Happy Friday and welcome to another First Lines Friday post! First Lines Friday is a regular series on my blog. It’s a fun way to share books I love, am interested in and/or are on my TBR. Sometimes I like to experiment with something new!
I was inspired to share the opening lines of today’s feature, as I recently received my Illumicrate exclusive edition. The book sounds amazing, and the edition I received is absolutely stunning! I shared a reel last Friday on Instagram of my unboxing, so if you haven’t checked that out, please go and check out my Instagram page.
Without further preamble, shall we dive into today’s First Lines Friday introduction?
By the time Professor Richard Lovell found his way through Canton’s narrow alleys to the faded address in his diary, the boy was the only one in the house left alive.
The air was rank, the floor slippery. A jug of water sat full, untouched by the bed. At first the boy had been too scared of retching to drink; now he was too weak to lift the jug. He was still conscious, though he’d sunk into a drowsy, half-dreaming haze. Soon, he knew, he’d fall into a deep sleep and fail to wake up. That was what happened to his grandparents a week ago, then his aunts the day after, and then Miss Betty, the Englishwoman, a day after that.
Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution
Genre: Historical Fantasy / Dark Academia
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: 23 Aug 2022
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.
Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports 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? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?
Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.
I’m excited I have received my copy of this book! When I initially signed up for Illumicrate’s book-only subscription, I didn’t know this was going to be the first book I received. However, I’m really excited it is! Fellow bloggers who have read advanced copies of this book have absolutely raved about it. As soon as I heard their thoughts, I knew I had to pick up a copy for myself. That I’ve got my hands on an exclusive edition only makes me happier! I had to feature it in this week’s First Lines Friday post.
I’m most excited about exploring how the fantasy elements of the book entwine with the element of language and translation. It doesn’t seem to be a superficial element of the plot; if the content of the book has some academic element in itself, then this will appeal to me no end.
I had a place to attend university, but ultimately I made the decision several years ago not to attend. It wouldn’t have been for me in any case, (and in terms of career, I don’t think I could be more opposite in what I do now compared to what I intended to do, but I’m very happy with my decision). I get to explore the attendance of a university through this narrative and it is something that I’m looking forward to.
For readers who enjoy diverse character representation, then this book is right up your street! Written by American-Chinese author R.F. Kuang, this book is mainly told from the perspective of an Asian character. The author herself attended the University of Oxford, and in her exclusive letter included in this copy, she talks about her complex relationship with the institution. Described as both the university of her dreams, and yet also elitist and classist (to name just a couple of its less favourable traits), I hope to see the author’s own experience play out through Robin Swift‘s narrative.
If I go on to enjoy Babel as much as I suspect I will, then I have a number of books that R.F. Kuang has already published but I will be going back and reading. The Poppy War especially appeals to me!
I hope you have enjoyed this week’s First Lines Friday feature! Have you added Babel to your reading list? Does today’s introduction compel you to do so?