ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art by : Ian Leino
The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Books of Babel (Book #4 of 4)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Steampunk
Pages: 672 pages (US paperback edition)
Published: 9th December 2021 by Orbit
The Fall of Babel is not just a title; it is a state. A state where the quality of the series ends up.
Josiah Bancroft, please do not read this review. I love your previous books, and I would prefer your memory of my thoughts on your books remains that way; leave it in the state of innocence and happiness just like Senlin before he entered the Tower of Babel. Now, let’s get on with the review.
“You could resent yourself for your imperfect enjoyment of your life, but that seems to me like a never-ending chore. A thankless one, too. I think that if we really knew how good our lives were while they were good, we’d be too scared to do anything, change anything. We’d never take a risk, or explore, or grow. You can hate yourself for not fully appreciating your happy days while you had them, or you could look back and be warmed by the memory, couldn’t you?”
I will not lie; I am incredibly disappointed with The Fall of Babel. I never expected I would give such a low rating to this book. Those who’ve read this book will know where my first issue lies. The decision to put Adam Boreas as the only POV character in the first 200 pages was simply excessive. Instead of immediately reading the continuation of The Hod King, we’re forced to spend our time with Adam Boreas as he lives in a new Ringdom named after his name: Boredom. It took me almost a WEEK to read through the first 200 pages; I usually read 150-200 pages a day. That’s how disconnected and uninterested I was with Adam’s storyline. And to make things even worse, Adam’s section felt almost entirely unnecessary to be put in the front of the novel; it belongs in a separate novella or at the end of The Hod King. I’m not saying Adam should be excluded from The Fall of Babel, but this is also the final book of the series, and he was entirely absent in the previous book that it’s hard for me to care what’s going on with him. The Hod King was brilliant, and the way it ended makes me want to get back to my beloved characters as soon as possible. Instead, we’re forced to read Adam Boreas’s boring story with some brand new characters I didn’t care for about 200 pages. The effect of this, after struggling through the first part for a week, which is a new record for the slowest reading time I’ve ever had, by the time I got back to reading the other characters, I already don’t care about the any of the characters beside Senlin, Marya, and Byron. I just wanted to be done with the book as soon as possible.
“But understanding nothing, or very little of the world, and having no desire to understand more than you already do, well, that invites entitlement. What was a privilege becomes a right. And that, I think, is dangerous.”
But that’s not all. It actually took me another week to finish the rest of the novel; this makes The Fall of Babel the longest time I ever spent to finish a book. It’s insane, The Fall of Babel consists of 241k words but it felt like 600k words. For comparison, Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson (460k words) took me a week to start and finish, and The Stand Uncut Edition by Stephen King (468k words) took me ten days. I don’t know about you, but often I can measure how invested and enamored I am by a book through how fast—not intentionally, but I always feel like I WANT to continue reading—I can read through it. Yes, the immense pacing issues I had with the beginning of this book could’ve been fixed simply by having all the POV characters appearing interchangeably instead of doing it in a large chunk. It’s also true that this worked in The Hod King, but it didn’t in here, not for me anyway. But The Fall of Babel felt like four novellas combined into one book, and the only sections I loved from the book were the four long chapters titled “From the Belly of the Beast” and some of the chapters in the last part of the novel, at least until the ending happened.
“What is a poison to the simple may be a liquor to the wise.”
Here’s the thing, I’m invested in Senlin’s journey to be reunited with Marya; this has been the case since Senlin Ascends, and this remains the main focus of the previous three books. Even in The Hod King where other characters like Edith and Voleta take the central stage, Senlin remains the main character of the series. But not in this final book; Senlin is put in a secondary role. The “From the Belly of the Beast” chapters I mentioned were the only Senlin chapters we get, and they’re amazing. That’s it, though. Honestly, this book reminded me of reading The Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan; Vaelin was the focus in Blood Song, but he has become a side character in the final book. This is what happened with Senlin, and other than him, Marya, and Byron, none of the characters captivated me anymore.
“Those who claim to be “ready for anything” are overpacked and invariably unprepared for the one obstacle every adventurer must eventually face—disappointment.”
The Fall of Babel is well-written, just like always; I highlighted a myriad of epigraphs. But beautiful prose alone isn’t enough for me to love a book. Investment in characters needs to continue, revelations need to make sense, and the narrative has to be able to captivate me, among many things. On several levels, The Fall of Babel to achieve this. Also, unlike the previous three books, The Fall of Babel is bursting with action scenes, and in my opinion, they’re not engaging because Bancroft’s prose isn’t suitable for it. This is, as I said, mostly caused by the lack of investment I had with the characters besides Senlin’s story. And other than that, the action scenes from other POV characters ran on too long for their own good. It even almost felt like they were put there for the sake of making the novel even longer. Then there’s also the hallucinations, dream sequences, and also ‘time travel’ that felt out of place. And finally, the ending, which was extremely disappointing and unsatisfying. The resolution between characters left a lot to desire, revelations given felt like they came out of nowhere, unanswered questions are still at large; it was one of the worst endings I’ve ever read. Seriously, after everything, I can’t believe the book concludes Senlin and Marya’s story like that. Stephen King could write a better ending than this, and I consider him one of the worst when it comes to endings.
“I suppose books are like a surgeon’s scalpel. The same blade that can kill when wielded by a fool can save lives in the right hands.”
I’m sure this review is just an unpopular opinion, I can already feel all the spoon of Bancroft’s fans being raised, and I genuinely hope people love this book and series. But in my opinion, The Fall of Babel was utterly disappointing. I wanted to love it. I really do. I mean, I even reread the previous three books just to refresh my memory before I read The Fall of Babel so I can enjoy every detail of it. For those of you who don’t know, this is something that I rarely do due to my mountainous TBR pile, but I did it for The Books of Babel because I highly enjoyed the first three books. I chose this as the last fantasy book I read in 2021, it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and unfortunately, it ended up being the disappointment of the year.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in doing your best. Of course, in hindsight, it’s easy to see a better course, a wiser choice. When I look back, I see a thousand small missteps that altogether brought me here. I try not to dwell on my mistakes because it doesn’t change them; it only changes me.”
The Books of Babel: 15/20 stars
You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
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