5 star

Review: Babel by R. F. Kuang

From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a historical fantasy epic that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British Empire

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. The tower and its students are the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver-working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as the arcane craft serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide . . .

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

This was on my anticipated reads about a year ago, and two friends have highly recommended it to me since then, saying that I would for sure love it. Were they correct? I mean, obviously so.

Babel is a historical fiction with a touch of the fantastical. If you know anything about the biblical Tower of Babel, you already know a lot about this book. Babel takes place around the 1830s, following a young Robin Swift, who is brought from Canton to “Babel” tower at Oxford, taking over Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mandarin classes in his translational studies. This is of course, all happening at the height of the power of the British empire, who have amassed the world’s silver supply for their silver-working, which enhances the might of the empire to extraordinary heights. Robin eventually finds himself caught at odds between the colonialist goals of the British empire and his own conscience and those who oppose it.

I have so much I want to exclaim about this book, but I will start first with the characters. The characters and their relationships with each other were very well-developed considering this is also a part fantasy and the world is built around the historical Oxford as well. In terms of the university life vibes, it really reminded me of Ninth House in the way it was all set-up, which I also really enjoyed and rated at 5 stars. There were many detestable characters, but it felt like no character was there for no reason and although they came from all sorts of different backgrounds, somehow it felt like they were all connected, which I feel like is part of the whole “translation magic” in its own right.

The “magic.” I may not be a linguist or anything like that by trade, but I certainly love learning my languages. Silver-working essentially takes advantage of the meanings that are “lost in translation” between languages and manifests them through the silver to enhance things in the real world. As someone who has learned Latin and Mandarin, and even some Ancient Greek, this book really spoke to me on many levels. But that bias aside, Kuang’s work in explaining all the languages and providing all the context for understanding exactly how this power works was excellent, and this world-building was some of the best I have read recently.

This book was certainly a bit heavier than I expected compared to what I was expecting from the advertised premise. That being said, my bias for the world-building with a topic I love really distorts how I feel about what I wanted in this book, so take that with a grain of salt. I really wanted more of the world, and more of the exploration of linguistics and cross-language studies. However, ultimately this book is more about colonialism and the everlasting fight between those with privilege and power and those without. If that kind of political intrigue is not your cup of tea, you may want to avoid this book. However, if you are at all interested in the whole language thing and especially in translation like I am, it may honestly be worth it just to learn all about that. It was completely fascinating and enthralling and I definitely couldn’t put it down.

In terms of the plot, it was all really set up, and all the moral and ethical dilemmas that arose were excellently crafted and executed. Even as a third-party omniscient, it was impossible to swim through the murky murky waters of when you pass a line from moral to immoral, or from a good cause to revenge. That all being said, the plot was fairly predictable at many points, and there weren’t that many surprising twists. But this may be coming from a thriller/mystery-reader perspective, so take that for what you will. It really didn’t detract from the moment of when everything came to pass anyway, and there was a lot of heavy foreshadowing right from the beginning. Overall, just an excellent read that really made me think a lot, yet still a story I really got to immerse myself in and enjoy. I highly recommend this one.

Overall Recommendations

Babel follows a young Robin Swift as he makes his way from being orphaned in Canton to being part of the most prestigious faculty at Oxford handling the source of might of the British empire—silver-working. This allows meanings lost in translation to be harvested and manifested by the silver by using words in different languages to capture them. Soon it becomes clear that the British empire must expand ever outward, and it seems like their power knows no ends. However, there are certainly reasons why there are those opposed, and even the young students at Oxford may not be sheltered forever in their gilded tower…this is an excellent historical fiction with just a touch of the fantastical, and I highly recommend it.

5 star, adult

ARC Review: A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin

A whip-smart debut that follows the adventures of an entirely unconventional heroine who throws herself into the London Season to find a wealthy husband. But the last thing she expects is to find love…

Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. Left with her father’s massive debts, she has only twelve weeks to save her family from ruin.

Kitty has never been one to back down from a challenge, so she leaves home and heads toward the most dangerous battleground in all of England: the London season. 

Kitty may be neither accomplished nor especially genteel—but she is utterly single-minded; imbued with cunning and ingenuity, she knows that risk is just part of the game. 

The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is Lord Radcliffe. The worldly Radcliffe sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune-hunter that she really is and is determined to scotch her plans at all costs, until their parrying takes a completely different turn…

This is a frothy pleasure, full of brilliant repartee and enticing wit—one that readers will find an irresistible delight.

**A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting comes out July 12, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Witty and filled with charming banter between our love interests, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting was unputdownable and had me smiling and cheering all the way through.

If you love period pieces or in general a fan of writing in the Regency era, look no further! I loved the way the author wrote because it felt like transporting back in time. It wasn’t written in a contemporary style and often used words that were definitely more common in that time period than today. Don’t you just hate it when the book is meant to be of another time but the language itself and the conversations don’t really reflect that? It felt like Jane Austen could’ve written this and I absolutely ADORED that.

The story follows Kitty Talbot, the oldest of 5 girls, who is left to fight for her family with the massive debt her parents left behind after their passing. Putting on charm like armor and utilizing a mind that could strategize like the best of the men, she set to work to offer herself up as a wife to the richest men London society could offer. If only she could pave the way of making their acquaintance.

I loved Kitty’s tenacity and her wit. It takes a lot to go from unnoticed naive girls setting foot in London for the first time to becoming established in Society (yes, with the capital S) well enough to please not only the men she’s trying to catch but also the mothers who must give their blessing to such a union. She often times had to give up her own wants and happiness to provide a better future for her younger sisters and that made me feel for her all the more.

However, her character is very much challenged, especially when going toe to toe with Lord Radcliffe who immediately catches onto her plan. He was the best kind of love interest, total Darcy material if I do say so myself. Initially cold and overprotective of his family, he and Kitty butt heads from their very first meeting. But the slow burn of their ensuing partnership – or I suppose blackmailed allyship – that turns these enemies to lovers was the very best this trope can offer.

Their dialogue was some of my favorite things in the book. They both have such sarcastic and sharp tongues when they let their guards down and allow someone to truly see them. Underneath all the armor and glam shown to the rich and the privileged, these two didn’t truly fit into the rules and the scheming the Society was known for. Together, however, something magical happens and watching the slow transition in their relationship was the absolute best. As character development goes, they each challenged the other to become more of who they wanted to be, not the version they showed the world or the comfortable rut they did not want to leave. If that’s not what a great relationship does, then I don’t know anything about love.

The secondary characters were also fabulous. We only get to know one of Kitty’s sisters well as Cecily travelled to London with Kitty to help her find a wealthy husband. I would’ve loved to read more about Cecily and her own experiences among the ton as she’s more bookish and distracted by intellectual ideas more than what’s going on right in front of her. Although she wasn’t looking for it, I was super glad to see romance was in the cards for her too. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more.

With so much to offer transporting us back to such historical times filled with lovable characters to root for, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting is something surely everyone should look out for as a next read.

Overall Recommendation:

If you’re looking for a great Regency story with the best slow burn romance, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting is YOUR book! From a smart protagonist to a totally swoon worthy love interest, the romance is worth rooting. I appreciated the author writing in a style with vocabulary that transported me back to the 1800s as that added an extra layer of authenticity to this world. A great debut that will surely bring me back to anything Sophie Irwin publishes next.

2.5 star, YA

Review: Cinder & Glass by Melissa de la Cruz

For this princess, winning the crown is no fairytale.

1682. The king sends out an invitation to all the maidens in France: their presence is requested at a number of balls and events that will be held in honor of the dashing Prince Louis, who must choose a bride. 

Cendrillon de Louvois has more grace, beauty, and charm than anyone else in France. While she was once the darling child of the king’s favorite adviser, her father’s death has turned her into the servant of her stepmother and cruel stepsisters–and at her own chateau, too!

