This post is a Babel Book Summary. This was my first R.F. Kuang. Let’s get into the review.
Now, there are books that you read all in one sitting taking in the elements until you have devoured the entire thing. Then there are books you ingest in parts, books you need to savor because they are revealing parts of you as you read along. Babel by R.F. Kuang definitely a book that you savor, taking bite by bite until you have completed it.
By title alone, Babel or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, it is clear from the time you read the author’s note that this isn’t your average dark academia-themed fantasy novel, but a book that will have you making pages and thinking out loud.
In Kuang’s books, with Babel being no exception, you take a “small” academic setting, adding in the exploration of Robin as he faces Oxford as a Chinese-British student in a place that is severely racist (it is set in the 1820s), creating high-stakes in the form of a revolution, a methodical, unforgiving examination of the cost of power and the pain of achieving it as a foreigner.
If you have read The Poppy War — which most of us probably have, then we are no strangers to Kuang’s writing, knowing that she writes beautifully. Her prose is wonderful, smooth, and pure like raw honey, bringing about epic moments, and hitting you exactly where it hurts right in your mind, with all the thoughts they bring about.
In this Babel Book Summary, we follow Robin who has Chinese heritage, Ramy with Indian heritage, and a Caribbean heritage woman, Victorie. We get the perspectives of “outsiders”, people who as foreigners they deem as someone that is unworthy of an education. They are taught to be grateful for every scrap they’re given and every bit of bad treatment – because it is more than they ever deserved.
This Babel book summary isn’t light, when Robin’s mother dies of cholera, an English professor takes him away from his home in Canton and brings him to his estate in London. Robin is then thrust into lessons in language so that he might one day join the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel.
Throughout his years of study, he dreams of attaining a position in silver-working, a magical process that has helped the British Empire maintain its worldwide dominance for decades. While in attendance at Babel, Robin comes across members of a secret society that steals the silver of Babel sabotaging their expansion further into the world. He decides to join that society, known as the Hermes Society, to help with the cause of dismantling Babel once and for all.
Babel definitely isn’t an easy read. At times, I was truly lost having to reread the passages. The chapters are dense and rich with text. There are moments in which the story lags, gradually building until it is propelled into the next major event. Not to spoil it but the book ends in tragedy, a shocking if not, definitely considered devastating ending. Even though you may be saddened at the fact that the book ends in a sudden way, this should not deter you because if nothing else it is a rewarding read.
I didn’t meld well with the story until about 50% through the story, not really getting into it until about the 40% mark of the book but wanted to see it through as to me it seems like an important read. I would recommend this book if you are a fan of historical fantasies as this leans more into this genre for me than actually into the dark academia or even fantasy genre, even. Although, it could be slated into both dark academia and fantasy due to being set at Oxford as uses magic in the form of words.
Babel is the kind of book that you will need to read and reread to fully grasp, and every new read will reveal new details to you, things you should focus on.
What did you think of Babel and this Babel Book Summary? Let us know in the comments!
This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost.