The heat was feverish, volcanic, unbearable. It radiated from the inner bulkhead and poured from the air vents above. When he was allowed to rest—a relative rarity—Senlin would lay his shaved head on the slightly cooler outer hull.
The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft
Published by Orbit, November 9th, 2021
Re-readability: It wasn’t my favorite in the series, but I’ll probably revisit the whole quartet someday
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Pete
Some spoilers for the previous three installments
In the final Books of Babel adventure, the crew of the airship State of the Art race to save the tower before it is destroyed by the reckless scheme of a would-be tyrant—and rescuing Thomas Senlin in the process would be a pleasant surprise.
The first book, Senlin Ascends, stands out as one of my favorite modern works of fantasy. While the final installment was weighed down by its lengthy action scenes, it still brought the series to a satisfying close.
My favorite part of these books has always been the characters and their unique struggles. While Bancroft offered small doses of that in The Fall of Babel, each arc (especially Senlin’s and Marya’s) felt slightly truncated—likely the result of all major characters sharing the stage for a change. However, most of the plot comes not from the characters but from the race to save the tower before Marat can destroy it with his despotism.
As the crew (minus Senlin and Adam) visits several ringdoms to acquire copies of The Bricklayer’s Granddaughter, a painting that holds the secret to preventing the tower’s energy source from exploding, Senlin plans to sabotage Marat’s massive wall-scaling war machine, the Hod King. While both plots are entertaining and offer unique perspectives on the Tower, they are primarily action-driven, and the stakes never felt very high.
To be fair, my idea of high stakes is a bit unconventional. When characters’ lives are in danger, as is the case in most of the action scenes in The Fall of Babel, I’m not usually engaged because I don’t expect any characters to actually die. But when the stakes are more specific and have significant plot implications or impact on the characters in personal ways (beyond injury or death), I am hooked. Many readers will enjoy the steampunk battles between the State of the Art and the Hod King, but these scenes held little for me. On top of this, they were often egregiously long; one battle lasted over 40 pages.
I didn’t dislike The Fall of Babel—it had some satisfying reunions, and Bancroft once again made the Tower feel mysterious and magical. But if it had been 200 pages shorter and kept the spotlight on the characters, I think the story would have felt richer, and I may have had more fun with the many action sequences.
An advanced reader copy was kindly provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.