This book was sent to me by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.
22.01.19 / Orbit / Fantasy / Paperback / 608pp / 978-0356510859
Target Audience: Readers who love a big series you can really sink your teeth into. A huge labyrinthine world of discovery, mystery and adrenaline mixed with a band of lovable rogues on a journey of transformation and ascension. Adventure Fantasy with touches of steampunk and science-fiction.
About The Hod King
Thomas Senlin and his crew have been separated following the orders of the mysterious Sphinx. Meanwhile, the enslaved hods climb the Black Trail and whisper secrets in the dark. As Senlin and his crew are dragged ever further into the Tower’s conspiracies, everything falls to one question: who is the Hod King?
Just a quick note. If you haven’t already read Senlin Ascends and Arm Of The Sphinx then there are going to be some spoilers ahead. I hope this review is enough to entice you into reading the whole series as it is an exceptional experience.
Tom Senlin, Edith Winters, Voleta, Iren and Byron are aboard the impressive warship State Of Art and have been sent by the enigmatic Sphinx to Pelphia, the fifth ringdom of the tower on their own unique missions. Pelphia is a place of royalty, high living and endless parties. Though Pelphia has influence over the tower they are more interested in fashion, popularity and entertainment. Ruled upon by a king and his princes, people are expected to keep up appearances and continue the festivities long past their expiration. Most importantly it is the last known location of The Mermaid, Marya Senlin. Tom has been sent in undercover to find out what has been happening to the Sphinx’s mechanical spies in the Colosseum, where the hods fight to the death for the Pelphians amusement.
Among the many roles Tom has had to fill during his time in the tower, he has been a thief, an actor, a dock manager and a pirate captain but now he has to assuage himself into a classy culture as tourist Cyril Pinfield. Cyril is from the ringdom of Boskopia, a dry and boring nation which is a persona that Senlin has to live up to (with hilarious results may I add). Tom has been ordered to avoid his wife Marya at all costs and stick to his role. Tom quickly defies his orders and gets involved with Marya’s new husband Duke William Pell with hope of the chance to meet her and get the answers he needs. A decision which propels him down a path of death, disappointment, survival and conversion.
Voleta has been tasked with making contact with Marya. Her and Iren have also had to sacrifice their dignities to face their new hosts. Voleta is posing as the Sphinx’s niece and has to face the royals in order to safely meet Marya. Voleta’s agility and acting ability are pushed to their limits and so is Iren’s patience. Making an impression on the citizens of Pelphia draws Voleta into a world she doesn’t understand but for a man she respects above no other, Voleta is willing to deal with anything to meet Marya and possibly steal her away.
Edith must confront the king of Pelphia to obtain his copy of a rare painting that holds a secret influence over the tower. Being captain of the State of Art is no easy feat, trying to maintain an air of power with so little crew. With just the skeleton crew of Byron and Reddleman aboard, there is an ever present risk of being boarding and overrun but Byron and the Sphinx have a few surprises for anyone who tries.
Each character is put to the test with disastrous results. Finding new motivations and individuals to care about, protect and fight against. There is rebellion in the air, in the walls and in the shadows. The hod are taking risks, confronting their masters and covering up secrets. They are looking for retribution and the tower will pay its dues. Come The Hod King.
The third instalment of a series is usually make or break time for most authors as it can either invigorate or decimate their efforts, l am happy to report that The Hod King is 100% the former. Senlin Ascends blew my mind with its scale and imagination. Arm Of The Sphinx gripped me with rebellion and action. The Hod King is by far Josiah Bancroft’s biggest (nearly 600 pages) and boldest effort yet and I am both incredibly impressed and desperate for more. Josiah Bancroft’s imagination knows absolutely no bounds, his attention to detail is superb and the sheer amount of story he pours into each book means each one packs a heavy punch.
