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Babel  By  cover art

Babel

By: R. F. Kuang
Narrated by: Chris Lew Kum Hoi,Billie Fulford-Brown
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Publisher's Summary

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?

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2022 R. F. Kuang (P)2022 HarperCollins Publishers

Featured Article: Best of the Year—The 12 Best Fantasy Listens of 2022


Between film, television, literature, and audio—2022 could easily be proclaimed the Year of the Fantasy, much to the delight of fans among us. But when it came to picking the best of the best, the glut of fantastic content also significantly increased the CR (challenge rating). This year’s winner edged ahead of the rest thanks to its atmospheric, suck-you-in (pun intended) audio experience, but every performance on this list transported us.

What listeners say about Babel

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The book is excellent; the sound mixing, less so.

I thought the story was great. Nuanced, empathetic, and Human speculative fiction at its best. The sound mixing and matching much less so, and it's very, VERY easy to tell when the narration cuts from one clip to another as the volume, tone, and precision of the narration changes in a jarring way. still worth it, but it can break immersion.

22 people found this helpful

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The novel language lovers have been waiting for

Beautifully narrated. I was drawn in immediately. And the novel itself is so lovely. As a student of history and someone who works in the language industry (which is still incidentally dominated by Britain), I found it to be brilliantly conceived, well researched and expertly told. It’s the best novel I’ve read since A Gentleman in Moscow. If you like Amor Towles, Anthony Doerr and Donna Tartt you’ll appreciate the ambition and skill behind this historical fiction. As someone who doesn’t typically prefer fantasy writing, I found that the fantastical elements did not distract in any way from the novel’s historical relevance and integrity. It’s a love letter to language that highlights the role language played (and still plays) in geopolitics, conquest and resistance. Just brilliant.

12 people found this helpful

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Great story, bad audio editing

The story was great, and the magic system unique. The audio editing was terrible. Throughout the book there were many times where it sounded like words were inserted/replaced with a audio volume and tone that didn't match the rest of the sentence. Why not read the paragraph or sentence again so it fit? The reader did a great job, but just not edited correctly.

8 people found this helpful

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fabula sine simili est

An absolute thrill, beginning to end. I loved the characters, world building, themes, and magic system. The philosophies and debates and perspectives were thrilling to ponder. I felt like I learned and grew with the protagonist, and the mechanics had me yearning to study language and play with the possibilities.

7 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

Really enjoyed this story, and loved hearing the different etymologies. There was never any slow moments, things are paced really well. Like others have said, the performance is great, but the editing is sloppily done in places. it's clear where some clips were spliced in. I got used to it though, and overall didn't distract too much for me.

6 people found this helpful

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Loved it!

Might be the best book I have read all year!

If you like books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians or Fray, then this is the book for you. Even The Name if the Wind, for the university atmosphere.

Such a good magic system and such a great and valuable story!

5 people found this helpful

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Frustration at Racism Gave Birth to More Racism

...while being very boring at it, too.

Maybe I went at this book with too high expectations after seeing many good reviews, but it was quite a disappointment. I expected to get both emotionally and intellectually engaged and I was neither. I didn’t feel emotionally connected with the characters and felt no tension regarding the events that were happening. It felt mainly like the author was trying to vent her frustration at both academia and racism, and by all means, I don’t think that’s bad, but it also gave no satisfaction which gives me an impression the author aimed for something different but failed.

I have this weird feeling, where I think if someone summarized the whole plot to me, it would be very exciting, but somehow the way it was written, stripped of the sentences that bring in the tension and action, that make you be there at the same time as the character, took all the excitement away.

Other thing is, I might have liked this book more if it was written from Griffin perspective. More proaction, more feeling and more struggle. Also no repetition.

I need to point out though, that I absolutely loved the idea for the magic system. I wish there was more spotlight on it.

Still, I can’t belive I found a book on possible origin of Proto-Indo-European language that lists grave findings in each location for 70% of the content more exciting than this. (“The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World” for anyone interested. Definitely more in-depth on liguistics)

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent story, marred by sound mixing

This very creative concept is so well-executed. The narrator was so good. The sound mixing detracted from this, at least at first.
But the story held my attention enough that I ignored it.

Amazing writing.
I recommend it highly.

3 people found this helpful

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Yawn

This might be a good read for some people. But for me this was barely worth finishing. I appreciate the author did something different here but wowza this was unpalatable. This landed like bad historical fiction where the characters have an extremely modern perspective and with fantasy elements barely even incidental to the story.

The pre-release reviews made me really excited for this but I feel like they were reading a completely different book. Am I suppose to like these characters? Mostly they were just annoying.

2 people found this helpful

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Waste your time on another book

Mediocre, confused, preachy and with an obvious agenda which is not to entertain. Amazon should have given me one credit for having listened to this book, not the other way around.

2 people found this helpful