The Hod King (The Books of Babel, #3)by Published 22 Jan 2019
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Fearing an uprising, the Sphinx sends Senlin to investigate a plot that has taken hold in the ringdom of Pelphia. Alone in the city, Senlin infiltrates a bloody arena where hods battle for the public's entertainment. But his investigation is quickly derailed by a gruesome crime and an unexpected reunion.
Posing as a noble lady and her handmaid, Voleta and Iren attempt to reach Marya, who is isolated by her fame. While navigating the court, Voleta attracts the unwanted attention of a powerful prince whose pursuit of her threatens their plan.
Edith, now captain of the Sphinx's fierce flagship, joins forces with a fellow wakeman to investigate the disappearance of a beloved friend. She must decide who to trust as her desperate search brings her nearer to the Black Trail where the hods climb in darkness and whisper of the Hod King.
As Senlin and his crew become further dragged in to the conspiracies of the Tower, everything falls to one question: Who is The Hod King?
The Hod King (The Books of Babel, #3) Reviews
I received an advanced review copy of The Hod King in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Josiah Bancroft and Orbit Books for the opportunity.
When I concluded my review of Arm of the Sphinx I stated that I would be counting down the days until I could rejoin Senlin and his companions adventures in The Hod King. As soon as I received this novel all other books failed to exist to me until this was completed.
The narrative is mainly set within the Ringdom of Pelphia where our colourful cast split up in to smaller groups to complete objectives for the Sphinx. Senlin has to find out information regarding wagers and gambling in the Hod fighting pits, and the fact that Voletta needs to potentially infiltrate high society under the guise of a highborn lady are two examples of these assigned missions. It also transpires that Senlin's missing wife Marya lives in this Ringdom and is married to Duke Wilhelm Horace Pell. Marya has also become a major celebrity who is adored by Pelphia's citizens. With Marya finally within touching distance will Senlin focus on completing the Sphinx's strict objectives or go his own way and try to converse with his lost wife again? Bearing in mind that the Sphinx has eyes everywhere.
Stating that The Hod King is beautifully written does not actually give the quality showcased here enough justice. I can see The Books of Babel being literary classics that are taught at schools in a hundred years time in similar fashion to the adventure stories in Jules Verne's Extraordinary Voyages collection. The narrative starts off at a steady pace, almost massaging the beautiful descriptions, events and exceptional dialogue into our mind with intoxicating fashion. It is presented in such as exceptional way that when confrontations, heart-pounding action sequences, or 'are you kidding me?' twists occur the emotional punches are heightened to a breathless degree. There are three main parts to this narrative. Each following a different one Bancroft's players and each concludes phenomenally. I had to take a break to register what had just occurred and sometimes re-read the sections because they were that unbelievable but brilliantly constructed. Bancroft is a genius at work and every single entry in the series is getting better. Bearing in mind that The Hod King is probably the length of Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx combined.
Senlin, like many readers, is my favourite character in this series. Senlin Ascends was essentially the 'Thomas Senlin show' whereas Arm of the Sphinx fleshed out the players that were until that point merely side characters. The main point of view perspectives this time are Senlin, Voletta, and Edith. I must admit when Senlin's parts ended I uttered a sigh of annoyance, but within ten pages of the next new point of view I forgot about my issues and braced myself for the Tower's ride following these other players thoughts, agendas, missions, and planned end-game. Even incorporating the side members in the ensemble, there are no weak or 2d creations and this includes new characters that are presented for the first time here.
There are so many emotional scenes, amazing set-pieces, and charming intricacies that fill The Hod King to the brim. I enjoyed reading about the flying squirrel Squit, finding out more about Bryon, understanding the motives of the intriguing machine/ human hybrid pilot Reddleman, and getting an insight further into what the Hods are up to. Past enemies have to work together, betrayal could be around every corner and new alliances may be created when least expected. I would not try to predict for a second what will happen next as you'll just disappoint yourself. Just brace yourself for a hell of a rollercoaster journey through the beautiful and intricately crafted tower. I'm questioning myself as a reviewer as my words can't do this book justice. It's my equal top rated read ever on Fantasy Book Review. I will stop gushing now but press the pre-order button. Bancroft is a world-class literary author and I can't think of another writer who is better or more consistent right now. I can't wait to see how this all concludes in the series finale.
