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    Excellent Steampunk World

    'Arm of the Sphinx' follows up on the excellent promise of 'Senlin Ascends' with much of the same exquisite worldbuilding, strong characters, and wonderful mystery. It has some small pacing issues, but overall is an improvement on the first book of the series and a promising sign of what is to come in the last two volumes. The Tower of Babel is a wonder. Plain and simple. This story is at its best when exploring and expanding and discovering more about the ever-changing, surprising Ringdoms of the Tower and the secrets found there-in. Josiah Bancroft is clearly a master of creative, mysterious worldbuilding. It astounds me that he self-published these first two novels before a publisher wised-up and signed him to a contract (at the time of this review, the news that Orbit has signed Bancroft is less than a week old and very exciting!). That being said, the first act of the story takes place on the airship The Stone Cloud and suffers for it. It's not nearly as exciting to be floating around the Tower as it is to be immersed in the strange and fantastic interior, and the escapades on The Storm Cloud just can't quite compare. Once the crew heads back into the Tower in the second and third acts, the story and intrigue pick up again and provide probably the best action, drama, and stakes that the series has seen so far. Senlin once again proves to be a wonderful protagonist. He is instantly relatable and his progression and development feels earned. His inner demons, doubts, and tormentors are compelling and stir him to grow and change. His failures aren't covered over...he's not perfect. And the conundrums, choices, and consequences moving forward are compelling and make me wish the next book was done so I could dive right in. Somewhat surprisingly, the supporting cast also shines brightly in this novel. One of my minor gripes about Senlin Ascends was that its minor characters seemed fairly one-note and convenient. Arm of the Sphinx takes time to flesh each of them out in minor ways through the first and second act (a line or two expressing their perspective on events) and in more majour ways in act three (giving each character chapters of their own). Not only do we begin to learn more about who they are and what they think, but each becomes real and relatable along the way. They all grow and develop too in this work and we start to love each one almost as much as Senlin. On a personal level, I found Edith and Voleta particularly stood out, while Iren and Adam both could use some work to make me entirely buy-in. Finally, the mystery of the Tower is so rich. Along the way, Senlin has been confronted with so many questions about the nature of the Tower and the conflicts he becomes a part of and the mysteries present in each Ringdom, and it has been so delightful as a reader to be discovering and wondering along with our protagonist. We don't have all the answers and that's so good because there's two books left! The mysteries of the world are wonderfully drawn out and I hope there is much more to come in the final volumes. My one other complaint about Arm of the Sphinx is that it seems to maybe give us too many answers. Senlin and the crew do learn a lot about the Tower and its nature in this novel and hopefully that doesn't draw away from the mystery in the rest of the series. (view spoiler) Arm of the Sphinx, aside from the first act, is markedly an improvement on its predecessor...which is saying something considering that Senlin Ascends is a wonderful, great book. The rich mystery is layered on thickly here, the characters are consistent and deep, the world of the Tower is entirely capturing, and I cannot wait for the next volume.
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