Without reading more than the summary and without having read much if at all from the LitRPG genre before, the first 10% or so of Sufficiently Advanced Magic felt rather strange. We open with the protagonist, Corin Cadence, going into the Serpent Spire, “a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters”. The description of the tower and the rooms and especially the magic of the world feels rather like someone took a role-playing game rulebook and wrote a book about it. And… it turns out that’s exactly what LitRPG novels are supposed to feel like.
That part of the book continues to feel weird to me throughout–it’s the hardest of hard magic systems, with overly specified classes of mana and magic, with well defined levels and powers for each of them. I actually like that sort of thing, but there are long sections of exposition that get a bit hard to stay focused on.
On the other hand, the characters are lovely, especially Corin. He’s got a wonderful sense of humor…
In the middle of the path, however, was a monster. The world’s most adorable monster. It looked like a big house cat, with gray and white stripes, sitting with its front paws raised. It had three long, bunny-like ears and a trailing rat-like tail. It tilted its head to the side as it saw me, giving me a quizzical expression. It was too cute to die. I stepped away from the door, chuckling to myself. It’s possible I am the world’s worst adventurer.
…he’s probably autistic and/or extremely introveted or at the very least has a lot of the social markers…
I closed my eyes for a moment, flexing my hands in the air and taking a deep breath. “Okay. Breathing now. I think I’m interested? I’ve never really done anything like this before. And, uh, just so you know, I’m not that into…touching?”
He nodded. “I’ve noticed. It won’t be a problem. We can dance if you decide you want to. If not, I would be more than happy just to have you there to talk with me.”
I laughed, just a hair too loud to be natural. Dancing. Is that all?
I think I can handle dancing.
Maybe just talking.
Talking is fine.
“Okay, let’s go with that, then. It’s a date.”
…and he’s subtly gay (both characters above are male). Subtly in that it comes up, but it’s not a main focus of the story or his charater, and it’s treated as not at all unusual, which is always pleasant to see.
Other than that, we have a bunch of teachers who fit the ‘professors tend to eccentric’ tropes:
Vellum lifted her gaze to the ceiling. “Obviously, these are terrible, and you should never use them. They are, predictably, also the most common.” She looked back at us, expression sharp. “People are terrible, and also stupid.”
And a number of friends / an adventuring party with all sorts:
If Marissa was fighting based on dexterity, he had to choose something she couldn’t evade. Marissa punched the lightning.
Only Jin was missing, presumably off doing mysterious Jin things.
“I’m resisting the urge to smack you right now.”
“Your willpower is, as always, admirable.”
Sera sighed, rolling her eyes. “Ugh. At least you didn’t break your snark.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. My snark is indestructible."
Plotwise, it’s basically half role playing campaign and half magic school, but it works well enough. And there’s just enough hints of a wider world and deeper conspiracies to keep you going to the end… with a whole heck of a lot of potential for more in sequels.
So… at first I couldn’t figure it out. At the end, I’m still not sure how much I actually like LitRPGs. But it’s a fun book, there’s a surprising amount of depth to the characters and the magic system, and the writing is wonderfully descriptive and fun. If you give it a chance, make sure you make it at least out of the tower plus a chapter or two, since the first chapter isn’t the whole of the book.