My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.
Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.
Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.
Senlin, oh Senlin. I had so much sympathy for his character. Deceived, disappointed, and dancing with death at nearly every turn, poor Senlin must put down his schoolmaster ways and learn to grow a backbone instead. Time is not on his side. His friends are not on his side. The Tower is not on his side. What is a desperate man to do when he fears he’s lost the love of his life?
The Tower was a fascinating, albeit terrible place. I loved the world that Bancroft created. Each different ringdom of the Tower was so unique. I found the Parlor, which was like one giant play, to be the most fascinating (and disturbing). I wish we could have gotten a glimpse at some of the other ringdoms, in addition to the four that we were introduced to. I imagine each one only gets more bizarre and complicated the higher up the Tower one climbs.
Some people have been calling this a “steampunk” novel, but I disagree with that label. Even though there is the use of steam and mechanics, this felt very different than the typical steampunk setting. This one is unique enough to stand on its own.
There were some good supporting characters in Senlin’s story. A few I found to be predictable, but others surprised me at times. Senlin’s transition from the beginning to the end of the book was excellent. He went from being a reserved, mild-mannered man to one that’s both cunning and somewhat ruthless. The characters he was surrounded by no doubt fueled some of that transition. By the end of the story, even the most wholesome of characters feel like they might be villains. You can’t trust anyone in the Tower!
Overall, I enjoyed this story. I am only giving it 4 stars, however, because I found the story dragging a little bit here and there. Other than that I have no criticism. The author’s creativity and writing is stunning. Definitely worth a read, even if you aren’t big on fantasy.