Babel by R.F. Kuang5 min read

With magical world-building grounded in history, relatable characters and insightful commentary on imperialism, RF Kuang's Babel is a thought-provoking and enjoyable book.

Fans consensus

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Book description from the publisher, HarperCollins

From award-winning author R.F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

Publication date: 29 August 2023 (HarperCollins)

Reviews for Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution

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“I can confirm that Babel is a dense, absolute wonder of a novel (as the lengthy title suggests). With a dash of magic and dark academia, this epic story feels increasingly plausible as it grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire … In short, I really enjoyed it.

“This book is thought-provoking and and doesn’t shy away from forcing its readers to confront uncomfortable questions. It’s full of beautiful observations about Robin’s chosen family and friendship with classmates Ramy, Lettie, and Victoire, and is extremely smart and well-written.

“The only thing, for me, that is lacking in Babel, is more action. More emotion. More drama. More heart.”

Quinn, What Is Quinn Reading?
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“This is a meticulously researched historical fantasy novel, full of details and also linguistical nerdery. I loved the way it took real events and real politics (the silver crisis of the 1800s) and added magic, transforming and magnifying it to be even more deadly and seductive …

“It is such a great magic system, the way the dissonance between the nuances of words becomes the power … The writing is also great, hooking and hard to put down …

“This book has footnotes in and, in the audiobook, they are spoken by another narrator, just butting into the main book, interrupting the flow. It was so jarring and I just felt like I was continually being jerked out of the story … Even in print from, I did not enjoy the footnotes … they didn’t add anything necessary.”

Sifa Elizabeth, Sifa Elizabeth Reads
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“I enjoyed Babel infinitely more than I did The Poppy War, part due to the impressive growth in quality as a writer that Kuang shows … Although it covers many of the same story beats, themes and messages, I liked the format in which they were delivered more within Babel.

“I also liked the way the footnotes were handled within the audiobook, read by a different narrator … Had I just read the physical book, I might have skipped many of the footnotes altogether … Despite not loving the main cast on an individual basis (more on that later), I liked their interactions and the mood amongst them.

“The central statement about colonialism that is being made is a valuable one, but it’s clear from even the blurb alone what that statement will be … it is repeated over-and-over again, without adding further nuance of deeper exploration.

“Our heroes are all people of colour, and literally every white character is portrayed to be a narcissistic and elitist racist. There’s a point to be made for the cultural, subconscious racism of society of the time, but still; going to this extreme with the divide feels not only counterproductive, but bordering on some prejudice in itself.”

Renée, The Fiction Fox
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“Described as a dark academia novel, this book is so beautifully written and completely atmospheric. I so easily pictured myself in the corridors of Babel, walking the city of spires, studying amongst Robin and his new classmates: Ramy, Letty, and Victoire. The story was told so vividly and the length of the book gave plenty of time for world-building …

“The characters are deeply developed and each had a distinct and different background and life of their own. I also enjoyed that, although full of accurate history and description, this story was placed in an alternative, fantastical setting.”

Rebecca, What Rebecca’s Read
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“If your Pinterest aesthetic mood board is filled with cobblestone streets, fall hues, beautiful old buildings, rain, and old books, then this book is the dark academia story of your dreams …

“In Babel, R.F. Kuang proves she is a master of prose. I haven’t annotated a book since college, but I found myself using Kindle’s highlight feature nonstop. There are passages upon passages that resonated with me that I know I’m going to want to remember for the rest of my life …

“Babel strikes the perfect balance between transporting me to another world and introducing me to characters I relate to, while also offering a sharp commentary on race, colonialism, and what it means to truly belong …”

Garri Chaverst, The Everygirl

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