• Senlin Ascends

  • By: Josiah Bancroft
  • Narrated by: John Banks
  • Length: 14 hrs and 15 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (1,986 ratings)

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Senlin Ascends

By: Josiah Bancroft
Narrated by: John Banks
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Publisher's Summary

The first book in the word-of-mouth phenomenon debut fantasy series about one man's dangerous journey through a labyrinthine world. 

"One of my favorite books of all time" (Mark Lawrence)

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of luxury and menace, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants. 

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he'll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the illusions of the Tower. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action. 

©2017 Josiah Bancroft (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"Senlin Ascends crosses the everyday strangeness and lyrical prose of Borges and Gogol with all the action and adventure of high fantasy. I loved it, and grabbed the next one as soon as I turned the last page." (Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names

"Josiah Bancroft is a magician. His books are that rare alchemy: gracefully written, deliriously imaginative, action-packed, warm, witty, and thought-provoking. I can't wait for more." (Madeline Miller, author of Circe)

"Senlin is a man worth rooting for, and his strengthening resolve and character is as marvelous and sprawling as the tower he climbs." (The Washington Post

What listeners say about Senlin Ascends

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Meh.

I was really excited to listen to this audiobook.

I had been waiting to get it.

The synopsis, high rating, and great book reviews had me bypassing other books on my Priority TBR list. However... I was disappointed. To be fair, it's really well written and very creative, but I caught myself zoning out while reading it. Frankly, I was kind of bored. When I had chances to return to reading it, I didn't feel an urgent need to pick the book back up. The primary motivation was a desire to just get it finished so I could go on to read something else. I don't see myself continuing on to the second book.

(And a final note: Senlin's gullability gets tiresome after a while.)

103 people found this helpful

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

Two Worthwhile Books in One

This turns out to be, in effect, two books: one is interesting without quite being that much fun, and the other is a lot of fun while being less interesting. Either way, this weird novel seems to me worth a good bit of the hype it seems suddenly to be getting.

This starts out as a 21st Century Kafka-esque fantasy. An unprepared scholarly newlywed loses his wife on his honeymoon in a fantastically imagined construct. The tower of Babel is so vast that no one seems to know its boundaries let along its details. He’s overwhelmed by his every encounter, and we get a variety of implied questions: what does it mean to be an individual in a world where life is so cheap? How can we establish friendships when all life is a contested negotiation? And What does it mean to have an identity in a place where we’re all defined transactionally?

As I read the first half of this, I felt as if I were reading a fantasy that reflected the world of the internet. I don’t mean that the tower represents the internet; rather, I feel as if this is the kind of twisting and endless world that the internet might be if it were made physical. No one knows who built the tower, yet it goes on forever. It gives us the capacity to perform as others, and it gives us opportunity to interact on intimate terms with strangers, but it seems never to change anything. It’s a book that makes us ask questions about our changed world.

Bancroft does a great job of setting all that up, but things move pretty slowly to start. The teeming market scenes are striking, but there are a lot them. And the extended sequence where Senlin falls into a living-theater experience, where he has to perform an ad-libbed role alongside others doing the same, is largely brilliant. It just doesn’t seem to end with the clarity I expected; I can’t tell whether it’s all a performance within a performance or whether it’s a genuine accident within the well-oiled mechanism of the theater.

But then [SPOILER] this becomes a very different novel. The clearest sign of that change comes in Bancroft’s switch from his default epigraphs to start each chapter – instead of quotes from a goofy and ignorant guidebook, they come from Senlin’s future autobiography. That change reflects a reversal of the narrative position we began with: what was a confused and ill-suited protagonist becomes very quickly a canny leader. He goes, in other words, from Joseph K in The Trial to Spartacus in the Kirk Douglas film.

With that change, the slow-developed philosophical challenge of the beginning fades away. We learn, for instance, [DOUBLE SPOILER] that everything Senlin experienced on the lower levels was part of a test to determine whether he’d be a good employee on the fourth level. Rather than giving the bewildering and beguiling experience of the internet, of happenstance informing so much of the avatar-defining choices we make, we get a more conventional fantasy. There are good guys and bad guys. Senlin’s wife didn’t just happen to take a step away from him; she’s now the object of desire by a powerful figure of the tower. The young man who helped and then betrayed him didn’t happen along; he was a plant, part of the test.

