Five years ago, Corin Cadence’s brother entered the Serpent Spire — a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spire’s trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spire’s goddess.
He never returned.
Now, it’s Corin’s turn. He’s headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess.
If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that won’t be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, he’s going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity.
The journey won’t be easy, but Corin won’t stop until he gets his brother back.
This kind of book is why I’m thankful for the SPFBO competition because without it I might have never heard about this book at all. Like Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft or The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, Sufficiently Advanced Magic (SAM) by Andrew Rowe is truly a gem in the self-published fantasy world that is on par or even better than many traditionally published fantasy books. In fact, I think of SAM as the best book to ever appear in SPFBO. I’ve read Senlin Ascends and the previous years’ SPFBO top 3 books, so I know what I’m saying is a very bold claim but I’m confident with it due to one simple reason: I am the perfect audience for this book.
There are many reasons why this book worked so damn well for me but in order to explain them properly, it’s mandatory for me to give a little insight on what LitRPG is and what first made the genre famous.
LitRPG stands for Literary Role Playing Game, and it basically integrates the elements of MMORPG with SFF novels to create a story that revolves around characters inside and outside an in-game world. This means that most of the time, the characters will know that they are in fact inside a game. The most popular example of a LitRPG novel that I can think of is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. However, what made this genre famous in the first place?
My first encounter with this genre wasn’t in a novel form but it was in an anime called .hack SIGN back in 2002. However, this anime didn’t revolutionize or make the genre famous at all, and I strongly believe that LitRPG became extremely famous only in 2009, when the anime called Sword Art Online (SAO) appeared. Honestly speaking, I am a huge gamer; I love anime, but I’m not a fan of LitRPG due to the fact that there’s no real ‘danger’ or suspense because when the in-game characters die, the audience knows that they will eventually revive because it’s just an in-game character. SAO and .hack eliminate this factor by ensuring that, if your in-game character dies, the person playing the game will be truly dead or induced into a coma. This simple tweak is the reason why the genre became famous.
Sufficiently Advanced Magic is not a LitRPG, but it’s a high fantasy book heavily inspired by LitRPG and JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games). The world in this book isn’t an MMORPG; it’s truly a high fantasy world like most of the other high fantasy books you’ve read. What makes it unique and different however is that the world is filled with LitRPG elements. A few examples to begin with: the characters do level up, equipment does matter, magic requires mana (usually called MP in video games) to use. Hearing this you’ll probably wonder “is it necessary to be a gamer in order to enjoy this book?” The answer to that is absolutely not. SAM is still at its core a high fantasy book; being a gamer will enhance your experience for sure but it’s just the icing on the cake.
The plot begins with the main character, Corin Cadence, entering the Serpent Spire in order to find his older brother who had entered the tower five years ago and never returned. Right from the first chapter, the book immediately captivated me due to the fact that The Serpent Spire is a place that’s filled with puzzles, traps, and ever-shifting levels. It’s pretty much like things you can find in dungeon-crawler video games and most JRPGS such as Persona, the Tales of series, and Azure Dreams.
The first four chapters were heavily gaming inspired with a bit of anime elements thrown in, but once the book entered chapter 5, the storyline entered a long arc with which I envision most high fantasy readers—myself included— would be gratified and comfortable: magic school. Yes, you heard that right, it’s a favorite trope for fantasy bibliophiles. The magic school was brilliantly done; it contains a strong resemblance to the Harry Potter franchise except that it’s more fitting not only for YA readers but also for the NA audience. If you’re a fan of this trope (seriously, who isn’t), you really owe it to yourself to give this book a try for its exceptionally well-paced storyline and well-written magic school aspect.
The characters' development was also great. Although the book was told in 1st person, being inside Corin’s head was never boring, because Rowe managed to build the other side characters' personalities magnificently through Corin’s eyes. It was also amusing and interesting to see Corin’s blooming friendship with his friends in the academy.
The one single thing in my opinion that will determine whether you’ll enjoy this book is whether or not you enjoy reading intricate magic systems. I’m not kidding, you’re going to read tons of exposition on the multi-layered magic systems; it’s without a doubt one of the main driving forces of this book. I’m talking about a Brandon Sanderson level of intricacy in Rowe’s magic system here, except maybe even more detailed. Here’s an overview of the level of detail in the magic system: there are six Shifting Spires in the world, and in each tower there are exclusive attunements. In this book, we only get to see the one from the Serpent Spires, but from there we get to see eight Attunements: Diviner, Guardian, Elementalist, Enchanter, Mender, Shadow, Shaper, and Summoner. This is only from one tower! We haven’t seen anything from the other five towers, but I assume this will change in the sequel. Each attunement is next defined by the user’s mage level, which are, from weakest to strongest: Quartz, Carnelian, Sunstone, Citrines, Emeralds, and finally Sapphires. All of them are intricately explained and you’re going to hear a lot about them, especially for the Attunement of Enchanter, Corin’s main attunement. These magic divisions are obviously inspired by jobs systems that can be found in tons of video games, especially older JRPGs. However, Rowe managed to make sure the magic divisions or classes are integral to the storyline, much like in the video game Bravely Default, which Andrew Rowe himself stated in the acknowledgments as being his main inspiration for expanding upon these divisions in his magic system.
Although it may sound insane and like a lot to take in, Rowe did a fantastic job in making sure everything is easy to understand. This is because the author’s prose is pretty simple and straightforward, and it never gets in the way of the storyline’s flow. I do admit that some parts could have been cut down and the dialogues between characters are a bit cheesy sometimes, but overall it was tolerable and fun because of the author’s passion for the book, which could be felt in every word.
Minor issues with dialogues and over-explanation aside, the only other criticism I have is that I think the tone of the book was too light for my taste sometimes; I hope the author will consider upping the sense of danger in the sequels.
Sufficiently Advanced Magic is for me the best thing to come out of SPFBO since Senlin Ascends and The Grey Bastards. Heck, I think this one is even better. Every scene was vivid, the actions were well-written, the climax sequences were rewarding and set a wonderful platform for the sequel. It’s truly an enthralling LitRPG-inspired high fantasy book with an intricate magic system and a magic school trope done right. It’s sufficient to say that I’m looking forward in advance to the magic (see what I did there?) that Rowe will offer in the sequel. Well done, Andrew Rowe, you just earned yourself a new reader from a fellow JRPG player here. Suffice it to say this is one the very few indie books from which I'm looking forward to the sequel; now I’m off to play some video games.
I reviewed this as one of the judges for the finalist of SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog off) 2017. Everything written here is my honest opinion of the book, and there are possibilities that parts that work for me will not work for others and vice versa. I wish Andrew Rowe the best of luck in the final round of the competition.
You can find this and the rest of my Adult Epic/High Fantasy & Sci-Fi reviews at BookNest
I read Sufficiently Advanced Magic for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. It was promoted to the finalist stage by Bookworm Blues and is the first novel in the Arcane Ascension series. It sits nicely within the LitRPG subgenre of Fantasy and it gripped me from the very start.
In similar fashion to books such as The Magician's Guild, The Name of the Wind, and A Wizard of Earthsea - a large percentage of the narrative takes places within a mysterious educational establishment where professors teach their students magic. Before potential students can even step foot within this sort-of Mage's college they have to pass a Judgement. This entails entering a Spire, progressing through certain puzzle-focused, trap-ridden, and monster-haunted rooms. These areas were reminiscent of a The Legend of Zelda or a Skyrim dungeon and although the willing participants are only young and often inexperienced, the dangers are as real as the consequences are. There are no retries or extra lives here, death is final therefore many wide-eyed, budding scholars never leave the tower.