JB’s prose can be witty, adventurous, insightful and shockingly dark, usually simultaneously. Creating memorable moments and atmospheres and dropping bombshells left, right and centre. Telling an ambitious story that encompasses such as vast setting should be difficult but JB makes it look effortless. JB’s Tower Of Babel is by far the most fleshed out and utilised setting I have ever seen in a series to date.
For those who haven’t read the series yet, The Tower Of Babel is a colossal cosmopolitan collective of humanity that is made up of an unknown number of levels or ringdoms, each with their own allure, function and threats to the people residing within. That fact is never more apparent than within The Hod King. Maintaining an air of mystery and wonder this far into a narrative is beyond impressive. I still have so many more questions than answers. And I was glad to see that JB wasn’t scared to challenge reader with certain reveals and developments. I was all over the place reading this book, laughing, crying, looking in wonderment or disgust, looking through my fingers or yelling at the book. Good times!
For me the strongest element of this book was character development across the board. Tom Senlin has always been on a tumultuous path of transformation on the way to saving his wife but the lengths he has to go to survive Pelphia and beyond is setting a new bar. It was great to see a character from the first book return to help Senlin as well. We also get equal amounts of Voleta and Edith in the main plot (with Iren and Byron at their sides) which was a great move. Every one of the three central story lines emanating from the same point in time but after that point they rarely converge but deliver the whole narrative in their own style and impact.
It was a risky format to separate the characters into an almost episodic style of story-telling but it did pay off perfectly by the end. I did suffer a little bit because we got so much Senlin to start off with, and his storyline was passionate and enticing, and then not so much in the second and third acts. That said, Voleta’s act was a brilliant blend of charm, youthful banter (she is the epitome of comedic value) and emotional intensity (Iren was a standout secondary character yet again who continues to amaze me).
Edith’s plot was inquisitive and almost pure action aboard the State Of Art which had me out of my chair and cheering along. I enjoyed the presence of Byron who had plenty of cool moments and the hilarious pilot Reddleman who is a very familiar face. The story started off strong and ended on a captivating cliff hanger. Suspense is a huge factor of this tale and JB delivers the right blows at just the right time. JB’s passion and confidence at this stage of writing is inspired and fuelled my reading even more.
The main reason I keep coming back for more is Tom Senlin and his escapades but Bancroft’s fantasy writing and the insightful themes he weaves into his narratives are close second and third. The world that JB has created here has never felt more vivid, dynamic and huge. Stopping to flesh out each aspect of the Tower in meaningful and exciting ways. The fantasy element of the story was more interesting than ever and my time aboard the State Of Art and wondering the streets of Pelphia were often punctuated by cool concepts and memorable moments.
The Sphinx’s automatons are as inventive as can be, as well as the creatures he had created to help the tower function. The chimney cat scene was intense! The themes that JB explores in his work are what give his writing that extra edge and attraction. Themes such as manipulation, punishment, enslavement, politics and rebellion mixed with hope, courage, technology and discovery. There are so many poignant and admirable moments that sit amongst the action and adventure and it is a commendable attribute to the story. Bancroft definitely has a dark side too and there are plenty of gory, claustrophobic and hair raising moments that will surprise the reader within.
Josiah Bancroft has out done himself with The Hod King, it is an ambitious, addictive continuation of the series. The Hod King is a labour of love, a call to arms, a fight for freedom and adventure of exploration, wrapped in an impressive setting of war, mystery and wonder that still has so much more to offer. I am already sitting on my hands waiting for another instalment to appear even though I know it is a way away. If you have read Bancroft’s work then The Hod King will definitely sit well with you. If you haven’t then you have a lot of reading to do to catch up!
About Josiah Bancroft
Josiah Bancroft’s fantasy-adventure series is published by Orbit Books (US/UK). Before settling down to write fantasy novels, Josiah was a poet, college instructor, and aspiring comic book artist. When he is not writing, he enjoys playing post-pop music with his band, Dirt Dirt, drawing chalk pictures on his office wall, and cooking pub curry for his wife, Sharon. He shares a home with her and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin, in Philadelphia.