I’m sorry to see that fallen ambition because I do believe the original effect of the novel (which may have been Bancroft’s original intent) had the chance to be deeply memorable…especially if it could be tightened and shortened.

At the same time, I confess that this becomes, by the end, a rollicking adventure. [MORE SPOILER] By the very end, Senlin has declared all-out war on the tower. He’s stolen an airship, acquired a crew of dangerous and effective fighters, and set out to take his wife back by force.

I can’t help feeling that Bancroft changed horses halfway through here, and I think this would be a stronger book and a stronger series if he’d gone back and made things more consistent. Still, there’s a lot to like about each half. I’m curious about where this is going next, and – especially now that this seems to have found its adventurous tone – I may just buy in for volume two.

77 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Slightly underwhelmed

I had heard great things about this first in a new series, and one thing most certainly is true--it's original and it's different. I couldn't tell if I was reading historical fiction, steampunk, sci-fi or fantasy (and still can't) but it's some amalgamation of all those genres. I'll probably continue reading as I believe the end of this book marks a broadening of scope for the series which I was really hoping would happen in this first book, however it just didn't get there, and barely set the stage for what's to come. One thing that bothered me about this book was that I couldn't find myself really caring about any of the characters. If my wife went missing for 3 months, I'd probably have reacted a lot differently than Senlin, who spends time in the baths and in different levels of the tower, casually searching for his wife. Perhaps the point is that he grows into a braver person through these experiences, but something just felt a little lackluster to me. Here's to hoping we get some solid expansion in the next iterations.

62 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Takes a while to get going

Once it does it's an outstanding book. Lots of thread tying at the end, robust character development, fascinating setting. I picked this up on a whim because it was half off and it's been a true delight.

40 people found this helpful

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  • jp
  • 02-14-18

magical brutal and well narrated

I found the tower and its inhabitants a metaphor for life. the second half is more exciting than the first, and all of it challenged my expectations and world view. I can't wait to read the second book. the narrator did an amazing job - can't believe I haven't run across him yet - and I hope to hear from him again!

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A Fascinating New Tale

Senlin Ascends is a fresh narrative in a genre overfull with plots descended from Tolkien.

The book opens with a tone that reminded me of David Eddings or Piers Anthony. Playful, expansive and unafraid to deviate from the over-trod paths of fantasy.

Pleasantly Bancroft darkens and matures the tone and narrative as you work through the first book and follow Senlin's accent of the tower.

At times the plot feels like it is not suited to the main character we start with. His decisions increasingly feel like that of an action hero and not a life long schoolmaster. Still suspension of disbelief is the name of the game and Bancroft delivers over and over again in this book!

21 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A story I always wanted someone to write.

This is one of the few book series that can aggressively get my attention and keep it. It is also a fine example of the quality that returns to storytelling when the author is free to tell the story the way they want. Bancroft has a talent for combining both traditional story structure and modern character development in a way that feels like a refreshing punch in the face. The Babel series pulls you in before the first chapter and assaults you with the hard and awful truth about humanity, the cruelty we are capable of, and the soul-crushing societies that it builds. While the story holds up a heavy mirror to the human race, it also does an excellent job of reminding the reader that while someone can do terrible things, they might also be someone who got lost in the madness of trying to survive, and they just might be someone in need of forgiveness and a hand up. The only reason not to read Senlin Ascends is if you're like most of the inhabitants of the Tower of Babel who are too busy trying to make it to the next level on the back of someone else and don't like having their conscience pricked.

18 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A new jewel and classic amongst fantasy!

This is a drop anything else your reading and dive in immediately book!
I promise a it's a refreshing new flavor on fantasy and fun.
A new jewel and classic amongst fantasy!
Great narrator.

ENJOY

It has a flavors of Jack Vance's, Planet of Adventure and Pierce Brown's, Red Rising with a dash of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

15 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great breakout novel.

This book was just really good. It's a fresh, unique voice and a great story that's just overflowing with creativity and imagination. I feel like we've just stumbled into one of the new big names in fantasy.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the ending. The main conflict of this book isn't in any way resolved by the ending, and it clearly won't be until the series is finished. It's kind of what everyone is doing nowadays, but I still couldn't help be a little disappointed that this book is doing it, since it breaks the mold in so many other way.

14 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Amazing original story

This is such a refreshing listen. I love how original and well written it is.

14 people found this helpful