While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.
Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.
Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.
I read a lot of fantasy – like, upwards of 150 fantasy books per year. So when I say that Senlin Ascends is one of the most unique fantasy books I’ve come across in a very long time, I kind of know what I’m talking about.
There were so many things I loved about this book, so I’m going to break it down into categories:
1. The Plot: When Thomas Senlin has to decide where to go on his honeymoon with his new bride, Marya, he suggests the Tower of Babel – a place with which he’s always been fascinated. Unfortunately for him, things don’t exactly work out as he’d planned. Things start to go downhill before Senlin and his wife even step foot inside the tower. While at a nearby market, Senlin gets distracted for a second, only to turn back and find his wife gone. Senlin assumes that Marya would try to get to the third level of the Tower, the Baths, which was their destination. However, each level Senlin ascends poses a number of challenges that he couldn’t have anticipated. And the tower is said to change its visitors forever, so who knows what Marya will be like if and when he does find her. Journeys aren’t anything new in the fantasy genre, but the type journey in Senlin Ascends is definitely one of a kind.
2. The Main Character: Thomas Senlin isn’t your typical fantasy protagonist – he’s not a wizard, has no supernatural abilities or awesome fighting skills, and he doesn’t have a crown-shaped birthmark and an old sword that somehow always stays miraculously sharp. No, Thomas Senlin is a gawky, bookish headmaster from a rural seaside town. The most controversial thing he’s done in his entire life is marry Marya, his decade younger, charming, ex-student. The fact that Senlin is just an average guy forced to rely on his wits made it so much more rewarding as a reader. It’s much more compelling to see an average guy, rather than a powerful wizard, soldier, etc., rise to the occasion and face the extraordinary head on.
3. The Setting: The Tower of Babel is supposed to be the pinnacle of civilization. It’s a place Senlin has idealized for years, with its luxury and cutting-edge technology. Each level of the tower is completely different from the one below it, so I loved discovering what came next.
4. The Writing: If anyone believes that self-published work is necessarily subpar, I’d immediately point them in the direction of Senlin Ascends. I loved Bancroft’s writing. One thing I really enjoyed was the snippets from a Tower of Babel guidebook at the start of each chapter. I liked the contrast between Senlin’s expectations of what the Tower would be like and the disappointing reality.
In case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait to see what challenges Senlin faces in the sequel. I sincerely hope a publisher picks this up, because it deserves to be on the shelves of bookstores everywhere.