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.
r/Fantasy 2017 Bingo Squares
- Published in 2017
- AMA Author