The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft
Thomas Senlin’s bizarre, chaotic, and perilous adventure in the Tower of Babel finally ends in the fourth book of Josiah Bancroft’s BOOKS OF BABEL series: The Fall of Babel. If you haven’t read the first three books, Senlin Ascends, Arm of the Sphinx, and The Hod King, stop now and get those under your belt before reading this review. I don’t want to spoil them for you. I recommend picking up Hachette Audio’s editions read by John Banks. They are so entertaining.
The Fall of Babel begins, thankfully, with a recap of all that’s gone on before. Then, before we join Thomas and his friends in their search for Marya, we see what happened to Adam after he was captured. In Adam’s plotline we learn a lot more about how the tower works, why it was constructed, and how the intentions of its creator have been warped over time.
At just over a quarter of the way through The Fall of Babel, we finally shift away from Adam and get back to Thomas’s point of view. Under the control of the zealot Luke Marat, Thomas is inside a siege engine called the Hod King which is making its way through the tower (and perhaps beginning to destabilize it). Along the way Marat is collecting the paintings that, for some reason we’re not aware of yet, are very important.
Thomas hopes to distinguish himself in Marat’s eyes and gain his trust. His goal is to get some inside information and agency so he can sabotage Marat’s plans to get revenge on the Sphinx. He also, most importantly, hopes to find his wife Marya and the baby daughter he’s never met.
Fortunately, Thomas has made some friends in the tower and they have various reasons to feel loyal to him. We get some of their points of view, also, as the story progresses. Everyone has a role to play in a huge final showdown where we’ll finally get more answers and the fate of the tower will be decided.
Will Senlin find Marya? And, if so, will she even want him back? Or, because of the time that’s passed, the traumatic experiences that have changed them, and the people they’ve met along the way, have the young honeymooning couple’s affections taken them each in different directions? I’m not telling.
While The Fall of Babel is a satisfying and emotional ending to one of the better fantasy series published in the last decade, it’s not my favorite book in the series and that’s because (1) the answers to all of the mysteries aren’t quite as innovative and interesting as I was hoping they’d be, especially considering how fresh the entire series’ setting and premise is, and (2) we get the story from multiple perspectives, not just Thomas’s. As I mentioned in my review of Arm of the Sphinx, Bancroft’s other character’s voices pale in comparison to that of the erudite, insightful, and witty Thomas Senlin. This is especially felt in the first quarter of the book which is narrated by Adam.
Even so, I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know Thomas Senlin – he’s a character who will stick with me – and I eagerly look forward to Josiah Bancroft’s next creation.