A stack of 3 closed books (left); an open notebook with a pen on top (right). Title: 12 Novels Thata Changed How I Read Fiction

#11 “Babel” by R.F. Kuang

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Babel by R.F. Kuang

© 2022

Date read: 1/22/2023

Other than Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series, I don’t read much fantasy. I picked this book up because its underlying premise is brilliant: bars of silver, when imprinted with pairs of words with similar meanings that demonstrate what is lost in translation, gain magical powers such as the abilities to increase industrial and agricultural production, to make weapons more powerful, and to heal injuries.

As I progressed through the book, my jaw kept dropping as the significance of this premise played out in one aspect after another of the society that controlled such power. By the end of the book, Kuang had used the premise and all its permutations to explore completely how societies create, build, and maintain power.

Advice columns often exhort writers to “go deeper,” and reading this novel demonstrated to me what that advice means in practice. The story gains meaning as Kuang follows each aspect of world building to its logical outcome. And it turns out that “go deeper” is also good advice for readers to keep in mind. I doubt I’ll ever again be able to allow a novel to just wash over me. I’ll want to see how every scene, every plot point, contributes to the whole.

© 2024 by Mary Daniels Brown

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