This is a brief review of Andrew Rowe’s “On the Shoulders of Titans”. As noted, this is the 2rd book in the ‘Arcane Ascension” series and is categorized as a fantasy novel.
A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. This is the second book in the series, and I was really looking forward to seeing what came after the cliffhanger in the end of book one, where the main protagonist gets the big reveal where his formerly-believed dead brother is a supervillain. The book smoothly transitions back into the search for the brother and attempts to uncover more about the sinister plot, but also does a great job focusing on the Harry Potter-esque magic school environment and the day-to-day routine of learning enchantments, magic theory, and so on.
I did think that the book pacing is a little slower than the first book, and it does take a fairly long time for the book to really start firing on all cylinders. This may be due to the increased the size of the book (742 pages compared to 625 pages for Sufficiently Advanced Magic), but also may be due to the increased number of subplots — most notably, there is (1) the quest to see who Karras really is and how is he so powerful, (2) search for the Tyrant, and (3) research into artificial attunements. Personally, I felt that the Karras backstory was a little superfluous and led to weakening of the main plotline, especially since he is so overpowered and was often used as a deus-ex-machina technique in inopportune moments. I also felt that there are a rather large amount of of loose ends that are left uncovered (i.e. what happened to the teleported black dagger, what happened to the owner of the Jaden Box, where is the protagonist’s mother, etc). However, looking at all things as a whole, the primary plot is clearly-defined, believable, and (eventually) had good resolution of conflict as the book drew to a close.
As in the first book, the author does a great job in painting a world that seems real enough for the reader — there’s a map of the world presented at the beginning of the book, and the book includes a thorough appendix that meticulously goes through the structure and function of the attunement runes — in the past, I’ve noticed that similar fantasy books can be written carelessly without a thorough description of mechanics, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see such effort put into world-building. There’s a lot of impressive set-pieces in the book — some places that come to mind include the student dueling arena, the Temple of Fire, and Tenjin’s sanctum — all of these are presented vividly, and complement the action scenes perfectly — one can perfectly visualize the amazing Naruto-like battles happening. Two big thumbs up!
The characters in this title are fantastic. One thing that I didn’t quite like in Book 1 of this series was just how awkward the protagonist was, but this subsequent book does a great job on uncovering the backstory of the protagonist and what made him this way. There’s a fair amount of dark matter that I didn’t expect in a book of this nature — child abuse being the first thing that comes to mind — but this is handled quite well and brings an unexpected depth to the content. This is an epic book with a large cast of characters — there’s an appendix in the back that details the whole roster, but it was a little unusual to see the protagonist demonstrate a deep connection with a newly-introduced childhood friend (Cecily) but be apprehensive about being with his close teammate Marissa, with whom he has been training/fighting for the entirety of this book and its predecessor. One last suggestion that I have to make is that this book doesn’t have enough Sheridan Theas — less Karras and more Sheridan please!
This book was definitely a page-turner — even counting the slow beginning, I finished the whole book in about a week. The last part was so interested that I actually sat parked in my garage at home and flipped pages until I finished it! I did appreciate the stats listed during the book (i.e. hand mana / mind mana etc.), but wish that the book elaborated on this a little more in order to get a concrete understanding on how the protagonist was improving. Each chapter was well-structured, and was well-crafted with a mini-cliffhanger to keep the reader reading! Paragraphs were well-formatted, and grammar was perfect.
Overall, this book was excellent. It’s rare to see titles that have such amazing world-building (i.e. looking at Tolkien’s Silmarillion). Although the book’s pacing is a little slow at the beginning, it more than makes up for this with great action scenes, strong characters, and excellent overall writing. Definitely looking forward to next title.