Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft, was a novel I picked up on a whim and took me quite by surprise in its excellence. The author has a florid, flowing writing style that serves as a perfect match for both the Victorian-Steampunk setting and the main character’s academic nature. This selfsame protagonist, Thomas Senlin, was indeed the primary reason for my enjoyment of the book. He is a bookish, quiet man whom I found it remarkably easy to relate to. At the same time, he goes through great, spanning, and ultimately satisfying arcs of character development as the story proceeds. The Thomas Senlin who finishes out the novel is far distant from the nervous man who hems and haws his way through its beginning. Yet at the same time he is still recognizable as the same lovable headmaster.
In the weaving of the book’s plot, Bancrott showed a great proficiency at seeding a large number of story threads. These happenings seemed isolated when they appeared, but all came together beautifully as the book reached its climax. This weaving of plotlines made for a very satisfying closure to this leg of the adventure. Though, at the end of Senlin Ascends, the story is obviously far from finished.
All that said, I would not quite call this my favorite book. I found the story to be a bit plodding at times, particularly in the first half. Others have also rightly pointed out that the role of Thomas’ wife, the driving force behind his adventure, could be replaced by any equally sentimental MacGuffin without overt changes to the plot. This is not to say that Senlin’s relationship with his wife is without its charms, only that I would have enjoyed a bit more establishment of the relationship between the two before she was summarily whisked out of the story.
Overall, I would give this book a 4.5, rounded up to 5 stars thanks to the wonderful, cozy feeling it inspired in me with its conclusion. It was very nearly a perfect novel, by my own estimation. Needless to say, I am eager to continue on to the next volume in the series.
Written by Robert Warner. Find out more about Senlin Ascends on its Goodreads page.