8 January 2018
I started Senlin Ascends the other day, I was having a bad day, one of those ones where nothing seems to go the way you want it to. By chapter 3 I realised my day wasn’t actually that bad. Thomas Senlin on the other hand was having a really bad day… several actually, but he’s really good at dealing with everything life throws at him.
Thomas Senlin is a mild mannered headmaster from a small town out in the middle of nowhere. Inspired by the legends and books, Senlin and his newlywed wife, Marya, travel to the world’s greatest marvel, a tower stretching into the sky with unnumbered ringdoms stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake, the Tower of Babel. Within the first hour of their arrival Senlin loses his wife in the chaotic ever evolving throng of people and stores in and around the tower.
Now at this stage you’re probably thinking, how could Bancroft possibly turn Senlin losing his wife into a nice, interesting book, it shouldn’t be that hard to find each other again. Well, imagine you’re in New York City in rush hour, there are people everywhere, and it’s easy to get separated. Then imagine all the buildings look similar and regularly move around. Then take this idea of the crowded, ever-evolving, chaotic mess of this imaginary NYC, multiply it, and start stacking each city on top of each other. Each layer slightly different from the one before, posing new and different challenges before you can pass to the next layer, people with their own agendas who want to rob you and make you do things you don’t want to do and then you have something that looks like an easy version of the situation Senlin finds himself in.
The Tower of Babel is an immensely interesting setting for this novel. Each layer is fundamentally different from the layer below, each specialising in something different, and Bancroft creates his own miniature world in each different layer. The book is split into three distinct sections (they’re really good indications on where to have a break) each occurring in a different part of the tower, and we get to spend a good amount of time in each of these very different, but also similar worlds.
Bancroft does an excellent job of describing this fascinating steampunk world he has created. He also has an amazing way of illustrating scenes through some very unique metaphors, which I really loved.
As you can probably guess, Senlin is the main character of the book. He’s a mild-mannered, thoughtful person, as you’d expect for a headmaster, and not at all used to the unfamiliar scenarios he finds himself in. Thus begins the epic development of Thomas Senlin, a seemingly ordinary guy, thrown headfirst into an extraordinary world. I admire Senlin greatly; he takes everything in his stride and just keeps on going regardless of what the world throws at him.
My favourite description of Senlin comes fairly early on in the book, and is probably one a lot of readers can identify with:
"Senlin loved nothing more in the world than a warm hearth to set his feet upon and a good book to pour his whole mind into. While an evening storm rattled the shutters and a glass of port wine warmed in his hand, Senlin would read into the wee hours of the night."
Other characters come and go throughout the series as Senlin moves about the tower, but we get deep insights into the lives and driving forces behind these characters. Overall, Bancroft does a fantastic job of thoroughly developing his characters.
The plot can be summarised fairly succinctly, Senlin wants to climb the tower and find his wife. The tower does not want to be climbed. Conflict ensues.
In reality it’s a bit more complex than that, Senlin’s character development really shines in those moments of conflict, and it becomes evident how the circumstances, and events change him.
As I said earlier, the story is broken down into 3 smaller parts, and Josiah does a fantastic job of bringing the events in each part together for the conclusion of the book.
I really loved this book. It’s the first steampunk book I’ve ever read, and I absolutely adored it. The world is amazing, the characters are well thought out and interesting, and it wraps these aspects together with a great plot, and some really good prose.