In the first person perspective, we join the action as Corin Cadence, the 17-year-old son of a noble house enters the death trap tower. Coming from a formidable family of magic-wielders he has been trained well for his Judgement hoping to escape the towers tests and achieve his attunement. An extra weight bearing on his young mind, however, is that his brother entered this very tower numerous years ago. His brother never exited and is presumed deceased. Corin wishes to analyse as much of the tower as he can and search for clues regarding his sibling's disappearance. Following on from this, one of his main ambitions for joining the college is to obtain powers and a skill set that will aid him in hopefully rescuing his brother who Corin refuses to accept is dead. He believes that to do this he will have to venture to the top of the Spire.
Corin is an intriguing character to follow. He is witty, over-analytical and sometimes confrontational young gentleman who is always commenting on how he must research things further. This over interest in researching and studying everything a teacher or friend would say further was strange and almost annoying to begin with yet upon completion, I believe it's intentional and just shows how fast his hyperactive mind works, how he is inquisitive in nature, and how any nugget of information he comes across could help him find his brother. I perceived that his mind is his real power, however, I won't say too much about his magical class, levels or capabilities as that is enjoyable to find out as the story progresses. Although he is not really a "people person" and despises physical contact, he is the glue that moulds the other main characters together during Sufficiently Advanced Magic. The other players in the ensemble are well-crafted yet my personal favourites were the ambitious summoner Sara who is also Corin's step-sister, and the cocky swordfighter Deryk who knew Corin's brother.
You do not need to be a gamer to enjoy this book. I am not too familiar with tabletop RPG gaming and although I'm sure this story borrows many elements; to me, the magic scheme is unique and detailed - it is well described as it is introduced and then explained throughout the story. It includes an extremely large amount of possibilities and it seems that Rowe only scratches the surface of them in this first entry. Demons and Gods can be summoned, mysterious magical weapons can be wielded, different classes and powers of spells can be cast. It even includes teleportation possibilities, invisibility powers, a mysterious book that writes back to the holder, and occasionally monsters even leave jewels or secret weapons after defeat. I won't try and expand on the above apart from that those powers/abilities are probably only the tip of the iceberg. Rowe explains it all phenomenally well so it never seemed overwhelming or confusing. During the middle of the book, he almost explains it too well. This section did seem to drag a bit too much and perhaps could have been streamlined.
It is a lengthy book which might put some younger readers off yet I think Rowe may have stumbled across a story that perfectly fits in that illustrious middle ground of appealing to both YA and adult fantasy readers. As well as the above-mentioned complex magic-scheme, it features exhilarating duels, Guardian showdowns, political unrest, betrayal, and a potentially looming war. With all this going on perhaps the Gods and almighty beasts will play their hand in current affairs. It also includes a potential LGBT storyline. The world seems great in its breadth but in Sufficiently Advanced Magic the majority of the action is consigned to 3-4 areas including the college and the tower. I'm intrigued to see where the cast venture next in this world following the extraordinary finale. The last couple of pages were amazing, completely unexpected, and have made me eager and anxious for the next book in the Arcane Ascension series. The very last line in particular! Sufficiently Advanced Magic is LitRPG excellence that is highly recommended, it already has a huge following and I can see why it is a #SPFBO finalist and r/stabby award winner. 8/10
First off, I want to say that Andrew Rowe is a writer with a lot of potential. I've read many authors with 'better' books who I didn't think had the same degree of promise in their writing, so even though this particular novel wasn't for me, I look forward to seeing what Rowe writes in the future.
Let's start with the good. 1) Sufficiently Advanced Magic has some very interesting worldbuilding. The idea of magical Towers that grant powers and artifacts to those that climb them provides a ready-made justification to the 'dungeon-explorer' trope that doesn't feel artificial or forced. The importance of the towers to the nations that possess them, as well as to magic as a whole, felt organic and interesting.
2) There are some pretty great quotes in here. One that I especially admired: "Magnus Cadence didn’t plan five moves ahead. He didn’t need to. He would never let an opponent make five moves." This quote wasn't just badass; it also gave me a great understanding of Magnus and Corin's relationship with him.
3) Corin has interesting and relatable fears. Using his anxiety over the potential brain damage from having a mental attunement makes sense and is a good way to create internal conflict and character development.
4) The book has a good set of opening chapters. Starting off in the Tower put Corin into immediate danger and gave us a good sense of his character, specifically the way in which he tries to use his brain to solve problems. The fact that the Tower is a fascinating setting also helped keep the first few chapters interesting and engaging.
So with all of these great points, what are the issues? Well... 1) The character decisions didn't always make sense. Corin's primary goal is to rescue his brother, Tristan, after his disappearance from the Tower. Corin spends years preparing to go into the Tower-- not so that he can rescue his brother, but just so that he can get some magic that he trains to rescue Tristan with later. Okay, no problem; I understand the importance of patience and preparation, even if every day Corin waits makes the chance of Tristan's survival that much slimmer. But even after Corin gets magic, he doesn't set off after Tristan. Instead, he goes to school, and stays there. Well, okay, it's the law; Corin can't save Tristan from a jail cell. But this also means that there's very little sense of progress in Corin's quest to save Tristan. Corin talks a lot about how important Tristan is to him, but I never got a sense of urgency out of his quest, because Corin's actions (if not his words) always indicated that he was willing to wait. A big part of this problem is the school setting. Schools are great for showing skill growth and worldbuilding, but very bad for quests. They're static and uphold the status quo.
2) The prose is... meh. I never felt awed or shocked by Rowe's writing, even when that was obviously the intent. Godlike creatures (the visages) get described here, but they never *feel* godlike. Corin's narration doesn't help; his presence in the narration is unrelenting and unfailingly artificial. I know that it's first-person and that we're meant to understand the story through his eyes, but I don't want to read a six page action scene that is five pages of Corin thinking about the fight and being surprised when the first attack doesn't work. It takes me out of the action.
3) Tying into the issues with fight scenes: too much dialogue. People have time to speak multiple sentences not only while fighting to the death, but literally in between the start of an attack and its end. This is blatantly unrealistic and damages my suspension of disbelief. A short exchange before fighting is fine; so is a one-liner before finishing someone off. But constant, extended dialogue by characters trying desperately to survive just rubs me the wrong way. You don't have the time or the breath to explain plans while dodging sword swings, and if you do, then you should be using that time to act rather than speak.
4) Another problem with the fight scenes is pacing. Not their internal pacing, which already has been thrown off by overly wordy dialogue and an overabundance of thought and descriptive/emotive reaction, but their part in the pacing of the wider story. The plot of this book felt disconnected to me at times. Plots should be clear cause and effect-- because of this, this happened, which led to this, except that caused this reaction, and so on. This was there, for the most part, but the narrative kept getting interrupted by fight scenes. Don't get me wrong-- I love fight scenes! They're part of why I love fantasy. But most of the ones in this book have no emotional buildup. It's more of a 'oh, it's been twenty pages, that means it's time for a fight scene.' If I'm not emotionally invested in the fight, it's not going to mean much no matter how flashy it is. This is a drawback of books relative to movies and video games. There, something that looks cool can be fun even without an emotional connection, but in books where imagination is king readers have to have more buildup than "Now they're in a practice tower fighting, now Sara's in an arena because she randomly decided to, now they're back in the practice tower fighting again." Corin has no relationship to any of the monsters he beats, so I don't care about his victory over them... and since these fights are so far removed from the overall plot of Corin trying to save his brother, we're not getting any help from the narrative.
5) There's just too much exposition. I really, really like what Rowe was trying to go for with this magic system. It's intricate, it's reproducible, it's something that rewards tinkering and forethought. I appreciate magic with explicit rules because it prevents Deus Ex Machina and plot holes. But there is also such a thing as magic that is too complicated, and I think this book might fall into that trap. I'm not sure what percentage of this book is dedicated to Corin learning the rules of magic and then parroting them back to the reader, but it *feels* like at least fifteen to twenty percent. That's just too much. It's a slog to get through.
