Babel by R. F. Kuang

Babel book cover

This book was one of the biggest published in 2022. I kept hearing people rave about it online and in podcasts. I knew it was about language and colonialism and was a fantasy that takes place in an alternative past. Beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect when I finally picked it up a few weeks ago. While I did enjoy it, I’m not sure I would rate it quite so highly as so many others.

The main thrust of the world is that England is a world power due to silver, and not just because of its value as a precious metal. When similar words from different languages are engraved on bars of silver, the subtle differences between the words are brought out by the bar. Babel is the name of the tower and school of translation at Oxford. A cohort of an Indian, a Haitian, a Chinese, and an Englishwoman bond over their experience at the school. But as they start to learn the consequences of their school and its work, danger and revolution ensue.

In many ways this book reminded me of Kindred. Like that book, Babel really helps the reader feel what the characters are struggling with, in this case colonialism. And the characters come alive, whether you love them or hate them. Being a bit of a linguist, I also really loved how translation is a central part of the story. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of explication, more telling than showing in some places. That said, I am not sure how else the writer could have shared such a complex topic. But for me the explanations never really interfered with my enjoyment of the story. I was carried along nonetheless. In the end the book was a bit long but still worth the read.

My rating: 3.5/5

Murder in a North America Never Colonized

The Peacekeeper book cover

I was drawn to The Peacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard due to its setting. It takes place in modern time but in a world where the Americas were never colonized by Europeans. The story is about a young man whose mother is murdered by his father when he is a teenager. He spends the rest of his life caring for his sister who was twelve at the time of the murder. He eventually becomes a peacekeeper (what today we would call a policeman) and starts to investigate only the second murder in twenty years in his small town.

Due to what felt like heavy-handed foreshadowing, I suspected the murderer from the beginning. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The world building is amazing. The story takes place among the Great Lakes. There is a map in the front of the book but with East at the top due to world view of the Anishinaabe tribe, the tribe of the main character and the tribe of which the author is an enrolled member. We learn how the criminal justice system in this world is based an restorative justice rather than punishment.

In addition to the culture and cities, we learn also about how communities and families work in this modern indigenous world. And the themes throughout the story touch on and explore these as well. This is more than a simple murder mystery set in an alternative world. It explores what it is like to live in that world and how people living there might deal with what happens around them. I would love to read more stories that take place in this world.