Babel by R.F. Kuan – Our Review
Become lost in the fantastical world of Babel, the towering institute set in the grounds on Oxford University. It draws in remarkable students from all corners of the globe who specialise in translating new and lost languages.
This sounds relatively straight forward, but this is where the element of magic is woven in. Babel is the Royal Institute of Translation and more importantly, the home of magical silver-working: where the translated word is matched to a perfectly crafted silver bar. The silver bars contain enormous power, from the mundane – the ability to make the perfect cake rise, to invisibility -enabling a person to vanish if they hold an ingot, to making machines fire better, or battleships sail without wind. In world terms it is used for to advance the might of Victorian England, and to the detriment of those countries that cannot access the powerful silver bars such as China, India, and Arabia.
Enter our four young brilliant heroes who are starry eyed and breathlessly happy to have been accepted into Babel. The novel pivots principally on Robin who has Chinese heritage. To his distress however, he swiftly realises the damage inflicted on his homelands by the havoc reaped by the power of the silver ingots. The young Babel translators quickly become hopelessly entangled in the problem of whether to serve the corrupt institute that has given them opportunity and education, or their own people.
R. F. Kuang herself is a translator and this is very much a compelling world-building novel. The story arc is immense and Kuang skilfully weaves in issues race, privilege, the effects of colonialism, power and the necessity in violence, which only adds immensely to the depth and passion of this remarkable novel.
If you are going to read one fantasy novel this summer, be sure make it this one.
Review by Nicole @ Great Escape Books
Available on back-order