Book review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

I have another book I rate 5-stars to share with you.
Here is a thoroughly absorbing book best classified in the Steampunk sub-genre of fantasy. In fact, the first Steampunk story I’ve read.
Senlin Ascends is set in a mythical version of The Tower of Babel with apparently Victorian era characters that mostly seem to be quasi-British. We have airships docking at the various “ringdoms” of the tower and many examples of steam powered machinery.

Thomas Senlin is a studious Headmaster lacking somewhat in passion and spark who has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything around him based on what he has read from books. His real-world experience of most things appears absent. Newly married, he brings his young vivacious wife on a honeymoon journey to The Tower of Babel and promptly loses her in the crowded markets around its base as she sets off to find a “scandalous” dress to wear.

Poor Mrs Senlin appears to have to work far too hard to get the kind of attention from her new husband that a bride would expect on her wedding night. She resorts to innuendo – “would the Tower [of Babel] be tall enough to fill the well beneath it” to try and encourage him. Senlin is not a man of action. If he wants to try and find his bride lost somewhere in the 60 levels of the Tower of Babel he will have to become one. Senlin and his wife appear to be poles apart and early in the story, I felt the urge to grab Senlin by the lapels, give him a shake, and yell at him to show some bravado.
Josiah Bancroft is a talented story teller. Long before the end of the story, I realised that is exactly how I’m supposed to feel about Thomas Senlin, at first. But he is destined to ascend not just the tower, but his own claustrophobic limitations. At this point, I will mention that I think the book cover design is a work of genius. Go and take a hard look at it.
Josiah does an incredible job during in the narrative of simultaneously doing many things – building a world of plotting villainous characters, showing the world of the tower seducing Senlin into abandoning the hopeless search for his wife, giving the impression of his wife moving ever further out of reach into a disastrous new life while Senlin is ever more desperate to find her. It’s a little like one of those nightmares where you are trying to reach the door at the end of a corridor that seems to stretch further into the distance the more you strive to try to reach that door.
As it says in the book description, Senlin must become a man of action and that propels the story on a new and more dangerous course.
Senlin Ascends was one of those books where the stuff I have to do in my life got in the way of me reading it. It’s going up there on the shelf next to my other all time favourite books.
If you hold a flintlock pistol to my head and force me to find fault with this book there is just one thing I can come up with.
Early on in the narrative and also during the climax, perhaps when Josiah is trying the most to impress the audience, he might have tried just a tad too hard. I felt there were occasionally a few too many metaphors per page. It’s a subjective opinion that feels a bit like whispering to Michael Angelo that he may have overused that particularly vivid shade of blue he likes in his painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Yep, Senlin Ascends is beautifully and almost poetically written and deserves to be recognized as a classic story in the Steampunk genre.
So far I’ve successfully talked my mother, my wife and one of my friends into buying it. Don’t miss out yourself now!
I’ve moved straight on to reading the next book in this series.

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