Arm of the Sphinx (The Books of Babel #2), Josiah Bancroft


We are, each of us, a multitude. I am not the man I was this morning, nor the man of yesterday. I am a throng of myself queued through time. We are, gentle reader, each a crowd within a crowd.

Forced into a life of piracy, Senlin and his eclectic crew are struggling to survive aboard their stolen airship as the hunt to rescue Senlin’s lost wife continues. Hopeless and desolate, they turn to a legend of the Tower, the mysterious Sphinx. But help from the Sphinx never comes cheaply, and as Senlin knows, debts aren’t always what they seem in the Tower of Babel. 

* * * *
4 / 5

Arm of the Sphinx is the sequel to Senlin Ascends, the second book in The Books of Babel series. It has a rather different vibe. Where I would described the first book by saying something like “it’s about a mild schoolteacher who goes to a tower full of wonders and cruelty and loses his wife. On his search up the tower to find her, he encounters numerous weird and wonderful people and things”, I would describe Arm of the Sphinx as “previously mild schoolteacher becomes pirate airship captain leading a crew he doesn’t particularly trust but still loves, into shenanigans whilst having some sort of pseudo-affair with his first mate“.

It is not cynical to admit that the past has been turned into a fiction. It is a story, not a fact. The real has been erased. 

Having stolen The Stone Cloud, Senlin flees with his crew – Edith, Voleta, Adam, and Iren – and a mysterious painting. His journey leads him and his crew to the mysterious Sphinx, an entity who provided Edith with her mechanical arm and the little red vials necessary to power it, and The Red Hand with his tools. Senlin finds few answers, just more layers of mystery.

I liked the focus on a solid cast. Iren and Voleta remain favourites of mine, whilst I have a soft spot for Adam. Bancroft shifts from only having Senlin’s point of view in Senlin Ascends to having chapters from each of the main cast, which definitely made sense when the characters became separated. It also added further depth and insight.

The man or woman who is rarely lost, rarely discovers anything new.

Two things I wasn’t so much a fan of was the hints of an upcoming revolution in the tower that will impact Senlin. I’m a bit sick of revolution/uprising plots to be honest.Second, I’m not a huge fan of the Edith and Tom interactions in this book. I like both Edith and Tom separately as characters, but I don’t appreciate how Edith is essentially being used to show that Tom isn’t as focused on finding his wife as he likes to think that he is.

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