THE #2 SUNDAY TIMES AND #1 NYT BESTSELLER
‘One for Philip Pullman fans’
‘An ingenious fantasy about empire’
‘Fans of THE SECRET HISTORY, this one is an automatic buy’
‘Ambitious, sweeping and epic’
Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.
The city of dreaming spires.
It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.
And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.
Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.
Until it became a prison…
But can a student stand against an empire?
An incendiary new novel from award-winning author R.F. Kuang about the power of language, the violence of colonialism, and the sacrifices of resistance.
'A masterpiece that resonates with power and knowledge. BABEL is a stark picture of the cruelty of empire, a distillation of dark academia, and a riveting blend of fantasy and historical fiction – a monumental achievement’
Samantha Shannon, author of THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE
About the author
Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator, and the Astounding Award-winning and the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy and the forthcoming Babel. Her work has won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.
Excellent historical fantasy
My thanks to HarperCollins U.K. Audio Harper Voyager for a review copy via NetGalley of the unabridged audiobook edition of ‘Babel Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution’ by R.F. Kuang. The audiobook is narrated by Chris Lew Kum Hoi and Billie Fulford-Brown.
What an extraordinary novel! As I have been disappointed by a few highly anticipated fantasy novels this year, I approached ‘Babel’ with caution. However, right from its opening pages I found myself enthralled and completely caught up in its story, characters, and setting.
Having previously read Kuang’s ‘The Poppy War’ trilogy I probably should have had more faith as I had been impressed by her writing and skilful blend of history and fantasy.
‘Babel’ is a substantial novel in size and complex in its subject matter. As such it is difficult to summarise, so just a few details for context.
Oxford, 1836. In this alternative Victorian Britain, the city of dreaming spires is the nexus point of all knowledge and progress in the world. At its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation, the tower from which all the power of the Empire flows. Magic associated with enchanted silver has provided the foundation for the growth of the British Empire. Yet at what price?
As a young boy Robin Swift had been orphaned in Canton and brought to Britain by Professor Lovell, who takes on the role of guardian, albeit a stern one. Initially Robin receives private instruction in a variety of subjects, including languages, until he is ready to be admitted to Babel. There he bonds with a small group of his fellow ‘Babblers’. He inadvertently stumbles across a secret society and after learning of their goals agrees to aid them. Yet there are conflicting factors that will, as the full title indicates, eventually bring about a revolution.
With ‘Babel’ R.F. Kuang has written a powerful historical fantasy that unflinchingly addresses issues linked to colonialism and racism. It is bold yet sublime. I found her world building detailed and immaculate as its various aspects emerged organically.
With respect to the audiobook, I felt that both narrators were excellent. Chris Lew Kum Hoi served as the main reader and I felt that he brought a great deal of energy to his narration. The footnotes that appear in the text were read by Billie Fulford-Brown. I found that hearing a different voice helped with the narrative flow between the central story and the footnotes that served to expand on various points in this fictional history.
Overall, I feel that ‘Babel’ is a masterpiece, a scholarly work of dark academia that boldly addresses the legacy of history. Without doubt ‘Babel’ is one of my top novels for 2022.
Very highly recommended.