Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang
Reviewed by Sam!
What I drank prior: so it’s Dave’s birthday so we drank a lot. But i also had a shit week so I started drinking work Parker at like 5:30 and kept going until i “had to” leave to go out. And then i went out and drank a metric ton off truly and beer. So….
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?
Drunk Overview: ok so let me see if i can summarize. There’s this English dude who fosters an orphan from China. This kid who knows both languages as their own… he fosters this kid and sends him to Oxford to learn languages and whatever. What isn’t known at the time is that language is what powers the whole universe. If you carve a word in silver and then it’s translation in another language, the the meaning lost in translation makes magic… literal magic. BUT while this is how the English steal power, it’s how they oppress. So when my mans figures this out things HAPPEN.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: ok so im sorry its been a minute since I’ve read this so here we go. The only comment i had while reading it that exists is “for a book who’s magic system revolves around words, there are so so many words…”
Characters: idk what to say about these characters. We get the foster dad who obviously sucks but only in the imperial way. And while i say “only in the imperial way” what i mean is… he sucks in the way we’re all familiar. He’s a white guy in Imperial England. So entitled so… I deserve to hold power over you just cause i can. And then there’s our main guy Robin. He has no idea what he’s getting himself in to which actually pisses me off but shouldn’t because how could he know but like…. Wtf. I loved the other side characters which is such a disservice to their actual value to the story. They’re not side characters but the book wants them to be. Literally all the side characters were dope. In a story like this its easy to make these characters plot devices but that’s not what happens.
Plot: ok so this i where im annoyed. For a story and a world that is literally amazing how dare you give me a plot that’s so slow and dull. After Poppy war, i expected brutal and real and raw and straight up the human experience but i barely got that in this book. I got a mystery that tried to be a rebellion and idk how to deal with that.. especially given how much i loved this otherwise.
Writing Style: so…. You all know how i have authors that I’m like… “friends… it’s this guy… need i say more?” R.F. Kuang has made it to that list.
World Building: i want to know more about this world.. i wan to know more about the consequences of the actions of the characters I WANT MORE but I’m not going to get it and I’m v upset.
What to pair it with: this is like a vodka soda. It’s delicious, it will fuck you up, but not nearly as much as the taste makes you think it will…
Rating: 4/5 shots
Until next time, we remain forever drunkenly yours,
One thought on “DRUNK REVIEW: Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang”
I need to read this book; yet, I know I’ll be doing so very soon! Excellent review!