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Audio ARC Review: Babel by R.F. Kuang

Publication Date: August 23, 2022


From award-winning author R.F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh. My Gods. Five Stars do not do this book justice. It was stunning and gorgeous and horrifying and devastating and so, so believable. The way R.F. Kuang grounds every aspect of her worldbuilding in real-life history (documented in copious footnotes) makes the progression of the story logical and feel true. It also makes the horrors of colonialism creep up on you until it’s overwhelming.

I adore the magic system, based on translation between languages, and the shades of meaning that are lost in the process. It is these lost shades of meaning that power the magic when inscribed on silver bars.

The academic setting feels incredibly realistic and nostalgic (in that weird way that brings back memories both good and bad).

The way everything is tied together and carefully plotted, the slow revelation of the horrors of the web of colonialism that traps them all, the slow and inevitable way the characters grow and grow apart — it’s all masterful.

Did I mention devastating? Because I cried more than I have at most books I’ve read this year. I got so wrapped up in the characters and their struggles that it felt so incredibly real

The audiobook was performed beautifully, with a different narrator reading the footnotes and pronouncing the things being translated from other languages, which made it easy to separate them from the main text. I couldn’t put it down and if it hadn’t been for the holidays would have flown through it in just a few days.

11/10 highly recommend.

*Thanks to NetGalley and HarperVoyager for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross


Publishing Date: February 15, 2022


House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch’s Heart in Rebecca Ross’s brilliant first adult fantasy, set on the magical isle of Cadence where two childhood enemies must team up to discover why girls are going missing from their clan.

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.

With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book. It was slow at first and took a while for all the threads to come together, but the story they wove was stunning. And that ending! I need the next book now.

The writing style was poetic and lyrical and reminded me a lot of Patricia McKillip’s works, especially the Riddle-Master of Hed. Since Patricia McKillip has remained my ultimate favorite author for close to two decades now, you can perhaps imagine how much I enjoyed this story. I will be seeking out more by Rebecca Ross immediately. It also reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s Starless Sea and Maggie Steifvater’s work.

I loved how music was woven into this story. As Jack is a bard, it felt appropriate, and made for some beautiful metaphors. Weaving is also integral, which again, feels appropriate with the way this story is woven. I was riveted through every revelation, which started coming hard and fast the closer the story drew to its explosive ending. I love that everything isn’t tied up neatly and the way it sets up the next book as… well it could be anything.

While it took me a minute to get into each of the varied POVs, they were necessary and added so much to the story. I came to love Jack and Adaira, Torin and Sidra, Mirin and Frae. I also loved the themes covered in this novel. Heartache and grief, loss of faith, parenting, marriage, career… It was beautiful and a lot deeper than I expected.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves a slow, lyrical story, and especially fans of Patricia McKillip, Erin Morgenstern, and Maggie Stiefvater.

*Thanks to Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

He wanted to know her, and that realization felt like a sting in his side.

The longer he stayed here on the isle — the longer he slept beneath the fire of the stars and listened to the sighs of the wind and ate the food and drank the water — the more muddled his desires became, until he couldn’t see the original path he had carved out for himself. The safe path, the one that gave him purpose and place on the mainland.

“Yes, but I once thought home was simply a place. Four walls to hold you at night while you slept. But I was wrong. It’s people. It’s being with the ones that you love, and maybe even the ones that you hate.”

It was like she had stolen the very words from his mouth. And he wanted them back.

The feelings hung like stars above them, waiting for another moment to align, and he felt the anticipation in his bones, humming like a harp string.

He didn’t want to have this conversation. This was his last true moment of ignorance. After this hour had shed its minutes, he would know the truth about his blood and what his mother had done, and it would change him.

He listened to the rasp of her inhalations. How they caught on the web of lies and secrets she held.

“I am but a verse inspired by your chorus, and I will follow you until the end, when the isle takes my bones and my name is nothing more than a remembrance on a headstone, next to yours.”