RetroReview: Senlin Ascends & Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

Someone give this man an award!

It’s been a while since I reviewed anything. I don’t want you lot thinking I fell off the face of the earth (just kidding, pretty much everyone who reads this blog follows me on twitter where I have not been spending the last week retweeting pictures of puppies and have definitely not been live tweeting my Mass Effect replay).

ON TOPIC: Have I ever told you that Arm of the Sphinx is my favorite book? I’ve gotten a lot of favorites in the last year. Between the SPFBO and FB groups… I’ve added about 12 new ones in the last 12 months.

But… none of the others have budged AotS as my favorite. Close… but not quite. And… well I feel like a book blogger should have a review of their favorite book on their book blog… right? Well, I can’t review Arm of the Sphinx without reviewing Senlin Ascends… it just doesn’t seem right. So you know what? BOTH! SO THERE!

Senlin, a mild-mannered school teacher, is drawn to the Tower of Babel by the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The ancient and immense Tower seems the perfect destination for a honeymoon. But soon after arriving, Senlin loses his young wife, Marya, in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through slums and theaters, prisons and ballrooms. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find Marya, Senlin will have to do more than survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Senlin did not believe in that sort of love: sudden and selfish and insatiable. Love, as the poets so often painted it, was just bald lust wearing a pompous wig. He believed true love was more like an education: it was deep and subtle and never complete.

That is some of the most romantic shit I’ve ever read and I spent my late twenties reading romance novels. It’s not in-your-face flowery romantic. It’s subtly romantic, like Senlin is.

Oh, Senlin Ascends. It’s still hard for me to articulate what I like about this book all these months later. It rocked my socks off.

It’s a really well written and wordy book, and when I say ‘wordy,’ I mean it in the same way that I mean it if I’m describing a China Miéville book (disclaimer: I was reading a China Miéville book right before starting this one, so that might have influenced this feeling somewhat – the man uses words like palimpsest like it’s going out of style). The vocabulary is rich and it brings you right into this treacherous, dirty and fantastic world. I was on the edge of my seat through much of the story. If my seat was my bed, and being on the edge of it was laying in it reading this book throughout the wee hours. 😀

You start out only with the knowledge of the tower that Senlin has, and so you’re expecting it to be something it is not, as he does, and you find out as he does that it’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows. Getting to see Senlin grow, as the influences around him change him as a character from the stern headmaster into, well, into who he ends up was awesome.

This is a really original and unique idea, and such a unique world that it was very difficult to predict what would happen. I had no idea what was coming up next or who would appear or reappear, and that made for a really great adventure.

In short, it was amazeballs. 5/5 stars!

The best arm.

Forced by necessity into a life of piracy, Senlin and his crew struggle to survive aboard their stolen airship. Senlin’s search for his lost wife continues, even as her ghost hounds his every step. But the Tower of Babel proves to be as difficult to reenter as it was to escape.

While searching for an unguarded port, Senlin encounters the camp of Luc Marat, who seems equal parts bandit and humanitarian. One thing is for certain: his asylum for the downtrodden hods is not as peaceful as it appears.

In desperation, Senlin turns to the mysterious and dangerous Sphinx, with whom Edith shares a terrible bond. They discover the Sphinx’s help does not come cheaply. Senlin must choose between his friends, his freedom, and his wife.

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.

I did not want it to end. I wanted this to go on forever and ever, like a bottomless library (I’ll take one of those too, please).

This one was a great adventure from start to finish. We got to know characters a bit better by switching to their POV for a while. Characters I was more or less indifferent towards in the first book are now swiftly becoming favorites. Voleta in particular – I love her ‘I do what I want’ attitude. Edith as well. I want all the things for Edith.

The prose is yet again fantastic and the vocabulary is rich but not overdoing it. I’m not sure I can explain what I mean by this. I suppose I mean that Josiah can use really great words that you very rarely see in everyday life, and use them in a way that does not make it feel like he had a thesaurus open next to him at all times.

Each word fits perfectly snugly exactly where it is put, as if this book is one giant jigsaw puzzle of amazing (you can see here how I have little talent for rich vocabulary. >.> I definitely appreciate it though). The casual use of the word oubliette to describe a bottomless library thrills me to no end (because I just like the word oubliette. It’s fun to say, but alas, not to experience.)

And that ending… well… can I have more now, pretty please? Also 5/5 stars!

“Oh, don’t act so smart, you don’t even know what an oubliette is.”

I’m more excited for The Hod King than I am for Doors of Stone, Winds of Winter, Oathbringer and Peace Talks combined.

(Spoiler alert: that’s a lot).

Senlin Ascends

Arm of the Sphinx

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