ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.
“The world is full of wolves and lambs, but precious few shepherds.”
I can’t believe that Josiah Bancroft did it again, but he truly did it again. This is such a wonderful installment in a world that I never want to leave. This entire series is such a unique treat that is truly unlike any other fantasy out there. Every paragraph is so smart, every chapter so perfectly crafted, and each book makes me more and more invested. I am at such a loss for words because of this book’s pure magnificence, but I’m going to try to write this review anyway.
The basic, starting premise of this tale is that a man named Senlin, who is from a small fishing village, recently has gotten married to a woman named Marya. And on their honeymoon, he takes her to this mysterious tower that he is obsessed with, and each level inside this tower is completely unique and an entire world all on its own. Senlin comes equipped with a guidebook and feels confident that he and his new bride will be able to have a safe visit, that is, until his new bride goes missing before they even are able to set foot inside the mysterious tower together. And not to get too spoilery, but we are three books in, and he still hasn’t retrieved Marya, but we have gotten to travel alongside him discovering the individual beauty and horror of each unique level.
Yet, this book is set entirely in Pelphia. And this book is all about the Hods that are forced to live as servants for the rest of the tower. Even though each level of this tower is completely different and unique, the Hods are always present, traveling through the inhumane passages, that are completely unforgiving, but they are forced to walk though nonetheless. But the true mystery of the tower, that this book focuses on, is who is The Hod King and what they and their followers are up to.
“It’s possible, I think, to be so many things at once, that you’re practically nothing at all. If you crush a mountain and spread it across a continent, it doesn’t make little mountains; it just vanishes into dust.”
And this book did surprise me with switching perspectives a few times, but this book starts out with Senlin being sent on a very important mission by the Sphinx, which also happens to be in the same Ringdom that he believes Marya is currently living in. Senlin is truly at a crossroads in this book, and he needs to make a choice to listen to his heart and do what he feels is right, or to listen to his mind and trust in the friends he has made during his time in the tower.
This third installment shines a spotlight on abuse, abusers, and the cycle of abuse those abusers will use to keep their victims stuck in the cycle. This book shows that abusers can be charming, they can be charismatic, they can be leaders and pillars in their community, and abusers can fool you and others into thinking that they are not abusers. But none of these things will ever negate the fact that an abuser is an abuser, and this is a constant theme in The Hod King that I really appreciated. And I truly think that it was so well done, and it really meant a lot to me.
“If someone has absolute control over you, it’s easy to believe they have absolute power over everything and everyone. They can’t be defied or challenged or disobeyed, and every opportunity for escape just feels like a cruel test.”
I also think this book discusses how the tower is very much like our own world, where men view women as resources and investments. Whether that means getting and keeping a woman’s name in the spotlight, to ensuring one will carry your child, to just forcing women in molds that cater to men’s wants and desires. I think Josiah mirrors a lot of relevant themes in our world, but this theme was expertly done and really stood out to me. Especially with how we live in a world that is always expecting and asking more and more of women.
I want this review to be spoiler free, and I don’t want to make this review about the author whatsoever, but I just also wanted to add a little caveat that I think that Josiah becoming a father recently may have subconsciously (or consciously) worked its way into his writing. And, friends, I’m soft, and weak, and I truly think that this element is why The Hod King ended up being my favorite of the series so far. I am not a parent yet, but I think most people can understand that being a parent raises the stakes higher for every aspect of your life. We get to see this very much so in this book, and I completely adored it. I also loved the constant discussion on what it means to raise a child, and what makes a caregiver a parent. Found family is always at the heart of these novels, but it shined so beautifully though in this third installment.
I also loved the theme on how societies do not want to take care or even acknowledge impoverished and underprivileged areas. The rich would rather ignore and exploit the poor than to make a conscious effort to help improve their living conditions that would in turn improve the entire society. In 2014, city officials switched Flint’s water supply to cut costs and poisoned an entire city. When I read Senlin Ascends two years ago, Flint was still without clean water. And in 2019, Flint is still without clean water, when powerful men in this world could easily fix an entire city’s plumbing without even noticing they donated the money. I don’t want to get too preachy, but Josiah is a really smart and really talented author, and the messages he wove throughout this book were not missed on me. And this entire story really shows that empathy could improve every world.
What else can I even say? Edith has my heart, Violet is such a badass, I want Iren and Ann to be my moms, because I would already die for that sapphic f/f side relationship, glimpses of Bryon, Goll, and Tarrou made my entire 2019 and we are only in the first month, and getting to learn a little bit about Marya felt like Christmas after being on this journey alongside Senlin for so long.
“I will find her. I will offer my help if she needs it, my heart if she wants it, my head, even if she would see it on a stake!”
Overall, I don’t think I’d fare as well at Tom has in this magical tower that has somehow taken root in my heart, but I’d love to be able to go nonetheless. I truly think that Josiah Bancroft’s storytelling is on a completely different plane of existence than any other SFF writer currently. I truly know that is a very bold sentence to write as a reviewer, but I truly mean it with my entire heart. These characters who I think are some of the best ever crafted, these themes that meant the world to me, these perfectly constructed sentences with a lyrical prose that leaves me highlighting quote after quote, these different adventures that are all completely enthralling, this hidden world that is unlike anything in literature, I am just left in complete and utter awe, friends. Just, please pick up Senlin Ascends if you haven’t already, and come gush with me forever about how astounding this series really is. This final book is truly going to slay me.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Content and trigger warnings for slavery, abuse, torture, talk of human trafficking, murder, death, loss of a loved one, violence, captivity, abduction, and war themes.