Start this series if you haven't already
I received an advance reader copy of Arm of the Sphinx in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Josiah Bancroft and Orbit Books. Bancroft's second outing in The Books of Babel series was originally self-published in 2015 and has recently been re-released through Orbit. Following on from Senlin Ascends, Thomas Senlin and his handful of colourful acquaintances find themselves living a life of piracy outside the tower onboard their commandeered airship The Stone Cloud. This is all a means to an end however as Senlin's key objective is to re-enter the Tower at his earliest convenience and continue searching for his missing wife.
It had been a while since I completed Senlin Ascends and excluding the fact that Thomas hasn't been successful in locating his wife Marya I couldn't completely recollect exact details regarding certain parts of the story, the other main characters or their motives. Bancroft reintroduces the ensemble expertly and cleverly reminds readers of previous happenings without dumbing down the opening chapters. After this brief stage, my memory and knowledge of previous events and the world were reignited so I could then focus on the important part - the story and what happens next in Senlin's misadventure. I won't mention too many details about the narrative itself apart from two of my favourite scenes included a Golden Zoo and a Bottomless Library. Throughout the novel, there are frequently quality and original set pieces, intense thrilling moments, and a few well-placed twists.
There are a larger number of point of view perspectives in the Arm of the Sphinx than in the previous entry. Written in the 3rd person, the characters we follow in addition to Senlin are the one-armed and trustworthy first mate Edith, the inquisitive and adventurous Voleta, her engineer and perhaps untrustworthy brother Adam, and finally, Iren who previously acted as a bouncer/bodyguard within one of the Ringdom's seedy criminal underworld. The character development is excellent and the above-mentioned members of The Stone Cloud really grow and shine and they are no longer merely side characters in "The Thomas Senlin Show." We are introduced to these characters' personal thoughts and feelings which adds heightened affinity and I truly cared about each of these very different individuals.
Bancroft writes an exquisite mix of fantasy and steampunk. As further mysteries of the Tower unfold science-fiction elements are introduced and merge seamlessly. The world-building is brilliant and totally unique. The grandiose and labyrinthine Tower is arguably the main character in this series and in this novel new Ringdom's are introduced for the first time including the Silk Gardens. Each of the Tower's many Ringdom's is the size of a city and they all have great differences aesthetically, socially and politically. The only common denominator is that they can all present an extreme degree of danger.
Each chapter opens with a beautiful and poignant segment that often heightens myths, happenings, and understanding of the Tower. The majority of the chapters are approximately 10-pages which helps feed the "just one more chapter"-itch and is the reason that I devoured this book within a couple of days. Arm of the Sphinx is a completely original and beautifully written story that is poetic, descriptive and completely intoxicating. I mentioned in my Senlin Ascends review that Bancroft's work reads like a classic and that statement is completely true for Arm of the Sphinx too. At the finale, everything is set up brilliantly for the next instalment of The Books of Babel. The twist on the very last page is shocking but makes a potential future event completely unpredictable and infinitely intriguing. Start this series if you haven't already. I don't think you will regret it. I'm personally counting down the days until I can re-enter the Tower with Book #3: The Hod King.
9.0 / 10
-- James Tivendale
“We are, each of us, a multitude. I am not the man I was this morning, nor the man of yesterday. I am a throng of myself queued through time. We are, gentle reader, each a crowd within a crowd.”
Arm of the Sphinx is the second installment in The Books of the Babel series by Josiah Bancroft. You may recall my excitable, flailing, gushing review of Senlin Ascends, which was one of my top favorite reads of last year. I declared it a masterpiece and that it's one of those unparalleled stories that has something for everyone. Although still completely true, I believe that this sequel is even better. Which is incredible. How?! HOW IS IT SO DAMN GLORIOUS?!??!
There is a pulsating veraciousness about Bancroft's writing. Almost as if magic explodes from his brain onto the page. Magic that feels real and genuine and fucking MAGNETIC. Layer after layer is stripped away, revealing such gorgeous bones underneath.
This is a different book from Senlin Ascends. It's darker and more philosophical. The plot is more focused and Senlin shares the spotlight, as we are introduced to multiple POV's. These characters undergo such dramatic growth. Their journey is a deeper one this time around for the reader. We've gotten a chance to meet them in the first book, so now they have room to explore. They have space to broaden and cultivate substantially as individual characters. It's such a welcome experience. Voleta, Iren, Edith.. I just love all of these characters so goddamn much! Most of all, I love the spiraling tower itself. There is a lifetime of stories to be told with each of the ringdoms having their own distinct personalities and I will continue to read whatever Bancroft decides to write about them! It's truly one of the most original ideas in fantasy.
This series needs to be experienced and enjoyed!
"If there were forests on the moon, Senlin imagined they might well resemble the eerie landscape of the Silk Gardens.
The trees were hard, barkless, and pale as mushrooms. Glowing moss bearded the sandy ground between the disheveled cobblestones of the winding trails. Everything seemed to be pressing up and crowding in. Spider silk laced between branches and swooped over their heads, growing so dense in the high bowers that the fine threads merged into a single, unbroken canopy. The air was parched and cold, and it tickled their nostrils with minerals as pungent as potpourri. Very quickly, the ship and crew seemed far behind them, and they felt quite alone."
I don't want to spoil too much, so.. basically Arm of the Sphinx is a swashbuckling adventure. Senlin continues to search for his lost wife, aboard a stolen airship with his delightfully entertaining crew. We see more of the mysterious Tower of Babel and we spend a lot of time in a library with the purrfect librarian!
There's also a zoo; hilarious witty banter; breathtaking action scenes and of course, the Sphinx, who resembles a spoon and has a cybernetic assistant named Byron.
It's a story about love and loss and maybe even some redemption - but also, spiders. Lots of spiders!
I've said it before and I'll say it again.. this series is a modern classic. It's one of those unique stories that feels like it punched a hole through time. It's just.. it's timeless. There is so much beauty on every single page.
I am absolutely besotted with this wondrous story. It is utterly enchanting and I cannot recommend this series higher! It has become one of my all-time favorites!
9.0 / 10
-- Holly Grimdragon
1 positive reader review(s) for Arm of the Sphinx
2 positive reader review(s) in total for the The Books of Babel series
Jon from Japan
Seamless continuation of the first book, stakes are raised, characters are developed, can't wait for the next book to come out!
9.5/10 from 2 reviews