Babel - R. F. Kuang


By R. F. Kuang

  • Release Date: 2022-08-23
  • Genre: Historical
4.5 Score: 4.5 (From 338 Ratings)


Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller from the author of The Poppy War  

“Absolutely phenomenal. One of the most brilliant, razor-sharp books I've had the pleasure of reading that isn't just an alternative fantastical history, but an interrogative one; one that grabs colonial history and the Industrial Revolution, turns it over, and shakes it out.” -- Shannon Chakraborty, bestselling author of The City of Brass

From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

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 for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping 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? 


  • An Interesting Essay, Not a Compelling Novel

    By William Amaranth
    R.F. Kuang’s Babel revels in the depth of its details. The richness of language is explored to dizzying depths within its magic system (silver-work), broad social and economic trends are deftly dissected, and the horrors of colonialism (and they are horrors) are shown to the reader with cold clarity. After finishing Babel, I had a deeper understanding of peak British colonialsim, with the fictional characters serving as firm grounding that gave image and texture to what I previously had only read in textbooks (and then only as an adult, as my public education didn’t cover colonialism at all). However, Babel is not a novel in the normal sense of the word. Its characters, whether good or evil, are solely and wholly defined by their reaction to colonial society. Some support it, others fight against it, and most are silently complict, but that is the entirety of who these characters are. Details are only added to make sure every character archetype is present: the enslaved or indentured, the lone minority in power that asks students to tough it out, the wicked elite that believes anyone who isn’t them isn’t human. Characters far more often react to events than instigate them, and what few personality traits they have are subsumed by their race, sex, and socioeconomic class Maybe that’s the point of Babel. There is a pervasive sense in the novel that the system perpetuates itself, that everyone is simply trapped within it. And that makes for an interesting essay. Unfortunately, I just don’t think it makes a compelling novel. The characters are too ethereal, too focused on serving their roles in the story, to properly emphathize with or root for. This is a morality play wrapped in the guise of a fantasy novel, and it sorely lacks the nuance and complexity of well written characters with agency to change the plot.
  • Absolutely Fantastic

    By Fhfhjgc
    I have been telling people about this book since before I even finished it. It is absolutely incredible, heart breaking, endearing, earth shattering. I cannot say enough about it. The author has captured the intended purpose so well, the ending brought me to tears and is a mirror of our world today. I cannot say enough about this piece. I read it online and I will be getting a hard copy so I may keep it forever. Thank you
  • Words Escape Me

    By westonite
    The power of words and worlds collide in this exciting story of hopelessness and hope.
  • The reading slump afterwards was REAL

    By aranxap15
    Such beautiful work. Obsessed with how academically rich but just as equally engaging and personal this work is. I love reading books which educate me as well as disconnect me from our reality and this amazing story did exactly that
  • Couldn’t put it down

    By ms risaa
    Heartbreaking while also cathartic. Reads like butter, smooth and savory and lingering on the palate. Robin, Ramy, Victoire will be with me forever.
  • Riveting From Start To Finish

    By Ranger CC
    There’s no denying that this book isn’t long (especially the online version coming out to be nearly 800 pages when the original is only around 550). But that doesn’t change the fact that this is GORGEOUS, the prose, the characters, the theme. In spite of the fantastical silver that drives the plot, everything surrounding the plot is so realistic it feels like stepping back into late 1800’s England. It reminded me of a history and linguistics lecture, but in a way that felt like a harrowing tale written by a classical author. This book does an incredible job conveying the horrors of colonialism and what it did to so many country’s (and the impact they retain due to it today). A new favorite of mine and one I will know doubt be recommending to anyone and everyone.
  • Way Too Long

    By gdub2019
    I like this author and the first half was excellent, but this book was around 300 pages too long.