Title: Senlin Ascends
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 1/16/18 (though I’m pretty sure it has been previously released self-pub. Thanks to NetGalley for an eARC!)
Steampunk usually has a Victorian England-ish setting and rests on a premise like “this is what the world would be like if Babbage had actually built the clockwork/steam computers he invented.” This steampunkish book goes much farther back for our point of divergence…apparently in this world God never stopped the construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and it has become the pillar (or possibly sinkhole) of culture and civilization.
In this world we meet Senlin, a young idealistic schoolmaster reminiscent of Voltaire’s Candide in his optimism and naivete (with a side order of smug fussiness). He arrives at the Tower with his new wife and his trusty Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel (a book almost but not entirely unlike The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). The honeymoon quickly descends into a Kafkaesque nightmare as he is separated from his wife and begins working his way up the Tower in hopes of finding her.
For the sake of spoilers, I won’t tell any more of the plot or setting since exploring the surreal hodgepodge world of the Tower with it’s stacked “ringdoms” is part of the fun. Let’s just say that as Senlin ascends the tower, his idealistic vision of the Tower as a shining beacon of culture and his bright-eyed trust in humanity go in the other direction.
For all that, I didn’t find this to be a grindingly depressing book. The author has a light, slightly sarcastic touch and has you rooting for Senlin as he becomes a sadder, wiser man. The book does not offer much resolution to the main plot (there appears to be plenty more Tower to ascend), but I enjoyed the journey enough that I’m not even mad…I’m glad there’s much more to come of this fascinating world. This quirky book just might make my top five list for the year!