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?