Babel: or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History

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Age of Revolutions

Babel: or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History
Author: Kuang, R.F.
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Time Period: Age of Revolutions
Time Frame: 1828-1839
Geographic Area: Europe
Country: Great Britain
Topics: Colonization, Revolution, Oxford
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Reading Age: Young Adult, Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2022

World History > Age of Revolutions

“Absolutely phenomenal. One of the most brilliant, razor-sharp books I've had the pleasure of reading that isn't just an alternative fantastical history, but an interrogative one; one that grabs colonial history and the Industrial Revolution, turns it over, and shakes it out.” -- Shannon Chakraborty, bestselling author of The City of Brass

From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world's center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

Emily's Review

This book was excellent. I haven't read much dark academia, but after reading this, I definitely want to read more! In this novel we are following Robin on a journey from his poor upbringing in Canton to his time in England being raised by Professor Lovell, a benefactor who gives him the opportunity to study at Oxford. Robin loves to learn and is enamored by Babel. But he soon discovers that the same Empire that gave him such grand opportunities harbors dark plans that go against everything Robin believes.

I loved the world and the way the author created the magic within it. It felt very natural and real and made perfect sense in the scope of the story. I found the characters to be very rich and well-crafted. My only issue was the pacing - I felt the first half was very slow, and the second half very fast. I feel like it could almost have been two books rather than one. But that's a minor quibble. I love what the author did here and I can tell that she put a lot of love and research into crafting this story.

This story broke my heart and left me feeling enraged, sad, hopeful, and wanting more. I highly recommend it.

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