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 whom 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 a 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. 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.