In the nineteenth century, the British empire has achieved exceptional power through its dominance of silver-working: an art that locates and exploits the magic in the gaps of meaning between languages. But the empire’s great success could be its downfall, as English continues to either wipe out or acquire other languages. Caught in the middle is a young Robin Swift, born in China, but whisked away by a cold and business-like professor, who brings him to Oxford to learn the translator’s trade. Swift and other students like him—speakers of more “exotic” languages—hold the key to the empire’s continued expansion. But keys can be used both to open doors and to lock them shut. The plotting is fun, but the real joy in Kuang’s world is the play of language and power, and the recognition that language can (literally, in this case) be as violent as any weapon of war.