If I’m honest, I’m not sure what follows can be thought of as a review. Some books and some series are just too dear to my heart for me to look at with a critical eye, and Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel definitely fall into that category. I want to just vomit my feelings on the book onto this page, but The Hod King gave me so many feelings that I’m going to have to contain myself somewhat, somehow.
The Hod King confirms what many of us already suspected and what more of us already knew: Josiah Bancroft is a truly special author. If Arm of the Sphinx did a lot to dispense with the worry that Senlin Ascends might be a one-hit-wonder, then The Hod King stomps any residual concern into dust.
It has a much stronger sense of direction than the previous books, which does mean that the meandering Wonderland-esque feel isn’t quite as strong. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Senlin Ascends introduced us to the world and the characters, Arm of the Sphinx let us get to know them on a deeper level, and The Hod King takes advantage of that familiarity to go full steam ahead with their stories.
And it is their stories. There is no disconnect between plot, character, and world here. They all fit together seamlessly. In many ways, this is the complete book.
The structure of the book is a little more experimental, and may be something that favours more patient readers. The three main point-of-view characters (not telling you who) get around a third of the book each, but the chapters don’t jump from one POV to another. Instead, you’ll get a block of chapters from one character at the beginning of the book, and then you’ll jump right back to the beginning of the timeline to read from the perspective of another character. It feels a little like sliding back to the bottom of the Snakes and Ladders board, which I can imagine some readers might find a little frustrating, but I found it to be a fun, almost cinematic way to engage with the story.
The characters in these books are some of my favourites in fiction, and it was a joy to watch them adapt and develop as the over-arching story raced towards its conclusion. There are some new (highly anticipated) additions to the character cast, and it’s a credit to Bancroft’s skill that these additions slot in perfectly. The story never feels crowded, and I never felt short-changed with any character arc. I finished the book with that perfect, elusive mix of feeling satisfied with the story, and yet still wanting more.
There shouldn’t be any doubt that the Books of Babel are some of the best books in fantasy at this point in time. The Hod King is yet another great book in the series, and I’m absolutely certain that any fan of the previous books will love this one too.
And if you haven’t read them yet, then what are you waiting for?
Milestone achieved: I have written over 300 reviews!
The Hod King is Bancroft’s best work so far; a novel that's stunning in originality enhanced with suspenseful and exciting moments.
Before I start my review, I would like to mention that, if you need a detailed summary of the series so far as I did, check out www.bookseriesrecaps.com for their great plot overviews—tons of spoilers, of course—of both Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx. I finished reading Arm of the Sphinx in July 2017 and since then I’ve read and reviewed almost 200 novels. Saying that I needed a reread of the series or at least a memory refreshment is a massive understatement. A reread is always preferable but if you’re being crushed by your TBR tower—I know you are—and don’t have the time to reread the series at the moment, this website is your solution; without it, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate this book without rereading the entire series. For the sake of making this review as spoiler-free as possible, I'll keep this review shorter than usual and there won't be any in-world characters’ names mentioned.
“My sense of being, my identity, whatever you want to call it, it doesn't reside in my parts. It lives in my past, and in the continuity of my present thoughts, and in my hopes for the future. I'm more afraid of losing a memory than a limb.”
Good things come in threes. This doesn’t mean that The Hod King is the last book of the series; it’s the third installment of The Books of Babel series by Josiah Bancroft, and it’s easily my favorite volume in the series so far. Additionally, Bancroft integrates the rule of three cleverly by using three different storylines, three different main POV characters, and three climax sequences to provide a perilous journey imbued with powerful drama, heartwarming moments, and spectacular character development that constantly escalates to reach an explosive and bloody convergence in the last section of the book. Plus, the novel was so superbly paced that even when the narrative felt a bit experimental—few head-hopping in Part II—and unconventional, I was never bored and I was thoroughly entertained by Bancroft’s diabolical imagination.
