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.
Pros – familiar RPG world mechanics make it easy to understand the plot from A to B, friendship and communication are important here, The Voice of The Tower
Cons – Familiar RPG elements make this a repetitive read, Corin’s at times baffling thought process/leaps of logic, convoluted “bad guy” scheme
Notes – ok this review gets a little long winded and I apologize for that, but the book itself is pretty long (620ish pages / 22 hours audio)
Review – My favorite genre of games happens to be Japanese RPGs (jRPGs). Think Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Tales of Vesperia – they happen to be some of the bigger franchises in America. They’re characterized by involving a band of heroes who fight increasingly harder enemies as they progress through some sort of “dungeon”, get equipment upgrades and face off against a “Boss”.
They involve a lot of level grinding (repeatedly fighting enemies in order to gain more experience so your character levels up and becomes stronger), frequent equipment changes, ridiculous Side Quests to either gain more experience, currency, special equipment or just for the achievement trophy and usually a convoluted Plot to Destroy the World.
Games like EverQuest, World of Warcraft or even good ol’ D&D are also RPGs, though to be honest they’re too open-ended for me to enjoy. I like having a definitive end to work towards. In this way SUFFICIENTLY failed me since the end goal Corin was working towards (retrieving his brother Tristan so he can bring him home and repair his very broken family) was a delusion from the beginning. There was so much more wrong with his family than just Tristan leaving that bringing him back would likely do more harm than good. Realizing Corin is 17, normally I’d give him more leeway since he hasn’t apparently ever actually grieved for his brother’s disappearance or his mother absenting herself from his life. Except he is so very mature in almost every other aspect.
Here is a kid who, failing to excel in the division of Magic his family normally excels at (Brute Strength), applies himself to finding ways work around that “failure”. He devotes himself to finding ways to make up for this and help the friends he gains along the way become strong enough to defend themselves. He studies, he experiments, he researches better ways, he fails and tries again. Rowe is at times at pains to show us that Corin was getting his power through sheer force of will and studying.
He also recognizes when he has a flaw; early on he’s very much the loner type. A combination of his own somewhat anti-social mannerisms, his father isolating him from his age group and the competitiveness of the school in general leads him to believe he can get by with just his (possible, not really ever explicitly stated) half-sister as company. Slowly though, as he fails and learns from those failures he realizes that having a group of people he could depend on in battle as well as social situations was useful and he begins to cultivate that. At first for mercenary reasons, but by the end for emotional ones as well.
He strategizes, asks for help when he needs it – Corin mostly lacks useful magic (and further handicaps what useful magic he could have for…reasons) for what they’re trying to accomplish, so he’s fairly useless at first. He learns and applies that knowledge and is pretty good at formulating plans for the group. AND YET
Yet his ultimate goal of “rescuing” Tristan is so delusional. Its not like he realizes at some point “huh well if I bring Tristan back my family is still screwed up” or acknowledges how naive his idea was. He continues on with it. Meanwhile he handicaps his magic by basically not using it (his reason being that he doesn’t want to lose his mind…which virtually everyone in his life has told him is unlikely to happen) and crippling himself in other ways (by overusing the magic in a non-dominant area).
Rowe also has a fondness for repeating World Rules so often I skimmed through those passages. I suppose for those not used to RPGs the refresher at each “stage” isn’t a bad idea, but for anyone who’s played any kind of RPG (or even watched any kind of RPG modeled show like Log Horizon) the constant repetition of rules and magic obscura grates and grinds the story to a halt as you attempt to see if anything “new” has been mentioned (spoiler: almost never happens). Pacing especially becomes a problem once Corin and his Band of Merry Friends begin entering the Tower since one of more of them will take a moment to just EXPLAIN what is happening and how to go about defeating it before we actually see their recently stated plan in action.
What I did enjoy in this book, and it honestly was some of the best moments, was the friendship and camaraderie that organically occurs in between Corin and his friends. They don’t all fit together perfectly at first, but over time they work out issues and find a way to make their unique skills and personalities fit together.
There’s also Corin’s growth throughout and in general characterization. Corin is also possibly either Aro or Ace? Its a little difficult to discern which since romance is not at all part of this book and the only indication we really have is that at one point Corin mentions he was never that into girls growing up (though it was in conjunction with how hard he’s been studying all these years), and he asks one of his male friends to accompany him to a dance mostly because he finds him interesting and his half-sister already has a date. He remarks on the outward attractiveness of both genders, but its a very clinical observant way and doesn’t seem at all interested in appearing pleasing to either gender in a romantic way.
In the end I enjoyed this a lot – enough so that I bought the eBook and the audio book so I could switch between the two as needed. It is very long and the pacing definitely goes up and down constantly, but Nick Poehdl’s reading is as always a joy and Rowe’s writing is just engaging enough to keep you wanting to see what happens in the (many layered twists) of the ending.
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Published by: Self Published
Release: April 23, 2017
Series: Arcane Ascension Book 1
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