The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft (Book Review)
Warning: this review may contain spoilers for Senlin Ascends and The Arm of the Sphinx!
The Hod King is another spectacular instalment of The Books of Babel. Fans of the series can rest easy that the break between volumes two and three has not disrupted the style or inherent beauty of the writing and that once again Josiah has produced something that belongs in the very top echelons of the fantasy genre.
We all know that Headmaster Thomas Senlin lost his wife Marya in the first three pages of Senlin Ascends, and ever since then it has been a veritable roller coaster ride for him and almost everyone he encounters. His fierce devotion to locating his wife and offering her rescue is matched only by the loyalty he inspires in his companions and it has been a pleasure watching this family grow. One has a feeling going into this book that those relationships are – apart, of course, from Senlin himself – the element that sets them apart from so many others who have fallen foul of the Tower. They will need Voleta’s wildness and joy as much as Iren’s muscle and determination, especially as the two both reinforce each other simultaneously.
Speaking of Voleta, she continues to be one of the most irreverent and charming young ladies I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her witty observations and lack of a social filter makes her unpredictable and fun, but with the stakes so high she is a ticking time bomb.
Voleta gazed at him with fresher eyes. “I still don’t understand why you’d say you were a mistake. I think you’re actually rather marvellous, I mean apart from your personality.”
Mark Lawrence’s review mentions Josiah’s ability to capture the essence of a person with a single sentence, and when he describes someone as having “the look of someone who had just been informed that his basement had flooded” it’s hard not to agree, especially as my house has flooded before and I know exactly what I looked like at the time. I think my love for these books just comes down to how much I enjoy the writing and have grown to love the characters and the fact that at any moment I’m reading something that makes me laugh or worry or get excited. You just never know when a line will jump out and surprise you.
“It was something much worse than a trap. It was a dramatic tableau.”
Senlin continues to be an absolute favourite. He has grown so much as a character from his humble beginnings and for the first time you get the sense he might be prepared for what is to come. Josiah of course takes that notion and shatters it, not just for Senlin, but for every character, revealing the pleasant and spectacular culture of Pelphia to contain the most subtle and deadly dangers of all. The Red Hand was a freaking monster ripping peoples heads off; the nobility of Pelphia would never do anything so mercilessly quick.
“Polite society!” Senlin scoffed. “I’ve learned the true nature of civility. Civility is critiquing how another man pronounces a word or knots his necktie, and then saying nothing about how a ringdom hangs its poor. Civility is having ardent opinions and plays and actors and made-up stories, and no opinion whatsoever about the real tragedy of the black trail. Civility is a crowded execution.”
In terms of drama, this book has it all. I’ve been reading for 30 plus years. On three or four occasions I’ve had to stop and put the book down and walk away for a few minutes whilst I questioned whether I had actually read the information that was filtering through my brain or just imagined it, I was so desperate to enter a justifiable state of disbelief, In the last 20 years it was Matthew Reilly and Gant, the second time it was Pierce Brown and Pax. Josiah got me twice during The Hod King, and once was out of pure joy and exhilaration.
Overall this year it’s been so amazing to see this series getting the legions of fans it deserves. I was a bit disappointed that Senlin Ascends could not squeeze into the final for the Goodreads Choice Awards, but at the end of the day I have no doubt that these books will be peppering many reviewers’ top ten lists this year and, certainly if The Hod King is anything to go by, for many years to come.
Thanks to Orbit for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy.