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Babel - The Necessity of Violence

In the heart of 19th-century Oxford, England, lies the Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel. Within its hallowed halls, a group of gifted young linguists, carefully plucked from their diverse homelands, toil under the tutelage of enigmatic professors, mastering the art of translation.

  • Rating:
    4.00 out of 5
  • Author: R.F. Kuang
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Year of Publication: 2022
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • No of Pages: 545

Summary and Reviews


In the heart of 19th-century Oxford, England, lies the Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel. Within its hallowed halls, a group of gifted young linguists, carefully plucked from their diverse homelands, toil under the tutelage of enigmatic professors, mastering the art of translation. Among them is Robin Swift, an orphaned Chinese boy brought to England as a child, who finds himself drawn to the arcane power that lies dormant within the languages he translates.

Unbeknownst to the outside world, Babel is not merely a center of linguistic scholarship; it is also a conduit for silver-working, a potent form of magic that harnesses the essence of lost translations. Through meticulously crafted silver bars, the Babel Faculty manipulates the very fabric of reality, their enchantments fueling the British Empire's insatiable hunger for dominion.

As Robin delves deeper into the mysteries of Babel, he uncovers a hidden world of conflict and intrigue. The shadowy Hermes Society, a clandestine organization dedicated to dismantling the Empire's linguistic monopoly, reaches out to Robin, seeking his help in their rebellion. Torn between his loyalty to Babel and his growing sympathy for the Hermes Society, Robin must confront the dark truths that lie at the heart of the British Empire and decide where his true allegiance lies.

Babel is a mesmerizing blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, weaving together a captivating tale of linguistic magic, imperial ambition, and the transformative power of language. Kuang's masterful storytelling delves into the complexities of cultural identity, the ethics of translation, and the enduring struggle for freedom against the oppressive forces of power.

Additional Points:

  • Babel won the 2022 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
  • The novel explores themes of colonialism, cultural appropriation, and the exploitation of marginalized communities.
  • Babel is a testament to the power of language to shape reality and inspire resistance against oppressive systems.