Book Review: Babel by R. F. Kuang

Babel by R.F. Kuang is an adult historical fantasy where Robin Swift, an orphan from Canton, is brought to London by Professor Lovell to train to go to Oxford’s Royal Institute of Translation better known as Babel. Babel is the center of translation and sliver working where both the original and translated words are carved on silver which embeds the sliver with a magical effect related to the word that enhances many things. Robin’s cohort at Babel includes Ramy, who is Indian, Victoire, a black woman of Haitian decent, and Letty, a white woman. As the story progress Robin learns about the Hermes Society who are a group working to sabotage the sliver working to slow England’s Imperial Expansion. When Britain is going to go to war with China Robin must seal with what is he willing to do or sacrifice to stop Babel.

This is a stand alone dark academia fantasy that grapples with different aspects of imperialism, colonialism, and racism that is embedded in the world and is still apart of academia today. This a an amazingly well researched book that at times can be heavy handed with the themes, it also fits with how the world works for these characters. As Robin gets used to the world of Babel as a reader you get comfortable with how this world work. However, when they go to China everything changes.

At a certain point you know things are not going to end well for these characters and the ending hurts but at the same time I’m not surprised with how it ended. For me it took quite a while to finish Babel but that is on me not the quality of the story or writing. I was already in a little bit of a slump when I started Babel and then I had a several month stint working at a museum with heavy material related to World War II. Personally after doing the work that I was doing I had trouble reading a book that deals with such heavy topics at the same time so I ended up putting Babel on hold. With that in mind I would recommend that if you plan to read Babel that you are in the right head space for the themes Babel deals with but overall I loved this book.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.