“All I know is that, at the end of the day, dreams don't matter, but neither does regret. We aren't what we want or wish for. We are only what we do.”
The story takes place entirely in the ringdom of Pelphia and it continues immediately from where the second book left off. The three main characters of this installment have their own personal mission to accomplish in the ringdom. Considering that this is the penultimate installment of the series, I highly appreciate that Bancroft shows the result of the character’s development wonderfully. These characters have overcome a lot of ordeals to reach where they are now. Seeing how much the conflicts they’ve faced in the tower so far have shaped them was immensely satisfying, to say the least. None of the characters stayed the same as they were when first introduced, their interactions with each other were compelling, and I truly enjoyed the way Bancroft juggled these characters’ perspectives to create strong connectivity in the storyline even when the characters were separated from each other.
“In my experience, the men that lean hardest on their titles are the ones who did nothing to earn them. I loathe men whose greatest accomplishment was being born.”
This book is a treasure trove for quotes, and as always, Bancroft’s prose is enviable. The Hod King is beautifully written, it shows Bancroft at the top of his writing game so far—though it will most likely will be toppled by his next book—as he implemented a lot of resonating themes such as love, loyalty, family, rich vs poor, and the importance of memories. The setting of this series may be filled with wonder but the depletion of energy caused by the poison of hope continues to ravage the citizens of the tower; the poor suffer, and tyranny rules.
“A man may rot like an egg: His shell does not show it, but all that is within him has gone foul.”
The story, characters, themes, settings, and prose are all reasons why I loved every moment spent reading this emotionally gripping book. I thought the novelty of the world-building within the series would’ve been lost by now, but I was proven wrong repeatedly here. The Hod King is a marvel that stitches immersive fantasy escapism, pulse-pounding steampunk adventure, and accessible literary prose into one tremendously impactful penultimate volume. By improving upon all the incredible aspects of the previous installments and setting the cinematic set pieces in an apt stopping place, the arrival of the last book is pretty much almost guaranteed to carve The Books of Babel into the reader’s hall of fame for being one of the best literary fantasy series they will ever read. I'll end this review by saying if you're craving an original fantasy series and yet haven't read this, fix that mistake now.
“I mean, who said music had to be such a serious thing? I find musicians who just plink through the notes like a music box to be horribly dull. Songs are emotional. It’s better to play sincere mistakes than lifeless perfection.”
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You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Loved it. This lived up to my expectations, which were sky high after the first two books, mostly because the writing is superb.
There are some of middle book in the series issues that larger series like Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time face, where by scattering our focus across multiple points of view, not as much ends up happening overall story-wise. This book felt like it started three separate times. I liked all three starts, and I liked what the author did with them and how the threads wove together by the end. No complaints there. But I did wonder where the story could have gone with a little more concentration on one of the throughlines. Mostly that just means I was sad when it was over because I wanted more.
I really love the tower. My favorite part of the first book was experiencing different ringdoms in all their awful, clever, quirky glory as Tom crawled his way up in search of Marya. I didn't like the second book as much because we spent more time in the air cruising around the tower than actually engaging with new messed up floors. This book is a balance of the two, in that there's a concentrated focus on one floor, which comes across as satisfyingly, wonderfully terrible. And there are some great gestures to other awful floors, and some larger explorations of the tower, which I loved too.
The ending sets up some big story and character conflicts for the next book, but if this book is any indication, it seems like this series could stretch on endlessly. I'm certainly excited to see where it goes next. I hope we don't have to wait too long!
As an author I know there’s an inevitable degree of fear when you cast your book out on the waters of the reading public and offer them the chance to tell you that your baby is ugly, or worse … average.
I’m less familiar with the other side of the equation, the fear that a long awaited and much anticipated book will not capture the magic held by earlier books from the same author. In a series this can be a particularly sharp anxiety as the author holds in their hands the legacy of beloved characters. To see that squandered would be a sad thing.