6) Finally, I was frustrated by Corin's vacillating intelligence. He's exactly as smart as the plot needs him to be at any one moment, no more and no less. Corin is portrayed as intelligent, but he makes decisions with obvious consequences, like taking on a retainer without speaking with his family. He also doesn't seem to have much of a plan for finding his brother, other than, "Get an attunement, go to school, try to climb Tower". What's worse is that Corin doesn't know quite a few aspects of the world and magic he lives with. There are multiple points in the story where Corin learns something new about politics or magic that everyone else around him seems to know, despite the fact that Corin has supposedly spent the last several years doing nothing but preparing to climb the Tower and rescue his brother. Even if he didn't have an attunement yet, you expect me to believe that Corin, the son of a major noble with access to vast resources, has to go to school to learn basic facts about mana? You're telling me he never picked up a book to learn this, despite having devoted his life to one goal? You can try to excuse this by saying that Corin didn't expect to get the Enchanter attunement, but that doesn't really mitigate his ignorance. You don't have to be a mechanic to know the basics of how an engine works, or a helicopter pilot to know that seeing a helicopter in a tree is bad. People pick up knowledge on the world they live in just by living, much less making a concerted effort to educate themselves. I don't expect any less of Corin.
Surprise surprise, I will be controversial again. This book is bad. I'm about 2/3 in and it's just not worth this time I wasted on it already.
Here we have our people who get magical powers from a goddess if they complete puzzles in a tower. Corin's brother went in, never came out, so... yeah. Corin wants to go in and find him. He goes in, gets entry level power, goes to magic uni to level up to go back in to find him.
This thing is fucking LONG, man. Not even justified long, because it can be that way without feeling like a bogged down crawl though molasses. Here it just looks like no editor was ever found, which sucks, one could have probably broken out the red pen of doom and carved out huge chunks of unneeded stuff. Now what are these unneded things? Corin is a magical version of some sort of an engineer, okay? He makes magical items. He also narrates the book, so it means we have to read him thinking about shit. Not interesting stuff. Like how to make basic level items that he doesn't really know how to, so it means endless brainstorms of shit that he will probably not make. What is worse, every time he finds a goal... it just gets disovered he will need to do 75 other shit before he gets to it. Not kidding. To get to his brother he needs to get to the tower, get little power, get to uni, build items, build items for his buddies, but for that he needs mana, but he has very little, he needs crystals, but those cost cash, so he needs to learn to make crystals to make times, to sell, to get cash, to get more supplies, to make the better items for team, to get to exams, to get points, to get into elite dorm, to get better supplies, to get more points, to get to elite military, to get to tower, to get to brother... (spoiler, he is only been to school in less than aa semester, we are nowhere near) Why the fuck am I doing this to myself, people? Kill me. Just take me out and kill me. The nonsensical story structure and world building doesn't end here. The power levels have like aa gaillion rating systems. Like depending on what class he is, where on his body his mark is, then mana levels, then rated in gemstone names, all gemstone levels also rated by letters. Fucking why? Oh, also, classes can kinda do the same things with different technique, so more mumdo-jumbo.
By now you probably get why this is slow. So much useless information you have to exactly learn or you won't get shit. By the way, people can work above their level, as I said classes kinda merge in some ways, so it all means. Thanks. I sound salty becuse I am.
And now let me talk about Corin, this cardboard idiot. Imagine a character who is probably a shitty robot, masquerading as a person, but is failing. That's right. It's him. His personality is awkward. I am convinced the author is trying to write a protagonist with autism (engineer type with autism, so original), but this was just uncomfortable. Corin is absolutely oblivious to everything in life. In their society they have nobility and peasants and it took him 17 years to realise it means.... read carefully now, I will go deep... that they are not all treated equal. LE GASP? He also benevolently concedes that it's WRONG. I'm baffled. Oh, also, Corin, our resident genius is even worse. Beatin C3PO in the robotic department our dude excells. He never cares about dating nobody. Doesn't even really cares. Then a dude asks him out and in the span of 2 seconds he realises he is gay. A dude he didn't even think about or care about at all. He didn't even really properly LOOKED at him. BTW, other dude is also a pseudo-Asian foreigner royalty from an enemy country for maximum angst-possibility points. Why are you fucking useless, Corin? Why? What comes next?
Other than it being a retarded way of making a character behave, how far can we go from subtlety? Yes, the dad dislikes how Corin is not in the family battlemage business, but he himself likes this. We got the message of being yourself and not worrying about others' expectations. We don't have to literally check all the "different" boxes that exist. I "can't wait" for him confronting his dad about "yes, I am a family disgrace, who is autistic, besties with peasants, gay, literally fucking someone from a country that will inevitably attak us". No cheese, please. (I am 100% sure his bro is alive btw, wonder what he can be hiding after THIS. He's probably a weed-smoking communist furry, none of which dad would like, prolly. I hope he has nipple piercings and a soul patch.)
Everyone loves this, but to me it was misery. Impractical choices, "how are you even alive?" characters, a worldbuilding that reads like I'm trying to learn the wikia of some RPG by heart, slooooooooow. I don't recommend it, I won't continue, I probably won't try another series by the author. Just leave me alone now.
I'm going to go so far as to say, I loved this. It was brilliant, and in fact, I am now really torn on how good all these finalists for #SPFBO are going to be. So far, this one is only very slightly behind the one I put forward as my finalist...and I have another 7 still to read!
So, as I mentioned above, I read this as it's a finalist for the #SPFBO competition. I am really, really glad that this one became a finalist, as I absolutely wouldn't have discovered this otherwise, and it's so very worth reading. Right from the start of the book, I could tell it was going to be a good story. It starts off following a character called Corin Cadence, a son of the Cadence line, who is expected to go through the Judgement (a magical test in a tower filled with monsters and puzzles) and come out the other side with a strong Attunement. His family are renowned for being great fighters, and he's on a personal mission to find out if his older brother (who went in to the Spire and never came out) is still alive.
What I loved about this, is that it feels like you're in a game whilst you read. I've heard some people call this a LitRPG, and I think that is an accurate description of the way that this book feels. To me, it seemed at various points of the story that we were doing things we may see in a game, like picking up items, learning how to use magic, dungeon-crawling, gaining allies etc. It seemed as though it was a very natural part of the story, but it also felt really fun and exciting.
I also loved the characters of this world. Corin is a character we kind of have to root for, as he's our main one, but luckily he's resourceful and doesn't always take the obvious path which made him more interesting to be sure. He's the lead of the story, but as we got through we meet Sera, Marissa, Patrick and Jin, who later become more major players too. Of the extra characters, I think Sera and Jin are the two I was most interested in. Sera is a character who joins the school at the same time as Corin. They have some ew family ties that they are just now exploring, and they aren't quite sure how to react to one another so they do the default, teasing. This sarcastic but fun relationship builds over the course of the book, and it was something I really enjoyed seeing. I also have to say that by the end of the book I was thoroughly a fan of Sera not only for her inspiring magic abilities (which are pretty bad-ass) but also for the care she showed to others on the team. Jin is a character who remains mysterious for the majority of the book and he's someone I found very intriguing throughout. There's certainly a lot more to come and learn with Jin as the series goes on, but I am probably most intrigued about his motivations and powers as these are things that he keeps very close to his heart most of the book. Alongside these three main characters we also have involvement from the teachers at the school, and the Visages and monsters of the towers. There are lots of people involved in this story, and each one has an interesting role to play, but mainly I think this is a completely solid start to the series.
