Today I am interviewing Josiah Bancroft, author of the new fantasy-adventure novel, Senlin Ascends, the first book in The Books of Babel series.
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DJ: Hi Josiah! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Josiah: Hello, DJ. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Certainly! I’m a rabbit-loving, bass playing, recovering poet who has recently embarked upon the adventure of writing fantasy novels for a living. In the past, I’ve been an aspiring comic book artist, a college-level writing instructor, and a rock and roller in the band, Dirt Dirt. I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with my wife, Sharon. We’re anticipating the arrival of our first child this April.
DJ: What is Senlin Ascends about?
Josiah: It’s the story of a nightmarish honeymoon to the immense, over-populated, and byzantine Tower of Babel. Thomas Senlin travels with his young bride, Marya, to the Tower to celebrate their recent wedding, and very shortly after arriving, he loses her in the teeming crowd. In his efforts to find her, he is thrown into all sorts of unexpected adventures, none of which he is at all prepared for. At the start, Senlin is a proud and bookish know-it-all, but the Tower quickly breaks him down, and he soon realizes that if he is going to survive this horrible vacation and this merciless, deceptive place, he is going to have to grow as a person, developing both humility and courage.
DJ: What were some of your influences Senlin Ascends and the series?
Josiah: A number of books and films inspired the writing of Senlin Ascends. When I began writing the series, I was re-reading many of the adventure novels I’d enjoyed as a boy, including those written by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Alexandre Dumas. I find the world view and social opinions of those works extremely problematic, but the underlying sense of awe and adventure was something I wanted to recapture and update for a contemporary audience. I was also reading many South American and European magical realist novels, including Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Gabriel Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.
I’ve always loved films. My mother started me on a steady diet of classic Hollywood movies when I was young, and I never lost my love of the form. My writing has been influenced by many pictures, directors, and screen writers over the years. In particular, Senlin Ascends owes a lot to Fritz’s Lang’s Metropolis, Hayao Miyazaki entire canon of work (but particularly Spirited Away), and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I wanted the books to provide readers with a cinematic experience without bogging them down with great chunks of world-building exposition. Hopefully, I was successful in that regard.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Josiah: Thomas Senlin is the story’s protagonist, and as I mentioned earlier, at the start of the story he’s a bit of a pill. At first, Senlin’s most redeeming characteristic is that he is passionate about education and teaching, but he grossly overestimates his own intelligence and preparedness for the great adventure that the Tower poses. He is clever and smart, but a lot of the assumptions that he brings with him to the Tower end up doing him more harm than good. He loves his wife, Marya, but he doesn’t really understand her yet, and it takes him a while to admit to himself that he is the one who is truly lost.
I personally find flawed characters fascinating because they have room to grow, learn, and mature. And Senlin does. He makes many mistakes, but he learns from them. He learns the value of friendship. He learns to overcome his arrogance. He learns to not believe everything he is told or reads. He is a very different person at the end of the first book.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Books of Babel series like?
Josiah: The Books of Babel are set in an alternate universe. The Tower, where the majority of the story takes place, is an ancient and mysterious structure, especially to those who live out in the countryside. The Tower is the source of many new technologies and industries and is a source of great wealth. It is as large as a mountain, and diverse as a nation. Each level of the tower is its own ringdom, with its own set of customs, its own laws and hazards. Some of the ringdoms resemble parlors; others resemble the fog-swamped streets of 19th Century London. Some ringdoms are infested with wild beasts, others are beautiful spas that conceal terrible cruelties. There are many kings, many slaves, many women and men vying to stay alive in the Tower. And above them all, high in the clouds, there dwells an almost mythical figure known only as the Sphinx, who seems to have his own plans for the future.
DJ: What have readers been talking about most once they finish it?
Josiah: Typically, they’ve been talking about how unusual the book is and how much they enjoyed its quirks and oddities. Some people hone in on the underlying dry humor, remarking that some passages reminded them of Douglas Adams or Sir Terry Pratchett. Other readers revel in the mysterious sets, Senlin’s many strange encounters, and the eerie characters who seem to leap off the page. Some readers really connect with the style of the writing, and others to the character of Senlin, who they find strangely relatable and refreshingly human. Orbit’s edition of the second book in the series, Arm of the Sphinx, is coming out in March, and many readers are enthusiastic to see how the story continues to unfold.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Senlin Ascends is published by Orbit and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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About the Book:
The first book in the word-of-mouth phenomenon debut fantasy series about one man’s dangerous journey through a labyrinthine world.
“One of my favorite books of all time” – Mark Lawrence
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.
Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.
Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.
This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.
The Books of Babel
Arm of the Sphinx
Josiah Bancroft’s fantasy-adventure series is published by Orbit Books (US/UK). Before settling down to write fantasy novels, Josiah was a poet, college instructor, and aspiring comic book artist. When he is not writing, he enjoys playing post-pop music with his band, Dirt Dirt, drawing chalk pictures on his office wall, and cooking pub curry for his wife, Sharon. He shares a home with her and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin, in Philadelphia.