ARC Review: Babel. Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang

Afternoon All,

Hope everyone is keeping well, doing good and having a lovely week. I seemed to have gotten a bit over eager on the reading this last week and not eager enough on the review writing so I have three reviews I need to get written up and posted. I’m going to try to get them all posted and done by the beginning of next week (I’m away this weekend), so fingers crossed they get posted thick and fast.

Book πŸ“–

Thank you to @harpervoyager_uk for this advanced audio copy of Babel by @kuangrf in return for an honest review. Babel was published on 1st September 2022 and you can get a copy here.

Description πŸ”–

The year is 1828 and young Robin Swift is orphaned in Canton. The mysterious Professor Lovell takes Robin under his wing and takes him back to London with him where he trains him in many different languages. All of this is done for a reason. Professor Lovell is preparing Robin for enrolment in Oxford University’s Royal Institute of Translation; also known as Babel.

Babel isn’t only the world’s centre for translation, it is the world’s centre for silver-working. This is the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars. It is also what gives the British Empire it’s power and assists them in colonising everything that it possibly can.

It is the Empire’s desires and plans that start to tear Robin in half. As much as he loves the work that he does at Babel, as a Chinese boy, raised in Britain, his loyalties are torn. He finds himself working for both Babel and and the underground Hermes Society; an organisation who intend on destroying all silver-working. Can Robin enforce change from within the institution or does radical change always require violence? He is forced to find out for himself.

General Thoughts πŸ€”

This book was so far outside of my comfort zone but after all of the hype I was seeing across bookstagram and elsewhere, I knew I had to give it a go. So when I got hold of an audio copy from NetGalley I thought that was likely my best option as it would likely keep me more engaged.

I am so happy that I pushed myself outside of my usual reading because I loved this book. It was long. Really really long. But not one bit of it was filler or boring. All of it contributed to the story and the character building and all of it had my headphones glued to my head, totally engrossed.

Characters πŸ‘«πŸ‘­πŸ‘¬

I don’t think anyone could read this book and not love the relationships between the four main characters; Robin, Ramiz, Victorie and Letty struck up a friendship quite quickly as they established themselves as different to the other undergraduates. They supported each other as they navigated their way through Babel and being “other” amongst a mostly privileged bunch of Oxford students.

Robin was my favourite character within the group. I thought he was so kind, considerate and intelligent but he was also prepared to make huge sacrifices to stand for what he believed in. I became quite hooked on his personal storyline too; being plucked from Canton and raised by someone who did not love him and used him for his skills. I can’t imagine how terrifying that would be as a child and how isolating and lonely it would be as a young man.

Writing Style ✍️

I honestly don’t think I have ever read a book with quite so much content packed into it and don’t so successfully. I had a worry that this might be a bit much for my brain to handle, I’d struggle to follow the plot or there would just be too much information. That wasn’t the case at all. I thought that the balance of character development, history and politics was done perfectly.

Conclusion & Scoring πŸŽ–

This is probably one of the most intimidating books that I’ve wanted to read and I am so happy that I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and gave it a go. I learnt so much from Babel both from a historical perspective and about language and translation. Not only was this book a huge lesson for me, it was entertaining, heart warming and heart breaking all at the same time. If this is your usual genre, then I’m sure you will love this book. If this isn’t your usual genre, then I’m sure you will love this book. A must read in my humble opinion.


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