Babel by R. F. Kuang

Five Word Summary

Evocative, powerful, vivid, confronting, complex.


  • History buffs
  • Literary readers
  • Lovers of thought provoking fantasy


Oxford, 1836.

The city of dreaming spires.

It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.

And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.

Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.

Until it became a prison…

But can a student stand against an empire?

My Thoughts

Ok. This was book was different to what I usually read. Heck, it’s different to many fantasies on offer. It is a sharp commentary on the industrial revolution and British colonialization. It’s theme of racial prejudice is heartbreaking in its sensitivity and realism and is written as only someone who isn’t white could. The nuance is layered, thought provoking and (as a white woman) a little confronting—in a way that it absolutely needs to be.

The research and intelligence that has gone into this book is astounding and admirable. The writing is excellent and you get a keen sense that you are getting a peek into the mind much more intelligent than one’s own.

But … it was hard going. It was slow and murky and required some wading to get through. I’m not saying it’s bad, but rather it wasn’t enjoyable. Now, if you enjoy a more intellectual read, you’ll no doubt love it, but sadly, I did not. In the end, I wanted to give it five stars for the sheer work that has gone into it, but three stars for my enjoyment of it. There was no way on Goodreads I could give it three stars (it’s just too good to do so), but here, on my blog, a 3.5 rating is perfect.

I must note that on Goodreads, plenty have raved and given it five stars. Once again, I think my enjoyment of this book was simply less because it is not the kind of book I usually choose to read.


The cover is AMAZING. So, despite the fact I didn’t love the book, it a super pretty addition to my collection.

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