Nearly two years ago I read what is to this day the best self-published novel I’ve ever discovered – that being Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. As it turned out, he also attended C2E2 this year, and I finally got my hands on a copy of Arm of the Sphinx, Book 2 of his Senlin series “The Books of Babel”. Needless to say, once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down…although at this point I’m no longer surprised by that.
WARNING: This review and interview contains very minor spoilers for Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft.
I don’t want to give away too much about Arm of the Sphinx, because its twists and turns and the sense of adventure that it inspires – no, almost instills – in the reader shouldn’t be spoiled. What I will say is that despite the fact that it was put together so much differently than Senlin Ascends, it’s one of the best sequels I’ve ever read. Josiah Bancroft and his writing leave you fulfilled but still wanting more – the characters are deep and conflicted and surprising at nearly every turn. And yes, you do learn quite a bit more about the Tower, though in Arm of the Sphinx it’s more of a backdrop than a character in itself, as it was in the first installment.
After meeting Josiah Bancroft at C2E2, I dove into Arm of the Sphinx and conducted the following interview as soon as I could, because I truly believe that this series is one-of-a-kind; something to which all history buffs, fantasy lovers, and steampunk fans should flock. And now, without further ado, my second conversation with Josiah Bancroft follows!
Tara Lynne: First, I have to say, it was so great seeing you at C2E2 this year! Do you think that convention helped you get word out about The Books of Babel? Do you attend other conventions throughout the year?
Josiah Bancroft: I’m so glad that our paths crossed in Chicago! It was a pleasure to finally meet you. And what a great convention! I’m a relative newcomer to the world of cons (C2E2 was only my fourth), but already I see how rewarding they can be. Cons help to address one of those intractable problems of working as an independent writer: connecting with readers. Finding an audience online can be difficult because the alternatives are endless and attention is fleeting. In person, I’m able to converse with readers in a more casual, organic way. It’s really a wonderful thing.
TL: In our first interview we talked about the steampunk *elements* in Senlin Ascends – is it me, or were they minimal compared to what I would say is almost a steampunk theme in Arm of the Sphinx?
JB: You’re absolutely right: the steampunk elements are more pronounced in the second book. That’s partly due to the plot (technology grows more abundant and elaborate the higher one goes in the Tower) and partly a result of a change in focus. I wanted Arm of the Sphinx to be more squarely an adventure story. Senlin Ascends is propelled by Senlin’s evolving sense of himself and his relationship with Marya. It is his novel. Arm of the Sphinx, on the other hand, is driven by a broadening sense of scope and history. There are more characters and more voices. The Tower’s origins and purpose are explored in more detail, which gave me room to expound on the steampunk aspects of the environment.
TL: One of the things I’m torn about is my favorite character in this series, and that’s a good thing. I am definitely partial to Iren and Voleta, though I probably most identify with Edith and Voleta. Do you have a favorite yourself, or a character you most identify with?
JB: That’s really gratifying to hear! Predictably, I’m fond of all the characters. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun writing Voleta and Iren’s latest adventure. I love how they complement and infuriate each other. They’re both unpredictable and stubborn, but they have a sense of humor about themselves and their circumstance. The Arm of the Sphinx, in some ways, is a book about finding and protecting a community amid the uncertainty of life. At the start, Senlin is alienated by his guilt, and Edith is isolated by her need for independence and control. But by the end of the story, things have changed; they have changed.
TL: Another thing we talked about in regards to Senlin Ascends was the writing process. Do you feel it’s easier or more difficult to write a sequel, and is there any advice you can give to budding writers who want to create a series?
JB: Writing sequels, it turns out, is really challenging. At least for me. It’s hard to balance my creative needs as a writer with the (anticipated) expectations of readers. I am very aware of what I owe my readers: a plot that has continuity, satisfying revelations for the main character,; and a cathartic conclusion. But to be creatively invested in the work, I have to find my own impetus for each sequel. It’s not enough for me to just march ahead with the plot. Every book needs its own vision. I don’t want to produce a series that collapses into cynicism, or dwindles into repetition, or accelerates into spectacle. So many series start off with promise and wonder only to fizzle in the end. I’m determined to not let that happen.
TL: Last but not least, are there any updates, news, or even exclusives you can give us about the third installment in The Books of Babel? I for one can’t wait for its release!
JB: Thank you! I’m so glad the series has held your interest. I’m making good progress on the third book, the working title of which is The Hod King. Without giving too much away, I can say that the third book takes us to some of the more extravagant ringdoms in the Tower. There will be galas and gladiators and unexpected romances. And if you ever wondered what would happen if Voleta and Iren were invited to a fancy dress party, this book is for you.
TL: Is there any other advice, comments, or information you would like to give our readers?
JB: For anyone who is interested, Senlin Ascends, the first book of the Books of Babel series, is available for download on Amazon for only $0.99 until June 15th. I’ll be updating readers on when they can expect my third book through my website.
Thank you to Josiah Bancroft for this interview, and to our readers – if you’re looking for an awesome series to read, definitely check out The Books of Babel!
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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