"Sufficiently Advanced Magic" review


Title: Sufficiently Advanced Magic

Author: Andrew Rowe

Subgenre: Progression Fantasy

2021 Bingo squares: A-Z guide, First-person, Mystery, Cat squasher, Self-published, Chapter titles

Recommend: No

Stars: 2/5


This is a combined review of the first two novels in the Arcane Ascension series, Sufficiently Advanced Magic and On the Shoulders of Titans. I DNF’d the series at that point, after reading Goodreads reviews of the third novel, The Torch that Ignites the Stars.

That should give you a pretty good idea of my thoughts on these books.

After I read and loved Cradle so much, I decided to give another self-published progression fantasy that I’d seen praised on /r/fantasy a try…but honestly these series have almost nothing in common, and I struggle to understand the praise for SAM.

Cover of Sufficiently Advanced Magic

Good things:

  • Jin is pretty cool
  • The actual plot and world, with the towers and Voices and etc is really interesting
  • It’s a pretty good description of an asexual main character, though it loses almost all of the points it gains from this by having the most cringe introduction to / explanation of a nonbinary character later on in book 2

Bad things (there’s some spoilers here. Nothing SUPER major imo, but you may want to avoid if you’re still planning on reading these novels. But, you shouldn’t. They kind of suck.):

  • The plot that I said is pretty cool almost never happens. Maybe 10% of the book is plot.
  • The fight scenes are immeasurably boring, feel inanely low-stakes, and take up a huge percentage of the book
  • The puzzle-solving scenes are even worse than the fight scenes
  • The being-an-enchanter identity crisis makes literally no sense with the entire rest of the main character’s personality - he seems to have zero affinity for fighting, tons of affinity for tricking his way out of situations and inventing things, and yet doesn’t even have inner conflict about his attunement, only disappointment. It’s like the author wrote the character’s reactions to events prior to defining the character’s personality, and didn’t adjust the former when the two didn’t align.
  • More of an issue in the second book, but the random side quests are zero-stakes and drag on forever
  • Seriously, the monster fighting, which is somehow the entire point of the book, is just so utterly pointless.
  • The school-as-a-plot-device-for-world-building really just does not work. Half the narrator’s classes feel like in-universe kindergarten, but he’s supposed to be in in-universe college or something. They try to explain part of this by saying that he’s catching up from missing three years of schooling, and there’s commoners who had no schooling, but like…it could be made to make so much more sene by sticking him in some sort of “remedial” class and giving him a great excuse to feel awkward about his father from this situation, and letting us get the worldbuilding that way. Instead we’re supposed to believe that all of these kids have no idea of the most basic tenets about advancement in the magical arts that they’ve spent their entire lives preparing for.
  • Speaking of which, I just could not take the magic system seriously. Citrine? Carnelian? Maybe this is a me-problem, and if the rest of the book had been great I could have forgiven it, but these words are too elaborate for me to believe them. Linguistically, core concepts of a culture tend to be simple words because people say them all the damn time, and no one wants to say bullshit long words like this, so they’ll shorten them. Cradle’s Copper/Iron/Jade is believable, those words are short and easy for literally anyone to remember. I had to search in the ebook text to remember “Carnelian.”
  • Also, I read 1300 pages of a progression fantasy series, and the dude like…doesn’t advance? What is this? Despite the fact that the lore of the universe is thrown in our face constantly, it seems completely irrelevant to any part of the plot that matters.

Anyway, if you want to read a progression fantasy, read Cradle. Cradle is AMAZING. If you’ve already read Cradle and you’re looking for more progression fantasy, currently I don’t have a recommendation. Cradle is something special.

RheingoldRiver avatar
River is a MediaWiki developer and admins Leaguepedia. This blog contains her fantasy novel reviews.