Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang
The city of dreaming spires.
It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.
And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.
Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.
Until it became a prison…
But can a student stand against an empire?
I am not normally taken to reading fantasy novels but there has been one book that before Christmas I was completely absorbed in and it was Babel: An Arcane History (Harper Voyager) by R.F. Kuang. I have to say it completely blew me away with the style of writing and how absorbed in the main characters I became.
Welcome to Oxford it is 1836 and the city of dreaming spires. This though is an alternative nineteenth century and the British Empire. Here in Oxford the centre of all knowledge lies Babel an institute that is the centre of translation. But that is not all, there are things going here that really is the lynchpin to the British Empire.
It is here that some of the brightest come to learn from all parts of the British Empire and there is one that is the main character in this incredible novel. His name is Robin Swift. Robin was born in Canton but at a young age he lost his mother to the dreaded plague. Robin could easily have lost his way in life at such a young age but his has a benefactor and soon Robin finds himself taken from his home to England but now he will need to prove himself in education to gain entrance to Oxford. When Robin does finally qualify he also gets to join Babel, the institution that is the heart of translation. But what have the production of magical silver bars got to do with powering the British Empire. This dear reader is for you to find out for yourself. No spoilers from me. Though I will say it is absolutely ingenious piece of work that is Babel.
Robin gets to meet some of the other students and becomes friends with three of them. But all is not as it seems. Robin along with a few other students and are subjected to discrimination on a shocking level. But the they are at Babel to study translation and languages it here that things may sound complicated as the students seek matching words from different languages that in a sense make the magical silver bars. All sounds incredibly fantastic. And it really is. If you have an interest in philology then you will really appreciate R.F. Kuang’s writing as she is a translator herself a Marshall Scholar in Chinese-English. There are many themes that you will encounter within the storyline and does not shy away from the some of the horrors of the British Empire. Throughout the novel R.F. Kuang has added many footnotes that are really helpful. But if like me you love the study of words then you will be chomping at the bit on every page and there is close to 560 pages. I look forward to the day when I have more time to go back and re-read Babel at my leisure and enjoy once again.
Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang is Published by Harper Voyager and is now available in hardback through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org