What is Senlin Ascends?
Senlin Ascends is a classic fantasy adventure, full of reluctant heroes and exotic locations. The novel’s plot follows Joseph Senlin, a school master in a far-away town. Senlin has persuaded his new wife to venture with him to the famed Tower of Babel in order to see its mystery. This tower is a grand fantasy landscape, towering over the world below and populated with many unique places within. Yet shortly after arriving at the Tower of Babel, Senlin is separated from his wife. And soon discovers that the Tower hides many dark secrets.
Similarities To Other Fantasy
Senlin Ascends is reminiscent of many other fantasy adventures. It has the beautiful and complex writing manner of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Yet where Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is alternative magical history, this is a completely new world. The novel also features a reluctant hero in the manner of The Lord of the Rings, without the same epic save-the-world quest. The Tower of Babel is an exotic location like the brooding presence of the Dark Tower in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, but possesses more of a comic touch. In many regards the tone is more akin to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Colour of Magic and the Light Fantastic.
In each and every way, Senlin Ascends is at once a familiar and unforgettably unique novel. The quest within this work of literature is a deeply personal one for the main character. As a bookish man Senlin discovers that the reality of the world is very different to his conceptions in his little town. In many ways, Senlin is originally convinced in his naivete that the Tower is a grand and beautiful place. He later discovers across the novel that it is an engine of hierarchy in which the only way to survive and thrive is to adapt.
Evolution of character is the key theme of this novel. And combined with visually evocative language and potent worldbuilding, Senlins Ascends moves beyond being a simple adventure novel to a powerful artwork. Throughout the novel this theme is visible in how Senlin interacts with his circumstances. His is a deeply personal quest, and it is a quest which transforms Senlin through a series of increasing challenges.
Two Minor Issues
Josiah Bancroft’s novel is once reminiscent of many other great fantasy and science fiction books. Yet, Senlin Ascends stands alone as its own great work of fiction. It is beautifully written, and constructed with great care. There are perhaps only two issues readers could take with the novel which I had no problems with. The first being how Senlin’s wife becomes the object of his personal quest. Yet, given the presence of some unique and powerful women in this book I did not see the novel’s premise as one of objectification. More a novel that revealed the plight of women in this world. Regardless, this may be an issue for some readers and it would be remiss of me not to mention this.
The second issue, is that the novel does at times slow down its pacing. This leads to moments where the novel’s impetus slowed down. However, the novel’s writing carries the plot across these few moments. The few flaws were lost in the overall feel, tone and flow of the novel. So that by the novel’s conclusion I considered this one of those rare few novels I would view as perfect. This work drew me so into the world, that I would look to read anything else by this author moving forward.
Themes and Ideas10.0/10
Unique Plot, Characters or Worlds10.0/10
- Beautiful writing
- Powerful themes
- Evokes other great fantasy and sci-fi novels but is great in and of itself
- Some people might observe objectification of women in the fact that the main character's wife is turned into a prize he is chasing. However on the flipside there are some very capable women within the book as well.
- Some people might find places where the novel drags, but the novel's construction is excellent regardless
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