Babel Review

Hardcover, 542 Pages
Adult/ Fantasy/ Historical Fiction
By: R.F. Kuang
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟 1/2

“This is how colonialism works. It convinces us that the fallout from resistance is entirely our fault, that the immoral choice is resistance itself rather than the circumstances that demanded it.”

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution was one of my anticipated books for this year and I had already pre-ordered a hardcover copy months prior to its release. Young authors who I see succeed and become a defining part of the genre are such a huge inspiration for me and Kuang is one of the best examples for such authors.

I had a weird sensation about this book, would I love it or not? On one hand it seemed that it is a historical book and I am not the biggest fan of those, on the other hand it promised fantasy elements and dark academia which I am a big fan of. Another thing I saw upon its release was two friends of mine whose reviews I trust: Emily May did not like it and I often agree with her rant reviews and my friend Leslie seemed to love it and we rarely if ever disagree on any book. After finishing the book it seemed like I was somewhere in the middle.

The book was not easy to get into, the first 300 pages or so were kind of boring to be honest. We’re going in circles around the same things again and again and although I liked the discussion of colonialism and languages, I just wanted more. I did not want to feel like I was reading a historical text book but it felt like I was doing so. Then there is a big event around page 300 and everything forward from there was much more interesting. The characters made more sense, the pacing was faster and I was enjoying what I was reading.

“You have such a great fear of freedom, brother. It’s shackling you. You’ve identified so hard with the colonizer, you think any threat to them is a threat to you. When are you going to realize you can’t be one of them?”

The writing is good, specially in the second half but I already knew that from Kuang’s prior books. The voice in this one is different which is logical given that it is a different genre from The Poppy War. And I want to make it clear that I was not expecting anything like that series when I got into this one so expectations were not part of my criticism with this book.

The characters are well written but it took so much time for me to warm to them. There is basically the problem that they were categorized into good and bad characters depending on where they come from. I liked Robin’s development through the story and it kind of reminds me of Rin from TPW.

The world-building is not very exciting. I am obsessed with magical school settings and I thought that I was getting a lot of fun with this one but unfortunately the magic is kind of dull despite it being creative. We don’t get much about magic except for the fact that it is there and this is how it works. I even thought it could have been done without the magic but landing the ending actually required it. and speaking of the ending, I understand it and I respect it but I think I would have preferred a closed ending for a standalone like this one.

“We’re here to make magic with words”

Summary: Babel was a unique book mixing a lot of genres together. The greatest thing about it is that it discusses important topics but the build up for the fun parts is so slow that I almost gave up at one point. The magic is mild and I wanted it to be wild. The characters are nice as well as the prose. I ended up enjoying it but I would have done a few things differently if I were the author.

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