On the Shoulders of Titans is the sequel to Sufficiently Advanced Magic (SAM) and it's also the second book in the Arcane Ascension series. For those of you who don’t know, SAM—along with the Grey Bastards by Jonathan French—was the biggest surprise in the SPFBO competition for me, and I still consider these two the best things to ever appear in the competition. I highly think your enjoyment factor regarding this book will be highly affected by how much you enjoyed SAM. If you disliked the first book, I don’t think this book will make you a fan of the series. On the other hand, if you—like me—enjoyed reading the first book, I’m pretty sure you’re going to love this one as well.
The reason why I say this is that On the Shoulders of Titans retained every element from SAM and expands upon them and the storytelling style remains the same. Although a lot of questions were answered, especially regarding Keras and Corin’s brother, in terms of storytelling structure it's still very similar to SAM. Because of this, I have to admit that there were a few instances in the book where I felt the pacing was a bit draggy. This could be just me, but the major revelation at the end of SAM led me to believe that this installment would be more action packed and that the plot would move at a faster pace; unfortunately, I ended up being proven wrong.
The book begins with a recap (seriously, more authors need to do this) and then it picks up immediately after the end of the first book. Just like SAM, this book still focuses mostly on Corin’s life at his magic school, his relationships with his friends, and more details on attunements and world-building. There’s nothing wrong with this storytelling direction and magic school trope aspect; it's just that my expectations played tricks on me and it ended up making me more impatient in reading through a few sections of the book. I do however still stand by my words that this series is like a well-written new adult version of Harry Potter, but filled with LitRPG elements.
Regarding the characters, Corin’s character development was splendid. It may be slow but it was interesting and fun to read. His change from being emotionally detached to someone learning how to care little by little and to trust his friends more was heartwarming. I found his relationships with his friends, and his sister to be something that a lot of readers will love.
However, I stand by my opinion that magic systems are the most crucial aspect in deciding whether you’ll love this series. There is simply no brake on the in-depth magic system train here, and you will read a LOT of explanations on new attunements and their usage. Ever since I reviewed SAM, I’ve heard some complaints from a few readers and reviewers that the intricate magic system bored them; I personally loved it. I prefer an intricate magic system more than magic with no explanation that’s used as a deus ex machina plot device to suddenly win over an unbeatable enemy. One of my favorite things about this sequel is the new magic, Haste. As a gamer and Final Fantasy fan, Haste or auto-haste is one of my favorite magics to use in the game and I adored reading Rowe’s take on it.
Imbued with anime-flavored battle scenes, the action scenes are detailed, immersive, and vivid to read. Sadly, I have to say that the minor issues I had with the first book are still here. Some dialogues are still too cheesy. There’s this trend in JRPG that when the characters are going to use some skill/magic, they’re going to shout out the name of the skills. This works wonderfully well for me, especially in the Tales Of video game franchise, but in novel form I don’t know why but I found them incredibly out of place. Also, even though I love the intricate magic system, I still feel that there were a few moments where some of the magic systems were over-explained and that it ended up dragging the pacing of the book. Luckily, Rowe made up for this with his simplistic prose that never gets in the way of the story. His style is easy to read and I found it to be very engaging.
On the Shoulders of Titans, just like its predecessor, remains fun and enthralling from start to finish. The only sad thing about finishing this book is knowing that the next book in the Arcane Ascension series won’t be coming until at least 2020. However, it’s stated at the end of the book that the next one will instead be a prequel/side story revolving around Keras and the Six Sacred Swords. I do think that Rowe has crafted something really great with the world he created here and I truly believe that, eventually, Arcane Ascension will become one of those few successful self-published fantasy series. I highly recommend this book and series to anyone who loves their fantasy filled with an intricate magic system, great world-building, anime-flavored/JRPG battle scenes, and most of all, magic school tropes.