Newly-weds Thomas and Marya Senlin have decided to spend their honeymoon at the Tower of Babel. But when Marya vanishes shortly after their arrival, Thomas must make his way through various levels of the tower in search of his missing wife. Some levels are strange, some are peaceful but each has its own unique dangers.
Shortly after I first finished Senlin Ascends, I commented that it was the sort of book that both impressed and depressed me in equal measure. That might sound like a back-handed compliment but that wasn’t how I intended it. I was looking at it through the dual eyes of both reader and writer. The writer in me was depressed because it made me wonder if I could ever be that good. The reader in me was impressed because it is that good.
The interior of the tower is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. Each level is virtually a city-state, with its own laws and customs, government, people and pitfalls. Each of these is described with loving care and detail, enough that even the most unusual of them can be clearly visualized. Only a fraction of these ‘ringdoms‘ are explored during this installment which leaves plenty of ground for further books.
The other fascinating part of the novel is the character of its protagonist, Thomas Senlin. Beginning as a man who could be described almost as a bystander to his own life, he gets a rude awakening when Marya disappears. As he climbs the tower in search of her, he has to force himself to adapt from the shy intellectual headmaster and become at times an actor, a conman & thief, a businessman and an insurrectionist. And yet, despite the changes he goes through, the core character is written so strongly that none of these new careers seems that great a step for him.
Senlin Ascends is a wonderful read; vibrant, imaginative and stunningly well written. The prose is beautiful in and of itself, but when combined with the creativeness of the settings it becomes truly a work of art. I don’t think I can give it a higher recommendation than that.