Senlin Ascends, Josiah Bancroft, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
One of the first self-published books I've ever read, and it didn't disappoint. My thoughts on self-published books were that while there were probably good ones, it would be too difficult to find the needles in the haystack. With publishers, much of the disqualifyingly bad writing is removed, though there are plenty of poor or just plain meh novels that get published. Senlin went under the radar for a few years before being discovered (though just barely) during the 2016 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off, hosted by Mark Lawrence (read all his books). The way that works in that 10 bloggers each weed through 30 self-published titles, and champion one. The top ten are read and reviewed by all, then rated, an aggregate determines the winner. Senlin Ascends was a near-finalist, but got the attention of Mark Lawrence and some other key reviewers, and the rest is history. But enough of the non-review, here's my review!
Senlin is a provincial schoolmaster, who, along with his wife is honeymooning at the Tower of Babel. Not a great idea, as they become separated in the market outside the tower, and Senlin spends the next few volumes looking for her. The writing is very good. As you may know by now, faithful reader, very good writing goes a long way here at the Shelf of Very Good. Okay writing often gets a participation trophy, which isn't bad, I only finish a handful of novels each year, and I quit reading if they aren't worth it. Senlin Ascends was one of those rare titles that I finished and immediately read the sequel, which was even better than the first, though not noticeably, it flowed pretty seamlessly. Great fun with airships, oppression, local strongmen and a man learning a lot about himself on a simple quest, to find his wife and take her home. Side characters are good as well, nobody is boringly noble or perfectly evil. Good stuff, and I'm waiting for the announcement for the third.
In January I had thought to call it a tie between these two titles, but letting it stew in my mind, I found Senlin Ascends the more memorable story, but that doesn't take away from this first installment in the Dagger and Coin series. Great fantasy worldbuilding with multiple sentient races, complex religious and social loyalties and, again, complex characters. Stuff doesn't work out for our characters the way they may want, but they adapt. Some characters are so gray I can't tell if they're good guys or bad guys. Satisfying conclusion, and I've already ordered the sequel EVEN THOUGH it wasn't on an e-sale!