A review by mildlypretentiousreader
Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang

adventurous challenging dark emotional informative reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (it truly lived up to its hype)

Babel is an incredibly well-researched, in-depth, and unafraid work of fiction. Our author, Rebecca F. Kuang, never strays from her book’s purpose, fiercely telling the message that yearns to be heard. 

Set in an alternative reality, Babel tells the story of Robin Swift, an orphaned child from Caton, who was stripped from his motherland and brought to England by the elusive Oxford Professor Lovell. Lovell enrolls Robin into a rigorous educational program, studying Greek, Latin, and other arts, all in hopes for Robin to one day enroll in Oxford’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation at Oxford University (aka Babel). Along with Robin, other attendees of Bable include, Ramy, Letty, and Victoria. These three also come from similar backgrounds, facing hardships, such as racism, misogyny, or a mix of both. All four become fast friends and learn to navigate elite world of Oxford. Ties are tested, and friendships are broken. Along with these adjustments, the main four deal with conflicting feelings towards Oxford and England as a whole and what those institutions stand for. 

One of my favorite parts of Babel was Robin, Ramy, Letty, and Victoria’s educational time at Oxford. Listening to each of their classes and hearing the professors talk about their respective subjects was enjoyable. I found myself just as sucked into the Oxford bubble as they were. I empathized with each of their struggles in leaving Oxford behind.

Outside of the premise, the most alluring part of Babel for me was the world-building. Who doesn’t love magic??? The incorporation of silver bars was incredible, and I enjoyed every tiny detail about how the magic flowed throughout England and the world. 

Kuang eloquently grapples with colonization, complacency in an oppressive system (as seen in the case of Robin), and how Western empires utilize the art of translation as a mere tool for exploitation.