REVIEW | Babel | R.F. Kuang

Once again, R.F. Kuang has ruined my life with this beautiful, brilliant piece of writing. From the first announcement, I was waiting anxiously for this and I devoured it in a few days – with an awful lot of tears. I just know that R.F. Kuang is going to be one of those insta-buy authors for me forever.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thanks to Harper Voyager for the ALC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.

About the book:

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 of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports 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? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

What did I think?

I knew I had to get my hands on this ASAP as soon as it was announced. I fell in love with R.F. Kuang’s writing during THE POPPY WAR trilogy and knowing that BABEL was going to be language focused made me incredibly curious. The tagline ‘An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.’ had me absolutely rapt from the first announcement.

Admittedly, when I first picked Babel up, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I felt completely compelled to pick it up and keep reading every minute of every day. There’s something about R.F. Kuang’s writing that is absolutely impossible to walk away from. I ended up alternating between the physical copy and the audiobook so I could keep reading while I was working. Considering the long timescale of this story, it was incredibly paced. It hit a really good rhythm from the start and I was engaged from the first page to the last. And then I got to the end, and I cried my eyes out which shouldn’t be a surprise because I sobbed my way through THE BURNING GOD but here we are.

Between the fantastic characterisation and the incredibly accurate and well-handled commentary on colonialism and white supremacy, this book emotionally wrecked me in all the best ways. I’ve seen criticism from other white readers that they felt bad reading this, and honestly? Good. If books like this and THE POPPY WAR trilogy make you feel like ‘a bad guy’ as a white reader, then you’ve still got learning to do (and I say this as a white reader who also still has learning to do).

The audiobook performance was spectacular. It was brilliantly performed and the narration added an amazing depth to all of the characters. I really felt for Robin the whole way through the book and though I had an audiobook review copy via Netgalley, I preordered the Babel audiobook too so I could listen again when I want to reread (which I definitely will).

This book is very clever and very convoluted, but despite that I never had difficulty following the plot and it all fell together perfectly. I can’t wait to reread because I just know that I’m gonna see so much more depth that I missed the first time.

Goodreads | Hive | Waterstones | Amazon | The Storygraph
(may include affiliate links)

Release Date: 1st September 2022

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.