Congratulations to Josiah Bancroft for completing what must have felt like a Herculean task. For those that do not know, The Book of Babel began as a self-published series that slowly gained a cult following until it was picked up by a major publisher. With the fourth and final book, The Fall of Babel, coming out soon, I thought I would take a look back over this wonderful series.
For those who are unfamiliar with The Books of Babel, please check out my previous reviews linked below. Essentially, the series revolves around an unlikely group of characters who find themselves thrown together in strange circumstances as they try to climb a mythical tower with entire kingdoms on each level. The tower is filled with wonders, but human greed and corruption have prevented its original designs and turned the tower into a monument to injustice. Although our cast members each begin their quest for selfish reasons they soon find themselves fighting for the fate of the tower itself.
Book one, Senlin Ascends, is easily the weakest of the quartet. Suffering from pacing issues and a hyper-focus on a single POV, Thomas Senlin, the book is slow to start and loses some readers early on. One of the major themes of the series is personal growth, so many of the characters you will come to love are introduced as selfish assholes who are hard to like at first. But, the initial introduction of the Tower and its myriad of wonders was enough to keep me hooked into the story and coming back for more. At the end of book one Senlin is joined by a selection of characters he met throughout the first novel, and they form a crew that is much more fleshed out and well-rounded than Senlin is on his own.
Book two, Arm of the Sphinx, is one of my favorite books. It is in this second book that Bancroft really hits his stride and captures what I think are the greatest strengths of the series: character growth, group chemistry, and the mystery of the tower. After assembling our team in book one, we are now cast out into a sea of adventure with a well-rounded group of strong personalities. Their growth as a unit is heartwarming and the dynamic of the five major POVs is spectacular. This group of characters is the closest I have read to capturing the feel of a beloved group of Dungeons and Dragons adventurers going on a quest and becoming friends. On top of this, more is revealed about the very nebulous Tower of Babel, and the book starts to stretch further out of the fantasy genre and into its own unique classifications. I absolutely love this book; it is the height of the series.
Book three, The Hod King, splits our cast up and gives them different jobs to accomplish. The positive of this is it gives each character more room to breathe and lets them come into their own. The negative of this is that we lose the powerful chemistry that sustained the story in Arm of the Sphinx. In addition, The Hod King introduces a strong support cast and a pair of maniacal antagonists that light a fire under the story’s pacing and give it a much stronger sense of urgency. Although I had a few issues with the third installment, I ended up greatly enjoying it and felt like it really set the series up for a grand finale.
Which leads us to book four, The Fall of Babel, which brings the ship in for a landing. I only have minor gripes for the fourth installment. Senlin doesn’t actually feel like the main character of the series anymore in this last book. I found myself thinking of him as more of a supporting character to Edith (who is amazing). But the text still treats him like the lead despite being more on the sidelines of the story, which was a bit weird. I was also really hoping that the final book would bring the cast back together early so we could reap the benefit of the individual growth and reestablish the powerful character chemistry. This did not happen. The characters remain mostly independent until the final climax when they all finally do come back together in an explosive ending. Their individual stories remain powerful and engrossing, but I never quite got back to that high I experienced in Arm of the Sphinx. However, the loss of innocence and growing up are two big themes of this series and I think my pining for things from the past fits squarely within what Bancroft was trying to evoke.
The Fall of Babel, in my mind, is an (almost) perfect ending to this series. It takes everything that the story evokes and opines in its four books and distills it into an ending that represents the best of Bancroft’s ideas. Mysteries that have haunted the reader the entire series are finally answered, to great satisfaction. But they also lead to new questions and enigmas that just extend the chain of confusion past the last page. While it is very clear that the story of the Tower of Babel is over, the story of our characters seems far from finished.
Or maybe it is over. An open-ended finale suits this story well and I don’t think that every mystery needs an ending. I found myself delighted by the big questions and considerations that Bancroft leaves the reader with. It fueled some wonderful introspection about the purpose of humanity and our responsibility to our species and the world. The themes, in general, are on point and they tackle many ideas that don’t come up often enough in the fantasy space. The Fall of Babel left me very excited for whatever Bancroft does next as I am sure it will be phenomenal—especially because he will have a professional editor with him from the start.
The Fall of Babel is fantastic and easily one of the strongest books of the year. Its pages are brimming with mystery and friendship and the story is a treasure map that shows the way to important questions and priceless ideas. With the final installment of The Books of Babel finally out, I can safely say that this will always be a series worth your time. Grab yourself a copy if you haven’t already.
The Fall of Babel – 9.0/10
The Books of Babel – 9.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.