In terms of other things to note. There is the barest hint of an LGBTQ+ romance that could happen in this book. It's never really explored, but maybe we will see more as the series goes on. The other thing I wanted to note is that mental health is a huge part of the book and it's an underlying worry and concern for our main character. I really liked that Corin isn't just *perfect* and that he actually really panics at times and has issues with trusting people, making friends and touching. He's a character who I find more interesting because he feels more real and honest through dealing with these issues, and I love that element.
The magic of this world is super cool, and I would put this firmly into the high magic category as magic pretty much permeates through everything the characters do and that the world is based around. In this world there are many towers and a Goddess who supposedly rules it all. Each of the towers is filled to the brim with magical monsters and puzzles, and there are many in this world who will brave these towers because this is how they will gain a magical ability themselves. It seems that in order to gain an ability, you must reach a certain point of the tower, and in order to gain multiple abilities you must do this time and time again. Some 'Climbers' as they are known even try to meet the Goddess herself as they believe that she will grant a great reward. We follow many of the characters in this book after they've completed their Judgement and go to essentially 'magic school' (and yes, I did actually get Hogwarts vibes from this, and it didn't disappoint!). There the characters learn about mana, and how magic they have gained through their Judgement works. They are taught by teachers who also have their own abilities and some of the teachers end up involved in the mystery too. We then have the monsters themselves, who later become more of a presence when they start to stray from the tower... It was completely fascinating to read about each of the different monsters and I really enjoyed the creativity of the beings and I could imagine them vividly too.
Finally, Corin's ability leads him towards inventing things, and I just have to say, I loved some of his inventions and his creativity, and I really ant a mana-watch too... (and some mana...)
Overall, this book was a brilliant read and the only very minor quibble I had was that some things we were told once, we were then told a further few times later on. For me, this was a slight annoyance as I already knew it, but not anywhere near enough of a detractor to dock a star, so I would say this is a firm 5*s. ALSO, I NEED book 2 as the ending of this one was EXTREMELY dramatic and had some HUGE revelations and now I have to know what is going to happen next... Cannot wait!! :D I would hugely recommend it to everyone who loves magic, fantasy and gaming :)
[For the purpose of the #SPFBO I would give this a solid 9.5*s]
A better name for this book is Sufficiently Analyzed Magic because of all the hair splitting, analysis, and corollaries with caveats, ifs, iffs, and therefores. The magic system is simply described waaay too much and there are whole pages of information dumping while the main character scratches his chin regarding how to do this or that, making the book feel like a very long introduction to the next one. Fine, I get it, he's learning, but there's this feeling of having to supervise the slowest student in the class to help him graduate. I bought the book after reading about the first adventure in the tower and now feel cheated because, after the free sample ended, the story took a sharp turn into a boring, cliche magic university, littered here and there with events that don't make much sense. Chopped down to about half the current length, this book would be sufficiently fast paced to stop the feeling that I'm not getting younger while reading it. And then there's the horrible forced attempt at romance occurring suddenly and without any previous build up or hint two thirds in. But first I should describe the background to my argument of it being forced. The MC's father is this military type aggressive super-jerk and leader of a noble house (he earned it by fighting!) who is close to disowning the MC for getting a different magical attunement from the one dad wants. Then at some point, the MC wants to take the equivalent of a squire/battle wingman (basically a bodyguard) and his father considers it and consults the rest of the family like it's the most important thing ever. But then another guy invites the MC to same-sex dating and it's totally natural. We don't even flinch. We behave like we knew this was the case and it's no problem in this world. We gloss over it immediately - nothing to see here, people! Pardon me, but wouldn't jerk dad foam over it and demand heirs for his house instead of his only remaining son being married to a guy? Wouldn't there be a great scandal or dad try to kill the MC for his sexual preferences like normal military dads in the real world? Well, nope, as it turns out. Good bye suspension of disbelief, it was nice to have you stopping by. If we would have had a suitable introduction regarding how bisexuality is embraced in this world would have been something else! (Hint: it's not, MC's dad was married to a woman and cheated her with other women, very traditionally; he cheated so effectively that MC has a sister from a servant). At the same time, we're told in clear terms that MC's sister is very careful about whom she's dating to avoid dad shit storm. Would have been totally normal if we'd have had an introduction about the MC being a still-in-the-closet gay fearing military-jerk-dad. But this! This is just bad writing. This looks like the editor told the author to insert progressive LGBT romance somewhere to have better sales, but only gave him 2 days to accomplish the edit. Of course, this is nothing to the boredom of endless descriptions about the Sufficiently Analyzed Magic system. It's such a shame because this could've been such a good book. I may or may not read the other books, if they're ever published. However, I do hope that all the magic info dumping and hair splitting ends in this book because if not I'll demand a refund for the next one.
read this book a while ago, but right now the review is in massive wall of text form, and not in the format I’ve been doing the other reviews, so I’m redoing it.
I loved this book, it was the first time I dipped my toes into the LitRPG genre, and its a mix of LitRPG and epic fantasy. It’s a great place to start for people who enjoy traditional fantasy and want to try out LitRPG.
This is also a semi finalist and I totally agree with the nomination because it’s awesome.
The book starts out with Corin, the main character, starting his way through an enormous spire filled with puzzle rooms and monster rooms. He’s going through a trial to see if he can earn his Attunement, this worlds way of being granted magical abilities by god like beings.
After the trial he sets off to a magic academy where students typically spend two years of study before starting their careers.
There’s a lot of magic school stuff where you learn how the magic works and how the world works through their classes and professors, I had a lot of fun with that, there’s a lot to learn about this world.
There’s also a second test where students are put through mock spires in preparation for their real re-entry into the tower as a judgment for how well they’re doing. They have to get into groups and go through several mock trials before they are ready for a real re-entry.
While in the spire during his first Attunement trial he had a bunch of things go wrong in the tower that I can’t talk about without too many spoilers. He may have gotten himself involved in a war against the gods, or a war between the gods. The details are murky and he’s not sure what’s going on, other than he’s involved in something way over his head.
There’s also a subplot going about a possible war between the nations as well, with sabotage and spies trying to take down their cities defenses.
Corin – the main character, and since this is a single POV story we see everything through his eyes. He’s a really easy to like character for me, a softy for animals he doesn’t want to kill a cute bunny like creature in one of the first rooms of the trial, so he goes another way. He also second guesses killing monsters and feels bad when they cry out in pain. I’m a sucker for animals so this is an easy way to get me behind a character. He also has a lot of interesting almost ocd like tendencies and social anxiety disorder where he prefers to be alone, is awkward in social situations, and doesn’t like to be touched. He’s smart and likes to experiment, although sometimes that goes poorly and he ends up in trouble. He makes some dumb decisions, but I’ve come to expect that from 17 year old protagonists. Ultimately, I was very much on his side rooting for his success through the book.
Sara – his half sister, smart ass, very smart and very capable. I liked her a lot as a character, she was level headed most of the time and a great asset to the team of students going through their second trials in the mock-spire.
Jin – One of the members of the group, very mysterious. He won’t reveal what his Attunements are or where they are places, he’s possible spider division. He’s also foreign and he won’t disclose anything about that either, he was a good friend to Corin and a capable team mate. There are a lot of side characters I loved, especially Professor Velum who was like Professor McGonnagall with even more sass. There’s a bunch of professors and students and they were all pretty interesting. Vanniv was a summoned monster that Sara can use during battle and he’s the absolute best, fully intelligent and not just a monster he’s sarcastic and powerful.
There are all different sorts of Attunements, and depending on which one you were granted depends on which dorms you’re put into – almost harry potter like with the division of the school into different subsets competing against each other for points. There could possibly be a, “Spider division”, that’s a class of students training to be spies, and if you can correctly identify these spies your house gets 50 points.
