Review: Babel, by R.F. Kuang

Speculative Fiction, YA Fantasy

3 Stars

What a unique book this was in so many ways. I’ve never given more than 1 star to a book I didn’t, technically, finish. Honestly–probably–if the library hadn’t been about to take it back, I would have read it more leisurely and maybe not have been so bogged down in the following points.

Here’s what happened:

There is so much nerdy goodness in this book I absolutely love. Unfortunately, it was dispersed amongst the “real” story I found distracting from this talk of entomology and its uses and function within the magic system. Then, as I got into the real account, I’d be bumped back into the scholarly. While I liked both aspects of this book, I didn’t like them together. I was bored. Looking back at the first 30-40% at the halfway mark had me wondering why we needed so much to get us to this point. I wished for a story about the evolution of the word pairings only, or on the other side, a drama about Oxford students amidst colonial and social strife. Both aspects of the book were equally extraordinary. I can’t say that I’ve read a book that so nuanced the multifaceted psychology of those of underprivilege and those with. Each of Kuang’s characters perfectly highlighted an aspect those of us who can’t know too easily skip when contemplating the nature of existence from another’s perspective. And yet…

Like The Secret History, we follow a group of “friends” thrown together by their shared collegiate aspirations. At least in Babel, we’re given a clear picture of events, how they transpire, and why. The use of third person versus the single first-person telling of the former helps to give us more depth and breadth, which I appreciated much more than Tartt’s novel of similaresque theme. Yet, I enjoyed History more, which really has to do with my previous point of this meshing of too many things.

At about 65%, I skipped to the end and read the epilogue. This was enough to satisfy me so I felt I could say I read this book. Despite my basically DNFing this book, I can’t give it less than three stars. There really was so much good. I think I was just too impatient to settle in with it all?

Has anyone had a similar experience with this book or any other? I’d love to hear about it.

Happy Reading! 🙂