as it had yet to be picked up by a traditional publishing house. Although it didn't win Mark Lawrence's SPFBO contest, it did garner plenty of attention, including the radical people at Orbit who picked it up. BE STILL MY HEART!

“All I know is that, at the end of the day, dreams don't matter, but neither does regret. We aren't what we want or wish for. We are only what we do.”

The Hod King continues Thomas Senlin's desperate attempt to find his beloved Marya. He has spent the last year searching for her, which has lead him to the high society ringdom of Pelphia, where he soon learns Marya resides. Pelphia felt similar to the Capitol in Panem, which is pretty fucking bonkers! It's an exaggerated beauty, because darkness lingers beneath the surface. The majority of the book takes place here, with the crew given their first missions from the Sphinx.

Switching between four main POV's, we follow the crew throughout various locations, which ramps up the sense of adventure. Senlin's priority was always to find his wife, but first he must adopt yet another new identity and investigate the possible Hod rebellion. He ends up separated from the crew, which is now captained by Edith. Edith, along with Byron, is charged with flying the legendary airship to each ringdom to retrieve important paintings that have gone missing. My favorite odd duo, Voleta and Iren go undercover to infiltrate the high society of Pelphia and are given the mission of "rescuing" Marya from the Duke.

The way that the story of all four narratives weave around and come together is really something wonderful.

The intricate story, the unique characters, the lush world-building.. it's glorious!

The Books of Babel is one of those rare gems that come out of the self-publishing world and make it big in traditional publishing. The story behind the story is quite the journey, much like Senlin's search. The sheer scope of the towers themselves could be a never-ending world. If Bancroft does decide to keep this series as a tetralogy, then I don't question that it is the right decision. Bancroft clearly knows what he is doing, however.. selfishly I don't want this series to ever end! I would be more than happy to continue reading within this world for years to come!

The Hod King is every bit as brilliant as the previous two installments, and in many ways, even better. There is nothing out there currently that is quite as beautifully realized as The Books of Babel. The artistry of Bancroft's writing is next level. It's magical. These books come together to form such a strange, multilayered beast of a modern classic! I love it with my whole entire being. Oof.
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews314 followers
May 12, 2019
4 or 5 stars? Some part of me thinks if I ask that question then it's not a 5.
Can it maybe be a 4 stars book but with the heart of 5.
Also, I think I'm mostly upset bc I have to wait for a 4th book that has no release date yet :(
Profile Image for Alex.
344 reviews122 followers
February 12, 2019
Other reviews started coming in while I was reading this; my editorial team did me a solid getting the ARC but I’m a slow reader. Those reviews, including a very good one by Mark Lawrence, call this the best in the series and the one that more fully cements Senlin’s trip up the Tower of Babel as a timeless modern classic.

Who am I to disagree? I am so awestruck by how compelling and relatable and yet fantastical and mysterious this adventure continues to be.

All In. 5 Stars.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,562 reviews2,939 followers
January 4, 2019
* I was sent this one by the publisher to review honestly *

This is the third book in the series so I cannot go into too much detail about what is happening in the plot, but as usual Josiah Bancroft has managed to create a story which baffles and delights in equal measure. I love the bizarre nature of this world, a world with a tower where every level is unique and the people are so over the top it's fascinating. There are Hods who live in dark passageways, serving the rest of the Tower, a Sphinx who is powerful when it comes to all sorts of machinery, a secret King who no one really knows and a team of misfits at the heart of it all.

Senlin's story so far has been very interesting and I think this book actually diversifies out a bit to show us quite a few different perspectives along with Senlin's. That makes the story far more diverse, and the character we're following are all pretty interesting ones, but it also makes the plot feel bit slow at times whilst we see what the other characters were doing during the time we just read about through another's PoV. Personally, I think there could have been some slight editing on these sections to make it a little less slow, but overall it was a nice added touch to follow everyone at once.

I don't want to go into the story much but I will say a lot happens, and yet also not a lot. I always feel like a lot is taking place, but I realise a lot of it is plotting and secrets and inner thoughts and so it's certainly not all that action-packed (except occasionally). I actually think this is a good thing to really build up the characters and I liked seeing that side of things.

Overall, a solid continuation that I very much enjoyed reading. I look forward to seeing where the conclusion takes me in the final book still to come... 4*s
Profile Image for Holly (Holly Hearts Books).
375 reviews3,085 followers
November 15, 2018
"The Tower is a pestle grinding upon the mortar of earth. It pulverizes bones, fortunes, kings, love, youth, and beauty. That is its purpose - to crush."