There are too many Attunements to go into them all, but they are markings that are gifted from the gods on your head, hand, thigh, chest, or back. Hand marked Attuned cast through their hands, Leg marked Attuned can deliver crippling blows in melee, Lung Marked Attuned cast through spoken spells, Heart marked Attuned channel through both their hands and heart it’s dangerous but more powerful, Mind marked Attuned can cast spells in their minds without any form of motion or spoken spells. The MC is Mind marked, but it comes with a serious downside – if you deplete your mana you can go insane, and this is a big part of Corins obsession through the book, not wanting to end up like his grandfather.
Some people can go back into the spire and get multiple Attunements. You also level up your Attunements, with each level up your aura changes color according to how powerful you are.
You start as clear (Quartz), then red (Carnelian) , orange (Sunstone), yellow (Citrine), green (Emerald) and hypothetical blue (Sapphire).
This was fast paced at points and other times it slowed down to talk about magic theory and how it worked – for some people this may slow you down but I loved reading about that so it sped by for me. I think the book was about 630 pages but I blew through it in a couple days, and then re-read it several months later for fun. The audiobook by Nick Podehl is also fantastic.
The tone is light and fun, the dialogue is sarcastic and witty which kept things in high spirits even during danger. There were puzzles and monsters and so much going on, but there was also down time from action with character development and world building.
For people who love a lot of magic For people who like LitRPG For people who like magic schools For people who like a lot of action For people who like monsters For people who like puzzles For people who like a lot of adventure For people who like twists and turns For people who prefer single POV For people looking for LGBT elements in the book (not a huge part but it’s there)
I've been going on a spree of LitRPG books lately and I have to admit I'm having a grand fun time with them all. Maybe it comes from my gamer background or perhaps I just love the whole gamut of rules associated with complicated and arcane magic systems, but I'm also pretty sure this transcends all that kind of musing.
What I've found is a wonderful tale set mostly within a magic school closely associated with climbing these massively complicated dungeon towers spread throughout the land. Preparation, leveling up, building friendships and parties, and above all, mystery and intrigue and disturbing goings-ons is what this is all about.
It could have gone the route of a huge virtual world and online players but it didn't. Instead, the world is actually RUN by the game system (minus the dice). It's both familiar and quite a bit different than most of the RPGs I've played. We've got deeper explorations of enchanting and attunements than I've seen almost anywhere.
It also feels like the next best thing after The Name of the Wind.
At least, it has the same kind of fun energy and magical explorations, if not as complex a story.
That being said, don't imagine this is a simple RPG tale. The characters make it shine, the plot development is quite complex and beautifully developed, and the action is delicious. :)
I totally recommend it as a must-have of the subgenre. :)
This was a strange mix between a regular YA coming of age fantasy story set in a magic school and a litRPG fantasy. I think Rowe blended both aspects well and made the story work. The magic system was a little weird and overly complex as all the levels and types of magic were a nightmare to keep track of in audio but I think it just about worked as the story was never dull despite being over 20 hours long!
The world was an interesting one. Six magical towers, ruled by the Goddess, are sprinkled over a bunch of different kingdoms and those families wealthy enough get the opportunity sent younger members of their family on a pilgrimage of sorts into those Towers where the Goddess will test them and judge them worthy (or not) of receiving a magical attunement. We follow Corin Cadence as he takes his own test. He has more motivation than most to want to go to the Tower as 5 years previously his own brother entered the Tower but never returned! Corin aims to gain enough power to advance up the different levels of the Tower and to hopefully rescue or find out what happened to his brother.
The story was fun and engaging enough. The magic and the Tower itself were interesting and Corin's time learning how to use his powers and making friends at his magic training school was surprisingly enjoyable.
This was not a story without flaws as it was a little simplistic at times and some of the dialogue was a bit weird but none of that overly hurt the story as it kept my attention from start to finish and definitely had a few moments that were quite gripping.
All in all I think this was a fun story. Nothing particularly special but fun enough that I'll be happy to read the sequel and to try Rowe's other fantasy series.
Rating: 3.5 stars.
Audio Note: I'm a massive fan of Nick Podehl but I do wish he would use less Scottish accents. Especially for the female characters. They are soooo annoying!
We follow a clumsy, asexual, a little gayish, autistic, antisocial protagonist who lives in the shadow of his half sister Sera who is better at almost everything than him, she is smarter, a better fighter, has a much better attunement, is social and capable of romance and is actually an interesting character.
Also don’t forget to use an fiction based pronoun “they” to describe mentally damaged people who like to choose their gender on how they feel that day - because it isn’t like biology and science in general already made that clear for the last a couple of thousand years.
So you will try hard to understand certain sentences considering they are using “they” the wrong way (maybe the author should buy an oxford dictionary).
It is mostly a book written to pander to every single minority and mentally challenged person in the world. The protagonist himself is a living mashup of every anomaly the author could have imagined. I’m pretty sure Corin becomes a nonbinary attack helicopter by the end of the second book.
Also the book is extremely low pace, has the same things repeated a dozen times through the same book, perhaps the author also panders to people with alzhaimers because I cannot see another reason to write that Corin has a goal of becoming a military funded climber a dozen times in several hundred pages. Also there is barely any description of most characters, I don’t know what is the eye color of the main protagonist, or his height or hair length, let alone of the minor characters. I cannot imagine how this book got a 4 star rating as it is mostly a two star book. Obviously it attracts the crowd that takes personal satisfication in reading crap.
[3.5/5 stars] This book was completely packed with magic school awesomeness from cover to cover. All of the elements I’m always clamor for more for in other works. But as I approached the last 25% of the book, I (and Carrie) couldn’t help but wonder:
Can you have too much of a good thing?
Probably. Especially if it comes at the sacrifice of sufficiently paced plot advancement. It was amazing to read about the complex magic system, all of the different types of mages, the magical creatures, and the endless stream of practical applications. It’s so much fun to sit in on a magic class and learn alongside the students (my favorite story type, actually). Add on top of that arena-style battles and choose your own adventure towers with puzzles to solve and creature to kill, what’s not to love?! But after a while even those amazing ideas and great execution start to feel like cheap entertainment when there’s not an overall plot of substance driving the story. I will say it did finally wrap up in the last 5% of the book with a series of decent “reveals,” and the payoff was probably worth the wait. Even so, it had me questioning a DNF at about the 80% mark. I’m glad I kept reading.
The main character has a few interesting quirks but unfortunately nothing truly flawed in a way that makes achieving things a problem. He’s overly smart, overly proficient, and overly lucky when it came to academics. Even the things he was supposed to be bad at often turned into admirable accomplishments. I personally found him irritatingly pedantic. Like ::pushes glasses up nose:: “Ummm, yeah how do I know you are who you really say you are? You could’ve listened in at any time to get that info. But I guess asking for reassurance is pointless because if you weren’t you, you’d just tell me what I want to hear anyway. But how am I supposed to trust you? Jump through some hoops for me even though you’re a teacher and my arbitrary worries shouldn’t even technically count for sh$t.” And many other similarly pointless sequences. It speaks of a character who’s desperate to prove how smart he is. Which is an interesting construct but it wasn’t presented as if it were deliberate. And that’s not the only thing I think was slightly over-done.
It’s as if the author anticipated certain plot holes and implausibilities and instead of just embracing it (after all, the entire story is his fabrication, he can do what he wants and we’d more or less go along with it) or dropping in a few subtle counters, he periodically has characters explain ad nauseam in the text why certain things were/were not the case. When this happened it degraded the story down to a YA level with its ever so slight condescending tone.
It may not seem like it at this point, but overall I enjoyed the book. The fun stuff was superb enough to overshadow the negatives by far (I really love the idea of following Corin as he levels-up his magic skills). However if I do decide to continue the series, my expectations for development in the next book are considerably higher.
