Review: Senlin Ascends - Josiah Bancroft
Published: Orbit January 2018, originally self-published February 2013
My Rating: 2/5 stars
“Never let a rigid itinerary discourage you from an unexpected adventure.”
Unpopular opinions incoming: I kind of hated this...
On the one hand, I can understand the appeal of The Books of Babel. I understand the love for the indie-darling that got picked up by traditional publishing and became a bestselling hit. On the other hand, based on content, I truly do not get the hype for this one. Reading Senlin Ascends was close to a 1-star experience for me, and I only added the second star for the originality of the worldbuilding.
The plot follows Senlin, a scholarly man of words rather than action, who takes his wife on their dream honeymoon to the fabled Tower of Babel. Soon after their arrival, Senlin and his wife are separated, and in his quest to reunite with his wife, Senlin discovered the Tower is anything but what he imagined.
My biggest problem with this novel was its reliance on the classic woman-in-fridge-trope, as well as generally sexist undertones in the depiction of all of the female characters. The entire plot hinges on the search for Senlins wife Marya, who’s had barely any character-development (or page time) for herself. Her sole role and purpose is to be an object for the male protagonist to chase; a vessel for the plot rather than a person in her own right. I have a history of disliking this trope and DNF-ing popular series because of it *cough, cought Red Rising cough*, so I might be more sensitive to this one than the average person. Still, I’m sick and tired of seeing it and wish we’d left that in the 80’s SSF-fiction where it originated.
Granted; it’s not only Marya who’s underdeveloped. Basically every character apart from Senlin gives off high “NPC-energy”, having no substance and just “playing their part”. Senlin himself, as the only developed character, is insufferable and snobbish. His verbose narrative voice did nothing to engage me in the meandering plot and I often wanted to quit the book altogether.
Fans of this series will say that all of these things were intentional; Senlin is meant to be unlikable and sexist, the plot is meant to make little sense. Might well be, but it didn’t take away from the fact that I just didn’t feel like spending my time reading something I didn’t enjoy.
You can find this book here on Goodreads