This is a long book. Not a George RR Martin doorstop, but substantially longer than anything I’ve written. And … let me end your suspense … it is not merely a 5* book, it’s a masterpiece.
The recent explosion of adoration for these books doesn't surprise me. What shocks me is that it's not much bigger. I’m not surprised that Senlin Ascends made the Goodreads Choice Award semi-final, just sad that it didn’t make the final. My prediction is that readers will be talking about these books long after much of what currently keeps them company on the shelves is forgotten.
Reading these books makes me feel as if I'm a really clever intellectual sharing in something magnificent that only a rarefied few could appreciate. When of course that is the genius of the writing. Actually the series is highly accessible and loved by many, as witnessed by the high ratings and general praise.
To the book then! It’s no secret that I love Bancroft’s prose. If the story were mediocre this book would squeeze 5* from me just because of the razor sharp wit edging the lines. The descriptions deliver whole personas in a single line. In context they are amazing, even in isolation they are impressive. They encapsulate new characters immediately:
Lady Xenia de Clarke talked with the urgency of a burst pipe.
Or deliciously remind you why you love familiar ones:
Voleta surveyed her options miserably. "I think humanity peaked at the spoon, don't you?"
"And I will tell you again, if you ever eat your fish with a spoon, I will appear out of thin air wherever you are in the world, snatch the spoon from your hand, and rap you on the head with it!"
The observational wit had me chuckling on many occasions and I am not given to chuckling.
The Hod King is a masterclass in contrast. In the book a particular ride is described as including a ponderous rise and a sudden terrifying fall. The story begins with a similarly slow (but fascinating rise) then takes sudden appalling turn into darkness. After that it’s a sequence of dizzying highs and terrifying lows. Sometimes in the space of two lines. At one point I was starting to laugh at one line and startled out of it by the next line, one that made my face fall and had my eyes prickling. You’ll know it when you get there.
I read a chunk of this book on a trip to a hospital, a day on which I laughed out loud in a hospital foyer beside a bald skeletal child on chemo and later on the bus home had tears in my eyes while crammed on a bus beside a giant with world class, paint-peeling BO. And not from the ammonia stink … though that would have done it soon enough had I not opted to stand.
There is, on nearly every page, a line so weighted with warmth, wit, or humanity that it makes you pause to consider it. Sometimes all three at once.
A word on the plot, which will potentially have SPOILERS for book 1 & 2, so if you haven’t read them … go do that.
The books so far have centred on Senlin’s quest to find Marya. The previous book ended with us seeing that the Sphinx has located her. In The Hod King Senlin is sent to spy on the ringdom where Marya is. The story unfolds from Senlin’s point of view, and from those of Edith, Voleta, Iren, and Bryon. I love Bryon, he’s such a complex character and so artfully rude. Actually I love all of them. We spend a long time with each of them and it’s generally a leisurely stay, I never felt bounced around. The story telling device has us moving to a new character as the current one falls into peril but I was always captured by the new view on the unfolding but glorious mess. In several places we step back in time to see how the other characters separately arrive at some critical point. It’s all very well done and adds a nice multi-layering to some scenes.
The stakes are raised and raised again, both at the world level and at the character level. Bancroft is not gentle with us. Nobody feels safe. Nobody is safe. And the villains are oh so villainous, while at the same time being frighteningly ordinary and understandable. Take random people and allow wealth and a regimented class system to elevate them above the constraints of morality … and a fair few will become monsters.
Anyway. To conclude. I was thrilled by the story, wildly jealous of the writing, and am now very keen to read the final book.
If you’ve seen my ravings about the previous books. Well this was certainly as excellent, and very possibly better. I would have to re-read to be sure, but this one felt as if it raised the bar in terms of heart-in-the-mouth moments while maintaining the wonder and charm.
Gaze upon my early copy and despair that you have to wait until January! Still, you can pre-order now.
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