I fell back into this story so easily. Josiah's writing is so different (in an amazing way!) I thought for sure I was going to have a hard time remembering details because this story is full of so many intricate plot points and characters but man, I was in it on page one! The author weaves past occurrences throughout the story seamlessly which helps a lot. Everyone talks about Laini Taylor's writing and how lyrical and beautiful it is, well so is Josiah Bancrofts writing. Every single sentence is thought provoking and clever. Truly one of the best books I have ever read.

I honestly see a lot of future fantasy authors being inspired by Josiah Bancroft. I know if I was a writer, I would be.

Here is a link to a much more thorough review on my YouTube channel!
Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,382 reviews222 followers
February 1, 2019
Such cruelty and disregard toward his readers and characters‘ feelings… Wow. I haven’t suspected Bancroft had it in him. 
I was wrong.
The Hod King opens with the crew preparing to infiltrate Pelphia. Each of them gets a mission from Sphinx. None of them follows instructions. As a result, things go off the rails fast and with shocking and dark outcome. In theory, the plan should have worked - Iren and Voleta would infiltrate Pelphian society and contact Maria, while Tom, posing as a repulsive accountant, would investigate other things. What goes wrong? Tom can’t stay away from Maria. Iren and Voleta lack social graces and subtlety needed to blend in with spoiled, superficial and cruel Pelphians.  
Contrary to previous instalments, The Hod King happens almost exclusively in the ringdom of Pelphia. We get glimpses of other levels of the tower, but not as much as some would love. Bancroft‘s imaginative, detailed and surprising world-building continues to entertain me, which is surprising. I rarely enjoy grand-scale, all-inclusive worlds rich with details, but somehow I can’t get enough of the Tower of Babel. The setting, with its Victorian feel, canons, steam trains, strange, clockwork mechanisms and Sphinx living experiments thrills me
At this stage of the series I like all characters. I’m not sure if I could pick a favourite. Maybe Voleta? But wait, what about Edith? Or Tom? And Iren, Byron and Sphinx? The Hod King focuses strongly on Voleta, Iren and Edith’s arcs. Tom gets plenty of screen time, but his part of the story ends fast with shocking reveals. I can’t say much but consider this - on the surface Maria does well in the tower. She charms Pelphians with her voice and raw approach to playing music. Why would she leave her privileged life? 
Voleta and Iren make an excellent duo with great chemistry. I mean, just picture Voleta as a well-behaved lady and Iren as her governess and try not to laugh. I dare you. It can finish only with a catastrophe. And it does. And when it happens, you’ll find yourself gutted. Swearing loudly and, if in a public place, trying hard not to throw your Kindle / book at people around you. 
Expect no quarter. Prepare to see your beloved characters at their darkest hours. I’m not emotional, but two scenes near the end of the book hit me hard, made me choked up and shaky. I don’t hate Bancroft for them as it requires a lot of talent to make older readers feel things. And the older I get, the harder it gets to find books that genuinely move me. Well done, Josiah. Well done. You’ve broken me. Happy? 

Part III of the book focuses on Edith and I absolutely loved it. I always liked and appreciated her. My feelings solidified. Captain Winters is a formidable, badass and complex character that struggles to stay human despite the odds and being part machine fuelled by Sphinx’s mysterious concoctions. Her relationship with Tom is touching and I’m no longer sure what to expect from the last book. Whatever happens, there’s just no chance for a happy ending for all survivors. This part of the book may infuriate readers willing to learn at once what happens after a twisted cliffhanger that takes place a moment before. They’ll have to be patient, though (or skip 200 pages). Edith’s and Byron adventure starts, chronologically, almost at the beginning of the book. It tests the reader, his patience and trust that the author knows what he‘s doing.

That said, part three is no less magnificent than previous ones. It shows Edith, Byron and two other characters I won’t mention in violent and insane situations. One of the unnamed characters dies, and this death devastated me.

The writing shines with wit, style and elegance and even most discriminate readers will find quotes that’ll stay with them. In the end, I consider Books of Babel one of the best series modern fantasy has to offer. Some may find it too slow, too detailed and not enough plot-driven, others will love unique world, light touch and unique subtlety. I stood firmly in the second camp and I can’t wait to read the ultimate book in the series next year. 
Profile Image for Jon Adams.
294 reviews57 followers
January 25, 2019
Honestly, at this point, I'd be floored if one of Bancroft's books weren't 5+ stars.
Every. Single. Emotion.
Profile Image for Wol.
113 reviews42 followers
January 28, 2019
I'm going to need to stare into space for a while now. Damn, Josiah.
Profile Image for Michael Evan.
67 reviews27 followers
November 18, 2018
*minor spoilers may follow*

I remember the initial hype surrounding the self published version of Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends. A Fantasy set in the Tower of Babel with comparisons to Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams instantly sparked my interest, and as I expected, I not only loved the novel, but as a husband that constantly worries about his wife’s safety I found it triggering and often horrific. The situation Tom Senlin experiences in this gargantuan world of pre-cell phone Babel, felt more terrifying than any monster, dark wizard or Orc I’ve ever read about in this genre.

