Senlin Ascends is an interesting book that I wanted to love but it just didn’t quite get there. The idea that The Tower of Babel is still standing and that it is this great attraction to the world is a fantastic idea. Because the Tower of Babel is still around, the technology of this world is very steampunk. Now, even though it is set in the Middle East, this book is very much the product of Western civilization, namely Victorian England. Senlin and his wife are on their honeymoon and they have chosen to visit The Tower of Babel. Senlin is a school teacher and he has all the book smarts about the tower at the palm of his hand, with his trusty guidebook. He soon learns, when his wife goes missing, that everything he thought he knew about The Tower of Babel is completely wrong, this isn’t the utopia he was led to believe it is. He is now trying to climb the levels of the tower, each being its own little kingdom, or ringdom, in hopes of finding his lost wife.
The first thing that I was worried about going into Senlin Ascends is the quality of writing, knowing it was a self-published book before it was picked up by Orbit. Well, I have to say that Bancroft isn’t the most amazing writer but he isn’t any worse than a lot of traditionally published writers. Sure, there are pacing issues in this book, especially when the character changes from one ringdom to the next, but the world-building is so captivating that you want to read more about how this world works, and really, that is why you should read this book. The world-building in this book is so fascinating because it deals with The Tower of Babel, and as someone that grew up in Sunday school, having a fresh take on an old Biblical story is interesting.
Senlin is a non-traditional male character at the beginning of this story. He is timid and inexperienced with the world. Because this story takes place over a long period of time as he moves up the levels of the tower, you can see his growth and experience begin to shape the man into someone a bit more “worldly.” As much as I wanted him to stay a book smart teacher, Bancroft gives Senlin the cliche’ training montage later in the story, but at least he is teaching someone how to read in exchange.
There are a lot of interesting side characters in this story that have come to the Tower and had to stay for some reason or another. Learning about all these other characters and their individual stories was fascinating but there just was something missing in the end. I think that the story very much felt like part 1 of many, it abruptly ended, and the McGuffin of Senlin finding his wife wore thin. This is definitely one of those first books of a series that will need the rest of the books to read in order to really get a whole picture of how good it really is.
If you like: Steampunk, interesting world-building, and a non-traditional male lead check it out.
If you don’t like: women being treated as second-class citizens, pacing issues, and not a complete rounded story without reading the sequels, maybe skip it.
14/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
4 – World Building
2 – Writing Style
2 – Heart and Mind Aspect