If you haven’t read Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx yet: Please stop here and go get them. I recommend Hachette Audio’s versions because they are absolutely brilliantly performed by John Banks. Read the rest of this review at your own risk — there will be mild spoilers for Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx in my review.
I am so conflicted. For some reason I just assumed that Josiah Bancroft’s BOOKS OF BABEL was going to be a trilogy and that The Hod King (2019) was the final installment. When I picked up The Hod King, I assumed we’d be finding Marya and wrapping things up, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. But I was wrong! So, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that no, The Hod King is not the final book, so the story will not be wrapped up by its end. The good news is (obviously) that The Hod King is not the final book and we’ll get to spend even more time with Thomas Senlin in the tower!
At this point, Thomas is getting closer to finding his long-lost wife. The Sphinx will help him get to the ringdom of Pelphia, where he has heard that Marya is living, but in exchange Thomas must find out why the Sphinx’s messenger butterflies are not returning from Pelphia. This errand takes Thomas to the coliseum where the decadent and fashion-conscious Pelphians watch enslaved gladiators try to kill each other. Surprisingly, one of these gladiators is an old friend of Tom’s. Tom would like to help his old friend escape and, of course, he wants to find Marya.
But the Sphinx has warned Thomas that it will be dangerous to try to contact Marya. The duke who she’s living with is powerful and dangerous and, anyway, maybe Marya doesn’t even want to be rescued. So Tom’s friends (Edith, Voletta, and Iren) come up with a careful plan to find out whether Marya is happy where she is or would like to be rescued. But Tom gets impatient and goes off script, and that leads to a total disaster.
If, like me, you’ve loved these books so far, you are going to love The Hod King, too. It’s got everything we expect — fast-paced action, amazing scenery, surprising discoveries, numerous dangers, an epic battle scene, romance, a rollercoaster of emotions, and characters you’ve never seen before.
Best of all is Josiah Bancroft’s glorious prose which is full of wit and wisdom. Every sentence is a delight to read:
The rich learn lessons. The poor commit crimes. Mistakes are generally considered a mark of the middle-class.
At the Round Table of Color, orange sits supreme. Orange is sublime. Orange is ablaze. And seated across from Lady Orange, we have Sir Purple. I ask you, is any color more vulgar? The word alone emerges like something from a lavatory: Purple. Plopple. It’s all prunes, liver spots, and ink stains. If I ever utter a word of praise for that wretched hue, please, snatch my pen away and gore me with it.
In the end, things are looking worse for Thomas and his friends than when they started. None of this was predictable and I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I can’t wait to find out. And when Thomas’s story is finished, I hope Bancroft will continue to write more adventures in the Tower of Babel. I will be reading every one of them.
By the way, I would like to remind readers that Josiah Bancroft was “discovered” by Mark Lawrence via his Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. He is now published by Orbit Books. Also, don’t forget that the audiobooks, published by Hachette Audio, are just as sublime as orange.