tl;dr: Tower Climber is an entertaining Young Adult LitRPG with satisfying world-building.
'Tower Climber' is set sometime in the latter half of the 21st century. A mysterious tower appeared about 40 years ago in the USA. The Tower and its immediate environments are separate from the rest of the world. This independent city-state has its own President, police and other civic agencies. The city-state focuses on "Tower Climbers" - i.e. gifted people who traverse the tower floor by floor and have magic at their disposal.
The story begins with Max, our teenage protagonist, bullied in his school. He is orphaned and has lost the use of his legs in an accident in his childhood. His sister has somehow been lost in the Tower for years, and he is single-minded in his purpose to find out her fate. He is abducted and left to die within the tower city. He not only survives but also discovers that he has a unique talent. The story focuses on his time in the Tower Academy, his growing knowledge of what the Tower is and his growth as an aspiring tower climber and as a person.
The LitRPG elements are in the right proportion for the story. They are not overwhelming - not every page talks about stats and makes it into a number fest. But at the same time, there is enough information presented to show Max's growth. Jakob Tanner has simplified the stats to make it good enough for the story while adding enough fantasy/magic elements to make it compelling. In a lot of ways, the combat reminds me of Arcane Kingdom Online (Jakob Tanner's other LitRPG series) but with a bit more emphasis on thought and strategy. If it were not for the stats and levels, this book could stand alone as a Young Adult fantasy. Will Wight's Cradle series comes to mind as a close analogue were it not for the number based levels. I like this overall approach to the magic system as it combines qualitative and quantitative elements effectively.
The monsters are based on popular pop-culture archetypes like minotaurs, slimes etc. But where the book shines is with the brilliant character traits & levels along with the ingenious way the characters use these traits.
The world-building is imaginative. The Tower is the focus of the world-building - every level in it corresponds to a unique environment/world. But the effects of the presence of the Tower on our planet is also given some importance. I do not want to mention more than this in the review for fear of spoilers. Think of this as the Tower from 'Senlin Ascends' but with vastly more scope.
There is a lot more emphasis on the characters and their development than Arcane Kingdom Online. Jakob Tanner has also put more emphasis on developing supporting characters like Sakura, Casey etc. The writing is as good as ever as is the pacing.
Overall, 'Tower Climber' is an excellent LitRPG that sticks in the mind, and I look forward to reading the sequels. (ARC provided by the author for an honest review)
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