Recommendations: if you’re like me, you’ll delight at the magic school awesomeness this book contains and be eager to pick it up even though that’s really the entire focus of the story (maybe especially because it’s the entire focus). It’ll still evoke a sense of nostalgia and give you a lot of great magicking to stick your teeth into.
If you love magic systems, I mean really love magic systems this is the book/series for you. Everything revolves around it. I don't think even Sanderson or Erikson put so much pedantic detail into every square inch of the magic system.
I think this will turn a lot of people off. I liked it in spite of thinking a few times ok you've hit me with the mallet I get more than a few times. There's also a few times where the level of the YA characters doesn't meet their deeds but if you're used to that in YA it's easy to overlook.
The book is really two parts. A school part which reads a lot like all fantasy schools. Then there's the tower and the practice for the tower which reads like an RPG video game. Fast moving, puzzles, lots of cool weapons and monsters. Fun stuff. Well written.
Overall I'd recommend it with the caveats I've mentioned and I will continue the series.
The Cadence family live in a land where people gain power from their goddess. They go on trials to gain the mark of power called an attunement. Tristan Cadence went for his trial five years ago and never returned. Now his younger brother Corin is heading for his trials with the goal of not only gaining an attunement, but also finding his brother.
Sufficiently Advanced Magic has more over explaining than any book I've come across in some time. Every thing that happens Corin explains during or afterwards. He doesn't explain events in interesting or compelling ways, he just keeps babbling on. It reminds me of my daughter when she's so excited she talks endlessly on a subject even if I'm already familiar with it. Since I'm not a monster, I have to listen to her, but I don't have to be beaten down with this books explanations. Honestly I had expectations for cool advancements and excellent fights, but it was largely just info dump like explanations.
In the end, Sufficiently Advanced Magic just wasn't a book for me.
Self-publishing is an interesting thing that has happened to the literary world.
Yep. I'm about 10 years late on that observation.
To be fair, I do read and have read plenty of self-published books before, but this one in particular left me musing about whether it would exit in a solely traditional-publishing world.
The musing about self-publishing comes about because by nearly any traditional measure this book shouldn't work. The first hundred pages or so are Corin Cadence's experience in the magical Trial to gain an attunement (basically to determine his magical class). It reads as if someone had transcribed a D&D session. It's packed full of problem-solving and magic but very little in the way of traditional world-building or characterization. All of that comes in the next five hundred (!!) pages, but it's actually a brilliant start to the book because it clearly lays down the priorities of the narrative.
This is close to LitRPG, if you're familiar with that recent sub-genre, but I think it transcends that. Yes, there's a big focus on class, abilities, magic and objects, but the characters do get a chance to shine. Corin himself is an interesting character with borderline autistic traits. He's obsessive, doesn't do well with people, can't abide touch and appears to be asexual. However, he's brilliant and while being one of the least powerful of his group continues to be its leader (whether he realizes it or not). Corin's friends are interesting as well, with some decent characters among them. Of particular interest is the way that they illustrate the caste system of this society.
This is a long book (calibre has it at 220K words), so there's no chance I'm going to do it justice here. In terms of recommendations, if you like RPGs and lots of detail around solid world-building, good characters and interesting plot then I would recommend this.
4.0 Stars This was a very enjoyable fantasy series filled with puzzles, friendship and adventures. I fell in love with the narrative from the very chapter and flew through the story incredibly fast..
I found the main character, Corin, to be very likeable and relatable. Told in first person perspective, I got to qn intimate understanding of his thought-processes and insecurities. I loved that he was intelligent and logical, typically relying on his wits rather than his fighting skills to overcome obstacles. Yet, despite being a rather capable young man, he also struggled with social interactions and anxieties, which made him an interesting character. There was a small piece of gay representation in this first book, which I hope will be expanded in the later books of this series.
I adored the magic system introduced in this first novel, which was both complex enough to be interesting, yet easy enough to understandable. Other reviewers felt there was too much “info dumping” in the this book, since a lot of information was conveyed through the professors’ lectures. While they were not the most subtle way to relay information to the reader, I thoroughly enjoyed reading those passages, inhaling all the details and intricacies related to attunements.
This novel would be accessible to readers looking to get into the fantasy genre, particularly those who already love magic school stories in the vein of Harry Potter. I would consider this series an all ages fantasy. While it avoided the tropes of the young adult genre, the age of the characters and the lack of objectionable material would make it easy for younger readers to get into this narrative.
Overall, I would recommend this series to a wide range of readers who enjoy RPGs, magic schools or simply, fun adventure stories.
Oh, such tremendous fun!!! A tiny bit heavy on descriptions of a thinking protagonist (“he scratched his chin as he pondered ...”), but completely forgivable in the larger book-as-a-whole picture.
Wow. Quite an adventure too. I was a little worried that the plot might get stilted due to the limitations on setting. But these fears were unjustified, as the setting changed much more that I had expected! Fun surprises sprinkled throughout as well.
I am looking forward to the next book. And I recommend this one to the high fantasy lovers out there. Part of the book takes place in a super cool tower, part in a school, and the rest happens in between. Ooh! And there’s a great cliffhanger ending too! LOTS of fun!!
A word about Nick Podehl, the narrator. He was amazing at doing a wide range of voices! In the beginning, I actually had to double check whether the book was read by one person only, or by a cast of readers! Now that’s some awesome storytelling.
"It was the day of my Judgement and I was prepared in a thousand ways that didn't matter"
* * * * 4 / 5
When I was a great deal younger I spent a reasonable amount of time devouring books and manga of the LitRPG genre - the most famous of which might be Sword Art Online, The Tower of God, and 1/2 Prince. Essentially, these are books based either literally around people in a game or a world that functions like an RPG; typically these feature dungeons, levelling up, magic, trading, forging weapons, and parties (the dangerous, monster fighting kind).
First off, I bought Sufficiently Advanced Magic on audiobook and the narration was excellent (if very strongly American, which I soon got into). As with all male narrators, the female character's voices are a bit gruff and hoarse sounding, but that is easily overlooked (the opposite occurs with female narrators). I might actually recommend listening to the book over reading it - our main character Corin Cadence is incredibly curious about literally everything and we spend a lot of time in his head, listening to the "I must remember to research that later" and the continuous "I wonder if I could..." commentary is suited to being spoken. I could imagine skimming a little if I was reading.
For the future, please promise me you will not make any life-altering oaths in order to influence my love life
But on with the review! Sufficiently Advanced Magic is a fantastic example of quality, well-written LitRPG (in a genre saturated by some not-great works featuring power fantasy characters). It's complex, has a varied and excellent cast, and I adored all the RPG elements: puzzles to solve, dungeons to explore, powers to level up, and my absolute favourite trope: magic school.
Corin Cadence is the son of a powerful family. He stands before the Spire ready to take his Judgement, years after his older brother took his and never returned from the tower, presumably consumed by one of the beasts that lurk within. One must enter and climb the tower alone to earn one of six attunements that function sort of like character classes; for example, there is a Guardian attunement that grants powers of endurance and protection. Each room in the Spire is a test by the Goddess, built to filter out the unworthy and send them plummeting to their deaths or to be eaten by beasts. Each puzzle is inventive and fascinating! They were all so awesome and the very prospect of such a trial is really kind of terrifying.
There is no fencing term I’m aware of for drawing a pistol and shooting your opponent in the face, but that was what it felt like when I heard his final words
The synopsis of this book makes it sound as though the entirety of the book takes place in the Spire. This is not so! The bulk of the book takes place in a magic school, built to train those who have survived their tests and gained an attunement to use their skills properly. Not to provide spoilers, but Corin gains an attunement that is at odds with his father's expectations and his own desire to climb to the very top of the Spire to meet with the Goddess and ask for the return of his brother. I adore the magic school trope (I reckon everyone who grew up on Harry Potter does) and this is where the cast really gets fleshed out - there's Corin's half-sister Sarah, the mysterious foreign student on the floor above, some of Corin's childhood friends, and a feisty farmer girl.