Cendrillon–now called Cinder–manages to evade her stepmother and attend the ball, where she catches the eye of the handsome Prince Louis and his younger brother Auguste.

Even though Cendrillon has an immediate aversion to Louis, and a connection with Auguste, the only way to escape her stepmother is to compete with the other women at court for the Prince’s hand.

Soon, as Cendrillon glows closer to Auguste and dislikes the prince more and more, she will have to decide if she can bear losing the boy she loves in order to leave a life she hates.

Melissa de la Cruz takes a lush, romantic hand to this retold fairy tale classic.

I’m a hugeeee sucker for all things Cinderella. It’s my favorite fairy tale and obviously my favourite one for retellings. So you can imagine my disappointment with how Cinder & Glass turned out, especially with such a gorgeous cover.

This story is set in 1600s France in the court of King Louis XIV. I loved the inspiration to set this fairytale in a historical period instead of some completely reimagined land. The plotline was also intriguing with a competition for the prince’s hand (very reminiscent of The Selection) while secretly falling for the younger prince instead.

With all these elements that just SCREAM at me to like it, it begs the question why I didn’t end up loving this book.

It really all comes down to execution. The set up for a Cinderella tale is quite simple. The protagonist lived a happy life with her family even as her mother died when she was young as her father more than made up for it. The loss of her father and the marriage to her stepmother are the turning points in the story that truly leads to the problems she has to face.

This takes a whole section of the book to even reach, a good quarter of the book setting up the beginning of the Cinderella plot. While I appreciate getting to know a bit about the inner workings of the French court when Cendrillon moved to Versailles, was it really necessary to drag it out that long? Her stepsisters are still fairly horrid and her new stepmother just screams evil in disguise.

Then there’s the pacing. Maybe it’s not my favoured format of reading but it felt very…narrated and detached? As if the author is simply moving through time telling us of what is happening to Cendrillon instead of diving into the depths of emotion she must be facing. I wanted to FEEL and instead it was all rather clinical in execution.

My favourite part of any Cinderella tale is the romance. Yes, I’m a modern day woman who can occasionally swoon at a princely figure coming to help and believe a woman who is being oppressed by someone in power over her. But even that held its own problems here.

First, the competition wasn’t really all that big in this story? It was present but we knew from the start that Cendrillon wasn’t going into it for love as she had met Auguste a year ago and already formed a bit of an attraction to him. Her motivation led to, well, a lack of ambition and focus to win so it wasn’t really that interesting reading about her dates or the other girls she competed with.

The attraction she felt for Auguste wasn’t even consolation as the chemistry was barely there. It felt like they had developed a good friendship in the scary world of court politics but it suddenly blew into the realm of “more-than-friendship” in the blink of an eye, with only the angst that she couldn’t be with him. I wanted to believe in this romance but I really wasn’t feeling it. And that just sucks big time because what’s a Cinderella tale without the love that conquers all?

While I have many complaints about this book, I did enjoy the setting and managed to read this in a day as it’s not too long of a book. The lush descriptions of Versailles made me wish I could go back there again and explore it a little less rushed. It also helped that it’s still a story based on my favourite fairytale. If it was any other, I probably would’ve been tempted to DNF at any time.

I can’t say I recommend this book – something my heart hurts to say because Cinderella! – but it could’ve been worse in some ways. There’s still the fight against the evil stepmother and satisfaction gained when good triumphs over those who oppress and abuse. The idea was there, but perhaps the execution could’ve used some tweaking.

And that cover is to die for so I could just sit here all day staring at it, which would be enough.

Overall Recommendation:

Cinder & Glass fell flat as a Cinderella retelling due to its lack of emotional depth and unhurried pace through the key points we all recognize from the tale. I wanted to love this so bad because I love Cinderella but I couldn’t emotionally connect with any of the characters, even the pain Cendrillon was going through. It’s not a Cinderella story if you don’t even sympathize for her. Or fall in love with her love story.