Babel; or, The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution

Harper Voyager. Aug. 2022. 560p. ISBN 9780063021426. $27.99. FANTASY
Kuang (The Burning God) blends historical speculative fiction with dark academia to create a nuanced adventure that also serves as a critique of Western colonialism. Robin, a Chinese orphan, has been raised by Professor Lovell to join Oxford University’s Royal Institute of Translation, commonly called Babel. The Institute plays a key part in the magical silver-working that has made Britain’s global empire-building machine a colonizing superpower. When war breaks out between Britain and China, Robin’s loyalties come into conflict, and he must choose between destroying Babel and trying to reform it. Kuang’s time as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford and Cambridge Universities allows her to create an Oxford that is realistic and unflinchingly honest. While a critique of Oxford’s role in Britain’s colonization, the novel is also an atmospheric and complex narrative with compelling characters. Kuang builds on the success of her “Poppy War” trilogy and academic studies and prompts readers to question the ethics of both empire and academia.
VERDICT Kuang is a refreshing and essential voice in fiction, and her latest will have wide appeal.
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