Book Review: Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

29 Aug 2016

Recommended as highly as I possibly could. I couldn’t stop reading. I read while walking on the streets. At home. On lunch breaks at work. Everywhere.

The imagination on display is just as unique as the first book. Even having read the first one, there were still many surprises. The humor is found in completely unexpected places. And like the first book: I can only describe it as kind. You feel like you are watching someone make self-deprecating jokes. There are action sequences and “fantasy/science-fiction” elements as one would expect. But for me they were not as important as the beautiful prose.


There are so many witty and beautifully written phrases that I just gave up trying to bookmark them. I'll just re-read the book again. Senlin's character: his essential innocence and awkwardness is conveyed so well. I often found that I couldn't help but both laugh and sigh at the same time.

Example: "He gave her a reassuring shake, a sort of telegraphed embrace."

Senlin's struggle with himself is handled very well. Self-doubt is a trope that is used so often in fantasy. Even in very well written novels, this aspect often seems forced. Here it is cleverly done: his Marya becomes his tormentor. And the reason itself seems plausible - your swashbuckling hero doesn't suddenly start brooding about life. Infact, you discover why he is having doubts even before Senlin himself does.

The author switches to a first-person perspective and takes you into Senlin's mind as he explores the library - I enjoyed this perspective from the painter in the first book - and loved it here as well. His journey through the library helped both take the story forward and turned out be one of self-discovery. And the Librarian was genius.

Voleta grows as a character in this one - the others find aspects of her that are both fascinating and frustrating. Irene discovers the unexpected pitfalls of caring for others. Edith finally faces her fear - the Sphinx - who manages to overshadow Senlin as the most interesting person in the book. Adam becomes his own man rather than "that guy who is along so he can save his sister". Like in the first book, even the secondary characters - even the ones without a single line to speak - leave a mark.

Can’t wait for the next in the series.