The amazing thing about the Books of Babel leading up to The Hod King, is that what began as a story about plain, ordinary headmaster Tom Senlin, a rather non charismatic person, facing a circumstance that feels quite grounded in reality, becomes a massive epic with strange creatures, highly stylistic steampunk sensibility, and a massive progression in character for our hero.

The Hod King, much like it’s predecessor Arm Of The Sphinx is split into multiple points of view. This time, Bancroft plays with parallel time periods for each of his three focuses:Senlin, Edith and Voletta, so that for the majority of the novel each character’s section is taking place congruently with the others. While this does create a bit of overlap , it’s executed in such a well crafted cinematic manner that it adds even more intensity to what unfolds.

As each character embarks on a separate mission for the Sphinx in the Ringdom Of Pelphia, where the bulk of the novel takes place , we are able to get a great deal of alone time with these characters and live inside their internal conflicts. For Senlin, who’s mission involves yet another new identity, his plan to investigate the potential Hod rebellion is thwarted by his obsession with his wife Marya, as he learns she is not only married to Duke Willhelm, but that perhaps she has happily moved on,having achieved royal status in Pelphia not only as a duchess, but as a famous pianist. Disobeying The Sphinx’s orders to refrain from any contact with Marya leads him down yet another dark and even more redemptive path where we meet old friends and adversaries from his beginnings in Babel that will have Senlin Ascends fans cheering in the aisles.

Free spirited Voletta, poses as the niece of The Sphinx to gain favour with the Pelphian upper crust in order to “rescue” Marya from her presumed farcical life and return her to Senlin. Despite a conflict of values with the elite, and blantantly insulting a Marquis, her nature finds her much favour with the Pelphians including a young prince with questionable intentions. Edith, now a Wakeman and the Captain of the massive State of Art, is on a mission to retrieve paintings belonging to The Sphinx from each Ringdom ,yet ends up discovering a great deal about herself when she makes a truly unselfish decision and risks her life to save a Hod boy.

Bancroft’s writing as always is highly literary, often quite hilarious, and he does a wonderful job of upping the ante of emotional resonance. With only one more book left in the series, we feel that the time we spend with these amazing characters is reaching its peak. Through each individual mission the three heroes endure, Bancroft twists and turns us and makes us hope for peace and solace for them like we would for old friends.

It’s been a wonder and a pleasure to experience Thomas Senlin’s progression from underconfident headmaster, to competent, resourceful leader who not only demands respect, but proves worthy of it through his loyalty and determination. The Hod King is an absolute classic, and while I did find myself eager to read the Senlin POV, and found myself heavily invested in the outcome for Tom and Marya, Bancroft’s impassioned writing and obvious enthusiasm for his creations made me care about the secondary characters almost equally. While Senlin Ascends remains my favorite Book of Babel thus far, I’d place The Hod King, by far the darkest of the three at a very close second. Bring on the finale!
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,180 followers
January 1, 2021
It is a rare thing, a fantasy series that keeps on getting better and better with every book. I am so impressed with the Books of Babel, which has everything I could possibly want in a story: rich and complex world building, a cast of characters that is both diverse and layered, and who evolve in the most interesting way, and plot developments that keep surprising me in the best possible way.

After Thomas Senlin and his crew made port with the Sphinx (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), they are now sent back to the Tower with a mission to accomplish for their new ally. The novel follows three different storylines: Senlin, Voleta and Edith go their different ways with the same goal, infiltrating the port of Pell to get information the Sphinx needs to save the Tower from Luc Marat's plans of revolution. But each of them goes in with very different information, and very different results.

Each novel in this series builds beautifully on the foundations laid down by the previous book, and while the central thread of Senlin looking for his wife Marya remains constant (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), new threads are added to this tapestry as we explore the intricate world created by Bancroft.

I mentioned the characters being a strength of this series, and I must say that it's such a pleasure to read the stories of characters who don't fit any of the genre's usual stereotypes, to see this baroque and intricate world through their eyes and to get attached to all of them (though Byron definitely steals the spotlight whenever he's there).

If you love urban fantasy and steampunk but are tired of the same old stories and the same old clichés, you should check out these books: they will surprise and delight you at every turn.

I am so excited for the fourth installment this November!
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