Sufficiently Advanced Magic is a long and complicated book. The magic system is so complex, it's like something Brandon Sanderson might have dreamt up (the highest compliment I can pay to an author), but it's so worth it. I've never really read anything quite like it, and my only gripe is that sometimes Corin's stream of inner thoughts can be a touch grating and I really, really wanted to know more about the gods and the mystery of the Spire!
Hmph. Sufficiently Advanced Magic does not have a sufficiently advanced plot. This book is to fantasy novels what endless hours of farming and leveling are to an MMORPG. Guess why I quit the latter.
The world building is meticulous. Tons of numbers, categories, stats, specs. The author is a game designer and it shows. If you enjoy not only playing RPG video games, but also enjoy spending a lot of time debating with yourself whether you should chose the Intelligence +2 cloak with the Speed +3 knife or the Intelligence -1 but Strength +4 club – this is the book for you. If you are the kind of player who chooses equipment based on whether the cloak matches the boots and your hair style (*cough*), then this is not your subgenre of fantasy.
I do admire authors who make the effort to construct their worlds to such a degree. So, yes, the meticulous magic world building is impressive.
Unfortunately, the whole thing is rather tropey, not in a bad sense, but in a not creative sense. The chosen one / the special snowflake, the childhood friend(s), the magic school, the 17-year-old students smarter than their teachers + the actual tropes taken directly from video games. If you like fantasy, you won’t mind all this a whole lot, but if you are looking for something fresh, this is not it.
Finally, the rest of the world, beyond the mana, magic and monster categories, feels rather more flat. There are some weird scenes that make the people in charge of this magic kingdom sound rather incompetent. The school threatens student magicians who fail their tests with expulsion which leads to them joining the military without ever fully mastering their magic capability. Why would any country decide on a wasteful strategy like this, especially one with a potentially hostile neighbor who keeps moving troops around the border regions? The military wouldn’t want unskilled magicians and the people don't want their military to be made up of untrained magicians either. Generally the main character repeatedly goes into naive anti-military pacifist lalala, which contrasts strongly with the obvious admiration for martial arts, fighting skill, discipline and loyalty flowing through the rest of the book. Makes me hope the author will one day discover Jocko Willink. Beyond this, the reader only gets a small glimpse of a larger world involving other kingdoms etc., but they don’t yet come into play to a larger degree. Given the length of this first volume, I would have needed a lot more intrigue and much more non-magic world building.
Ultimately, I’d rather play Zelda than read it, so I don’t think this is my type of fantasy. It might have been if the whole thing had been edited more to streamline the plot and cut out a lot of the endless inner monologue of our protagonist Captain Obvious, who cannot help himself and has to spell out every single obvious observation he makes – trust your reader to think along a bit.
So, this book is seriously long, but not a whole lot happens. When finally the plot gets going and other characters become more active actors, it’s almost over and dares to end with a cliffhanger. Recommended for the hardcore fantasy fan, who after spending endless hours farming in WoW still cannot get enough of magic spec sheets and cheesy incantations.
Wow. So, what I write here may be partially colored by my newness to the LitRPG genre (I had previously only read Ready Player One, which I didn’t much care for) but this was a lovely nostalgia filled time for me. Back in the day (I am old-ish), when I was in my late teens, I played an MMO called Everquest, on the RP server (stay with me, I swear it’s relevant). And something we used to do there was write stories about our characters. Lots and lots of stories, in which we found fun little ways to explain away the game’s mechanics. Levels became “seasons”, that sort of thing. LitRPG seems to be a sort of evolution of that – my generation, who grew up on DnD, MUSHes, MUDs and MMOs are now writing novels that resemble the games we used to inhabit, but also inventing the worlds from scratch. Pretty damn neat!
In Sufficiently Advanced Magic, our protagonist is Corin Cadence. He’s entering the Serpent Spire – a testing ground full of traps, monsters and puzzles – to be tested for the first time, in order to gain an attunement that will grant him his first set of magical powers. After that, he’ll head off to a magical academy to hone his craft. But Corin also has another motive. Years ago, his older brother entered the Spire and never returned – Corin is determined to find him.
As is so often the way in fantasy novels, things don’t go quite to plan.
One of the strengths of Sufficiently Advanced Magic is that while it’s tightly plotted and cleverly written, it’s also unabashedly good fun. It’s clearly a book by a nerd, for nerds. The magic system is detailed and intricate enough to please the most ardent of Brandon Sanderson fans, and the trials and tribulations that Corin faces just trying to create a simple magical item are pretty damned hilarious. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when a protagonist is too damned good at everything too quickly, so I find it appeals to me on that level. Corin struggles, really bloody struggles, and makes mistakes. His mistakes even make sense, and the blanks are then filled in for him by those with a stronger knowledge of the fundamentals. It’s truly a well thought out system.
Corin is a very interesting character – I’m not 100% clear on it, but it appears he may be on the spectrum – he has a clear aversion to being touched and is very, very introverted. He is reluctant to even attempt to make friends, let alone share his thoughts and fears with them. It’s a nice change from the ultra-confident, cocky lead that I personally have come to find a bit tiresome over the years.
Then there are the secondary characters. I’m not going to go into much detail because I think it’s nice to discover them as the story trundles along, but they are a likable and pretty well developed bunch, and I’m going to put it out there that Marissa was a particular favorite, along with the delightfully snarky Professor Vellum and the Magical Book Entity. It interested me that there was a sort of caste system within the society that was mentioned quite a bit, but never fully addressed – Marissa was of a lower caste, but she was portrayed as one of the bravest, most powerful characters of Corin’s acquaintance and though she seemed very aware of “her place”, the other characters didn’t seem to notice their own privilege (partly through ignorance and partly because they were nice people and it didn’t occur to them to treat her differently, I suspect). I’m curious if there will be more about that in the sequels because it was an intriguing idea. There were also the summoned creatures, who had strong personalities and some of whom were absolutely hilarious – in no small part due to the fabulous performance of Nick Podehl in the audiobook, which I highly recommend.
The plotting and pacing is strong and coherent, with strong worldbuilding and good characters who were all reasonably well developed (and one presumes will become more so with each new entry in the series).
I suspect readers who are not and have never been gamers may be a little put off by some infodumps regarding the world’s magic and crafting systems, but otherwise this is a great read with some lovely twists, a solid ending and a great audiobook. Go nuts guys, this one’s a keeper.
“It was the day of my Judgment, and I was prepared in a thousand ways that didn’t matter.”
This was my first LitRPG and I must admit that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps the audio version enhanced this genre, but either way I couldn’t help but follow each step Corin made, both physical and mental, through increasingly dangerous situations, solving life-threatening puzzles and trying to adapt to being a student. Had his voice not being as likeable, this book wouldn’t have worked. As it stands, Rowe gives us a compelling character, combining intellect with naivety, wrapped in a variety of traits .
What about the rest? Well, I expected the RPG aspect would drown everything else, but surprisingly this was not the case. We are offered a complex setting with castes and particular magic, as well as an interesting cast, although these aren’t as extensively portrayed. Rowe even adds some very nice little extra touches, such as the portrayal of sexuality in this world, showing both homo and hetero relationships as the norm. Obviously, this genre might not be to everyone’s taste, especially at 600+ pages, but I for one shall definitely read the second instalment when it is available.
I was never a gamer. In my youth, I preferred to climb trees and read books. Nowadays I still prefer to move (occasionally I still climb trees) and read books. When I heard that Sufficiently Advanced Magic was strongly influenced by video games I was hesitant to try it. I wasn’t sure if it would click between us. After it was chosen as Bookworm Blues Finalist in SPFBO 2017 contest, I had no choice but to finally read it.
