Sent to me by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 15/03/18
Format: Paperback, 448pp
Summed up in a word: Exploration
This Books of Babel series is seriously addictive and it is a shame I have to wait so long for The Hod King now. Josiah Bancroft has created an awesome SFF series that will appeal to a wide range of readers including action/adventure lovers, Steampunk obsessives and mythology nuts like myself. You really need to read Senlin Ascends before you consider approaching Arm Of The Sphinx. I compared JB to Jules Verne (though darker) and that comparison still holds strong here. I can’t recommend this series enough so check out my full review below to see if you think it is for you.
Forced by necessity into a life of piracy, Senlin and his eclectic crew struggle to survive aboard their stolen airship as the hunt for his lost wife continues. But the Tower of Babel is proving to be as difficult to re-enter as it was to escape.
Hopeless and desolate, they turn to a legend of the tower, the mysterious Sphinx. But help from the sphinx doesn’t come cheaply and, as Senlin knows, debts aren’t always what they seem in the Tower of Babel.
“Civilisation is like sunshine. Spread it about, and the world blooms with culture, innovation, and fraternity. But focus it all upon one spot, and mankind scorches the earth like a ray from a magnifying glass.”
From the Stone Cloud’s logbook, in the hand of Captain Tom Mudd.
Arm Of The Sphinx continues the exceptional story of transformation that Senlin Ascends began. Tom Senlin has become Tom Mudd, aeronautical pirate Captain of The Stone Cloud and, along with his dedicated crew Edith, Iren, Adam and Voleta, he navigates the skies looking for food, supplies and ultimately salvation. Tom has narrowed the location of his lost wife Marya to the fifth ringdom Pelphia. Pelphia is a haven for the noble and the important. Shut to the likes of Tom and his associates. Tom believes there is an chance to get to Pelphia through the Silk Gardens and sets out to find this secret path. With limited supplies and the commissioners warship hot on their tail, the pressure is on to return to the solid ground of the tower. The crew’s quest takes them far deeper into the tower than ever before. Tom’s pursuit of his beloved wife puts him and his friends between gods and kings, creatures and machines. Each challenge either tightens allegiances or threatens everyone’s loyalty to their captain.
When the group find themselves in the presence of The Sphinx, master of manipulation and commander of complex machinery, the trajectory of their journey throws them right in the middle of a war. Arm Of The Sphinx is bold and compelling foray into myth and chaos, fuelled by love and courage. JB just has this infectious story telling ability that draws the reader further and further into The Tower Of Babel. I am glad the mysteries surrounding the tower become clearer during AOTS but somehow I was still left with more burning questions than answers. I am not complaining as I could carry on reading this series for a long time (so glad there are four planned instalments). I was concerned that Bancroft might have gone for more of the same formula with Arm Of The Sphinx but he really changed up the game completely delivering upon promises he only hinted about in Senlin Ascends.
Upping the stakes within the story and fleshing out all the present members of the crew really well and introducing a couple of brilliant new characters (especially the mysterious Sphinx) along the way made AOTS a worthwhile addition to the series. The narrative focuses on all of the group this time instead of just Senlin which was a good choice (though Senlin is still my favourite character). Having multiple views on the action and the plot was a valuable addition to the novel. The only concrete consistency in Arm Of The Sphinx that is present in Senlin Ascends is JB’s fascinating and well paced writing style. I can’t get enough of JB’s adventurous and mythological writing that contains within itself a philosophical and existential quality and a decent amount of humour as well. My favourite thing about this series has to be the dialogue, it is amazing. Intelligent, witty, courageous in the face of endless danger and, at times, hilarious. The remarkable character development of Senlin Ascends has been extended to a whole bunch of individuals this time around.
JB continues his remarkable transformation of Senlin in AOTS really well. Senlin is out to prove himself as a Captain, a leader and a friend. This is made harder by the fact that he is having potent hallucinations of his missing wife (and a mean version at that). What I respect about Senlin is the fact that no matter what the tower throws at him, he remains true to his ideals. He won’t abandon his wife but he won’t forget his friends either. I wonder how long that can last in a place as intense as the tower. Edith is another enigmatic character who has a rough time within the tower. She sports a cool mechanical arm and ties to The Sphinx which she is unwilling to divulge to her peers. Young Adam’s loyalty to Senlin is still being tested by the presence of his sister Voleta. Voleta is a great new character that brings an indefatigable youthful persistent and playfulness that compliments the story really well. Last but not least is Iren who has remained loyal to Senlin and grows fonder of the others each passing day. She is still an undefeatable bad-ass and I enjoyed the insights into her background and personality as well.
JB manages to maintain the unpredictable nature of The Tower Of Babel but also gives the reader enough developments and secrets to keep them invested. The Tower is hands-down one of my all time favourite SFF settings and JB just keeps surprising me. There is still so much more to JB’s tower that is yet to be uncovered and I can’t wait to see it all play out. It seems as if this series is just warming up and as far as I can see anything can happen. The tower has the ultimate influence over its inhabitants and it traps them and guides them in its own way. My only real issue with AOTS lies within its third act; I felt that there were moments that were too jarring and nonsensical to make sense. The moments are far and few between but I feel I may have missed out on important details while trying to get my head around what is going on. I may have to re-read the act to get my head around certain developments.
Josiah Bancroft has chosen to explore some interesting themes within this story that are relevant to us all. How much we rely on machines and the fact that they need us just as much as we them. JB also touches upon drug addiction, the difference between truth and legends and testing loyalty to its limits. I still see this as science-fiction with a touch of fantasy threaded through this. Automatons, creatures, myths, legends and illusions await the reader but this story is fundamentally one of humanity and change. There is nothing within that outright defines this as fantasy (there are some close efforts :D) but that isn’t a bad thing. It is true to the nature of JB’s writing which focuses on elements that are not what they seem. The imagery that JB creates with his story is still up to par here as well. Big set pieces as well as interesting and alternative ideas that keep the reader’s mind keen.
Overall I have given Josiah Bancroft’s Arm Of The Sphinx 5/5 because it is another soaring effort from an author who has no limit to his imagination. I am gutted I have to wait until December until The Hod King comes out but I am sure it will be worth the wait. If you have the time then please invest it in the Books Of Babel series as it is creativeness at its best. JB is a born story-teller who has crafted an unforgettable tale that all SFF readers can enjoy.
About Josiah Bancroft
Josiah Bancroft started writing novels when he was twelve and by the time he finished his first, he was an addict. Eventually, the writing of Senlin Ascends began, a fantasy adventure, not so unlike the stories that got him addicted to words in the first place. He wanted to do for others what his favourite writers had done for him: namely to pick them up and carry them to a wonderful and perilous world that is spinning very fast. If he’s done that with this book, then he’s happy.
Josiah lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sharon and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin.
More examples of his work, including updates on upcoming instalments in the Books of Babel series, can be found at www.thebooksofbabel.com.