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

adventurous challenging dark emotional mysterious reflective sad tense 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? No


First and foremost I respect for R.F. Kuang’s ambition in building this world. The first section ended up being my favourite of all, mostly because its main focus was on establishing the complex parallel universe in which this world exists.

However, the middle section loses a lot of steam for me and ended up spending far too long hovering over tired literary tropes before kicking back into gear for the ending, which was saved by an excellent epilogue. What took me out of the book was how it sometimes directly placed itself within the 1800s in every sense and other times featured dialogue that felt like contemporary Twitter discourse about colonialism. 

Tonally the book was confusing, the motivations for the characters were sometimes unclear, but it is the masterful use of the discipline of translation that keeps the book grounded in intricacy and care.

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