I don’t regret it.
The book is told from first-person perspective. I like Corin and his voice. Sadly, I think our minds operate in similar ways. Corin Cadence is an egocentric character who tends to fixate on whatever his own specific goals are at the time. He’s analytical and socially awkward. He thinks through things before acting. Corin is prone to being distracted and trapped in tunnel vision. On the other hand, he’s intelligent and able to dig deep into the complicated magic system and still find some creative ways to exploit it.
Due to this narration choice other characters don’t get much development – we learn about them through Corin's eyes mainly when they become relevant to what he does at the moment. This is not to say side characters are no fun. On the contrary, some of them (Marissa, Vanniv, Professor Vellum) are excellent. I immensely enjoyed wry humor of Professor Vellum and a bit cheesy wit of Vanniv. Characters were distinguishable and certainly have some potential for further development. The story is quite simple. There is a tower and a magical school. A selected people enter the tower to gain magical abilities (attunements) or to improve existing ones. Some return, some disappear. A lot of action takes place in the school that’s supposed to help “ascended students” to gain more levels of mana (power).
Naturally, it’s not as simple as that, as a bigger conflict is brewing outside the school. Godlike creatures and humans don’t always coexist peacefully and some characters have their own agendas. Essentially though, the focus of the book is on Corin who tries to develop his skills and find his brother and by this act, hopefully, rebuild his family. Given what’s hinted in the book (a kind of abuse) it’s rather a naïve concept, one that may be challenged further in the sequel if the author will decide to explore it in depth.
The world is meticulously designed and the amount of work and thought put into creating it is impressive. Magic system is very scientific. We learn A LOT about different kinds of attunements, mana levels, ways of increasing them, building enchanted objects etc. While some parts of it were quite interesting, at times I felt overwhelmed with data. It just wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep me engaged throughout. If, however, you’re a fan of hard magic systems, this one will probably impress you.
The prose feels a bit mundane and conversational but it fits Corin's voice. He isn't a trained speaker or a bard and if we assume that the narrative was intended to sound like a stream of thought rather than measured storytelling, it works well. On the other hand, sometimes it’s tiring. If you look for beautiful prose, look elsewhere. There are some nice sentences, but sometimes the phrasing may seem just a bit awkward.
All things considered, I enjoyed the book but I didn’t love it. There were parts that I liked a lot and parts that were boring to me. At times, I felt tired and a bit overwhelmed with lots of data and a linear plot. On the other hand, I like Corin and his perception of the world. I’m interested in the sequel but it’s not the first position on my TBR list. I’m not sure if this book could be translated into a movie or TV series but it would, probably, make a fine video game for those who like playing them.
This one grabbed my attention right from the beginning. The story plops us right at the door to the tower, right as Corin Cadence, minor noble, magic user, and 10/10 little brother is about to enter it to be judged and more or less ‘sorted’ into his specific magical attunement. It’s going to be a tough test. There be monsters inside this tower and he’s armed only with a backpack full of food and supplies. At least he was smart enough to bring some rope. Rope’s always useful.
From there we head right into the action, and Corin’s adventure starts. We meet unique people, and we run into unique situations. He picks up magical artifacts, fights magical monsters and runs into all kinds of things, but he does run into a prison in the tower with some dangerous people inside it… so of course he lets them out. Luckily, he comes out unscathed, attuned to his magic and ready to start magical university!
We learn about this world’s magic as the students learn it, and that worked for me a lot. It definitely has the feel of a magical school, but it really feels like the world of a video game sometimes too. It doesn’t feel like a LitRPG at all, but I still feel like if there was a video game made of this particular universe, I would play the absolute shit out of it. Each person has a class. Sometimes more than one. There are levels of power in a class. You can do more spells if you’re a higher level. That sort of thing. It’d make a good game.
Rowe’s books tend to have a really awesome layer of wit in them that usually make me laugh. The language used is just modern enough that these witticisms peppered here and there don’t at all seem out of place. The dialogue just flows wonderfully.
The narrator, Nick Podehl did a stellar job bringing this book to life for me. Accents and tone were on point, and it turned into a couple of days of more or less putting my headphones on in the morning and then all of a sudden it was time to go home. I love books that immerse me so hard that a work day just flies by, so, I mean…. points just for that, lol. He really made my favorite character (Vanniv, the best snarky AF summoned monster ever) even better. Love love love.
Finally, the magic system in this world is so incredibly well thought out and is written in a way that makes it feel a bit like we’re learning it as Corin is learning it, so it’s not just one giant info dump of all the rules and regulations. The magic of this world is really, really quite thoroughly thought out and can be complicated at times, though it is well explained. I’m going to compare it to Sanderson’s Mistborn series in that respect. There’s a *lot* going on, but this is quite a long novel, and all this is spread over it. There are attunements, which are all different. Each person can have more than one of them, and what they can do depends on what their attunement is. Magic takes mana to cast. Each mana is different. Each mana has an opposite, and if those are cast at each other, it’ll (more or less) nullify it. It goes deeper. It’s really interesting.
The ending made an already fantastic book even better to me. It twists and turns and things are definitely not all what they seemed. Loved it!
This one started of reminding me a bit of Senlin Ascends. It quickly turned into what felt like Indiana Jones - being inside a tower that is riddled with traps and puzzles. After some fast action in there in changed into a sort of YA version of Rothfuss and then it gained a slight touch of Lit RPG.
For me it worked really well! It was fun, and I enjoyed the main character and his sometimes cheap jokes and banter. The group of characters was a bit tropey, but I still enjoyed them all - and especially the interactions between them. The action scenes felt a bit too easy and felt quite YA. I didn't mind it, but if you're looking for complexity and depth, this might not be your cup of tea... The school part was really interesting to me, though I usually like those. It had some RPG influences, like needing to up your mana and different levels of magic.
The end left room to expand both world and plot in book two, and I definitely am invested enough to keep reading the series! I was perfect easy entertainment for a break between the big complex tomes. :)
DNF. Read 2/3 of it and decided I have better things to do / read than slog through this. Basically a fantasy RPG in written form (or better said, a fantasy RPG rule book in novel form). Info dump after info dump, told (very much told, vs shown) in incredibly unrealistic fashion. If all these rules of mana, spellcasting, etc. are actually the rules that govern how all of that works in this world, the idea that so very very much of it is unknown to people / needs to be told is absurd. And that’s putting aside the convenient Towers (aka manufactured dungeons) sitting around for exploration - and the poorly-written schools that exist nearby to train students for the same. It’s possible to have developed magic systems without essentially writing out a rule book (eg Sanderson’s Mistborn books), and even to have a world governed by RPG-like rules (the excellent Wandering Inn) and yet be an entertaining, intelligent read - but this book isn’t that. Am at a complete loss re the other sparkling reviews.
This book was so hard to put down (even for dinner), just ask my wife. One of my favorite elements of any book is the ability to make me ask questions about characters and events. The author mastered that ability, and at the end of every chapter I had to start the next to find answers.
I love the magic system created. It is very unique along with the book's theology. The degree of detail and possibility was astounding and very intriguing. I found myself wondering if certain actions would be possible within the realm of each power.
The character development was well done. Each character had certain strengths and weaknesses that were well recognized. The development of relationships felt real. I was able to connect with the characters in different ways, making the book more enjoyable.
My only complaint were some grammar issues I ran into. Some words were repeated (ex: the the), sentence flow was sometimes off, and one small section had a complete disconnect that could have been fixed with a sentence or two. Despite those things, the story itself and the elements I previously mentioned give this book the 5 stars it deserves.
This book is great. I only had one problem with it, but not one to lose a star for. Main character spends so much time scratching his chin that you'd think it would be raw and bloody by the time the book ends. I highly recommend this book though.