A Long Book Series for Covid Captives

Josiah Bancroft, who continues to write a series of fantasy books under the ‘Tower of Babel’ series, is an author I’ve mentioned before in relation to the first book in the series, ‘Senlin Ascends’.  My dearest darling daughter (DDD) gave me that book a few Christmases ago and followed it up this last December with the next two in the series ‘The Arm of the Sphinx’ and ‘The Hod King’. 

If you like fantasy, and you happen to run afoul of the current COVID-19 hysteria and end up quarantined with little to do but twiddle your thumbs for a couple of weeks, then this series might be just the ticket for those long afternoons.  The first book introduces Senlin, a schoolmaster who marries one of his pupils and heads off to the ‘Tower’ – a great wonder of the age.  There are horses, hydrogen air balloons and railways to help the tourist traveler on this world and Senlin arrives in great spirits to the base of the colossus.  He has hardly arrived when his wife disappears and he spends the rest of the book looking for her.  He discovers that the Tower houses a great many dark and dangerous secrets.  The lowest part of the Tower is a small world unto itself, where liars are rampant and thieves and murderers abound.  Above the first world are a series of other ‘Ringdoms’, each having its own unique charms, horrors and mysteries.  They stretch up beyond the clouds and many are only accessible by balloon.  Senlin believes his wife has gone further up the Tower and decides he must continue going up, searching each Ringdom as he goes.  Even passing between Ringdoms proves a much more difficult task than he could possibly imagine.  The first book ends with Senlin encountering the difficulties of the third Ringdom. 

Once you’re well underway, the ‘Arm of the Sphinx’ picks up with Senlin convinced his wife is on the sixth Ringdom.  He’s a changed man, having been jailed, forced to kill, found a crew of unusual friends and turned to piracy in a dilapidated balloon ship.  The Sphinx is a near mythical figure, having provided all the mechanical marvels that allow the entire Tower to function.  Senlin and his band of pirates are drawn to the Ringdom that is the domain of the Sphinx.  Once there, he meets challenges and is given a task that will allow Senlin the possibility of finding his wife.

The third book, ‘The Hod King’ reveals the dark and sinister underbelly of the Tower – its reliance on slaves called Hods whose lives are confined to carrying goods between Ringdoms through dark passages hidden from light and humanity.  Senlin must deal with a madman who is organizing the Hods into a force that threatens the very existence of the Tower.

No sooner do I get to the exciting conclusion of ‘The Hod King’ than I discover Book IV is on its way.  I’m awaiting it with pleasure.  I like this series; it’s got a wonderful cast of characters, lots of action, mystery, suspense and strong writing.  All the books are satisfyingly long, making it a perfect series for those with time on their hands.

I also had the pleasure of revisiting a book I attempted to read many years ago.  I gave up back then, finding it just plain weird.  Russell Hoban was born in the U.S. but lived most of his adult life in the U.K.  He died in 2011 having written in multiple genres.  The first of his books I encountered was ‘The Mouse and His Child’, purportedly a children’s book.  It is a most curious tale, but it has an edge to it that is often not appealing to the younger set.  Some consider it a classic, but I’m more inclined to think it’s a book that will give adult readers greater pleasure.  I only mention this book as it is relatively straightforward compared to his slightly later adult book, ‘Kleinzeit’.  This is the kind of book you’ll either scratch your head about and put aside, or find incredibly inventive, funny and refreshingly off-beat.  Kleinzeit is a man in crisis.  His job is at an end, his body is giving him grief and his doctor is recommending surgery for ailments that seem to keep compounding. No one else around him seems to survive their stay in his ward, which provides great impetus for Kleinzeit to keep his organs intact and a penchant for fleeing the hospital.   He engages with a number of odd characters including: God, yellow foolscap paper, the hospital itself, the subway, the ‘word’ and death.  The satire on life is sprinkled amidst the underlying metaphor about the human condition.  Let’s just say I found it terribly odd and scratched my head the first time I tried reading it.  This time, with me closer to those things that Kleinzeit rails against, reading it was quite a different experience.  I was amused and delighted.  I might even try the Mouse again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s