What does a world do to survive a continuous low-level influx of Isekai protagonists, each adding their own world's magic or superpowers to the mix? Whitney Ismael, software engineer, learns the answer: licensing and registration paperwork, search warrants, and special agents for the Bureau of Isekai Affairs.
[Participant in the Royal Road Writathon challenge]
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Alternate review title which didn't fit: "Maximum nerd isekai, but like, in a way that doesn't require making all the natives idiots"
This is a rather brilliant take on what I guess could be reasonably called meta-isekai (though the meta aspects are all in the world building rather than narrative, sparing some mind fuckery and existensialism), with a great (and incredibly relateable) main character, amazing world building, and a nice cast of side characters.
A very fun story that relies heavily on worldbuilding in a world full of reasonable people making sense of utterly bullshit rules. The worldbuilding style reminds me of stories like Worth the Candle, Unsong, maybe a bit of SCP Foundation type stuff.
I didn't notice anything while reading through, so... full marks?
As always, a bit of an odd-ball category. Prose-wise, the story is very good, though not exceptional. It's first person, present-tense narration, which I personally like, however in my opinion the narration, while very much reflecting the MC's personality, doesn't really reflect her state of mind at any given time very much, which is a high bar but also why I'm docking half a star. There are exactly 3 authors I've given 5 stars on style to, though.
Technique-wise, the characters are fairly well-distinguished, though so far the non-MC characters feel a bit flat. Perhaps this'll change with time, but for now, 4.5/5.
I personally love the main character. Since my ability to program makes up a solid third of my personality, the recognizable style of thinking, well-reflected in the narration and way she analyzes problems, is very nice to see and some moments are painfully relatable. Additionally, I'm a total sucker for the "contained under pressure, but of a scattered disaster otherwise" archetype which she embodies.
The side characters are varied, fun, and, perhaps most importantly, not annoying (mostly). It's hard to say much in aggregate and I'm not really willing to go into detail on each one of the major ones (sorry?), so... None of them are stupid, and while we don't know the well enough yet for their personal motivations and whatnot to be clear, we do know enough to see that they're, y'know, reasonable people. My main gripe with the side characters, aside from being a bit flat for now, is that one of them has an accent that feels a bit overdone and is a little annoying to read sometimes (hence the "mostly" above).
As a warning, the story is slow paced and seems to be fairly slice of life. By chapter 27, less than two days have passed and there's no sign of an over arching plot.
However, being slice of life, the slow pace works and every chapter is engaging.
The focus of the story is on the characters and world, and especially the magic. A lot of time is dedicated to the MC trying to figure out one particular magic system of many, which leads into the worldbuilding.
As mentioned in the overall section, the worldbuilding reminds me of WtC, Unsong, and SCP Foundation in the sense that you have a hodgepodge of seemingly nonsensical phenomena, but rather than them just being unexplained and their interactions being left contradictory or undefined, you have people actually exploring how they work.
The main thing Bureau of Isekai Affairs does to stand out here is the fact that rather than having multiple magic systems that coexist, its countless magic systems overlap.
Very minor spoilers:
People come to the world the story is set in from countless worlds, and sometimes they bring little pieces of their world ("Gifts") with them, which spread in ways consistent that are consistent with the Gifts themselves.
When I say that the systems overlap however, what I mean is that if a guy has an innate ability to shoot fireballs and another person is a hard magic wizard, the fireballs will parse as magic to the hard magic wizard. Meanwhile to a cultivator, the fireballs will read as qi.
This becomes especially interesting with metamagics and stuff, and though that has not yet been explored in too much detail, based on what's there so far, I trust it will be.
The world appears, thus far, to be very well thought through.
I do worry a bit that the chapters will feel a bit too short individually when not binging, but that is basically inevitable with serials that choose to post frequently rather than once or twice a week.
This story is a gem, still growing and deeply delightful already. The short version is that if you're a fan of the maximally-nerdy Isekai stuff—Qi=MC^2, Dungeon I/O, Biologist in a Fantasy World, The Way Ahead, that stuff—then you will probably love this; though it's definitely more from a programmer's perspective than from, say, a chemist's or physicist's.
What can I tell you? Let's see. I can tell you that its grammar deviates from perfection only rarely and with deliberate intent, with the exception of a couple of typos on the order of "a repeated word" or "a homophone substitution error" once every couple of chapters.
I am also going to tell you that the characters are all thus far deeply different but each internally consistent and with clear motivations, both ones that might lead to conflict and ones that will lead to them getting alone.
The setting is amazing. Like, seriously, the metamagical structure of the setting is a fabulous hook and the author just absolutely sticks the landing on it.
The plot overall starts with an obvious contrivance, but it's a fair one and one which lampoons itself exactly the right amount. Past that, it (thus far) focuses on developing the world and the characters, but it does this while moving forwards rather than spinning its wheels.
Overall, vebyast's story is one I'm very much looking forward to reading more of, and you should read it too.
While this story has a fair amount of technicallity being covered, as the MC learns her new Gift, it has been done with a deft hand and well thought out. Somatic components are considered pretty standard fair - why they are needed hasn't been covered any of the thousands of books I've read. I'm looking forward to more of such creativity and realism in the rest of the story. Inclusion of real reference materials as part of the character interaction is excellent too. Others may feel like this story is too cerebral; fellow geeks are enjoying it.
It's still early (only chapter 5), but this fiction deserves a review.
The characters are distinctive and interesting, the main character is believable, and the worldbuilding shows all the signs of being a rich, distinctive world - despite the fact that it has people from wherever appearing with no prior notice.
Oh, and it's well-written, too.
I'm looking forward to reading more. What else is there to say?
TL;DR: If you'd like to read a fun and thorough examination of a particularly programmable magical system in a world where everyone's superpowers works differently - while at the same time equally learning about a fun new well-thought-out world - you're gonna have a good time.
Vebyast has done a really great job of putting together an introduction arc to a story where the main character's exploration of this brand new world is done with both rigour and excitement.
Every piece of world building fits in nicely - which is super fun in a world where the rules are so different, but for good reason.
Imagine learning the rules in a super flexible but fully functioning bureaucracy, all while also getting on the job training to be SWAT and help keep the peace in this new society.
The grammar and storytelling is really well done, and every character you meet is fun and engaging in different (and logical) ways - when everyone's super power works differently, it becomes really fun to learn what types of merchants there are.
The way the main character undergoes their examination of the magical system and the world around them - while getting to know their new teammates - is a super fun exploration of general investigation / troubleshooting / engineering principles.
Overall, these first 26 chapters have been a blast. Worth a read if you enjoy wikidives, high fantasy, and How Things Work.
Looking forward to more!
I don't think it's any secret that stories about genre-savvy protagonists exploring (and perhaps breaking) fantasy magic systems are... ahem... a bit of a thing on Royal Road. For better and worse, it's practically its own genre, complete with its own themes, tropes, and common pitfalls. Let's talk about how The Bureau of Isekai Affairs stacks up against its peers in that genre.
So, what sets this story apart? What's the unique hook? Why give this story your time instead of the dozens/hundreds of others?
Well, instead of being a story about a genre-savvy protagonist exploring a fantasy magic system, it's a story about an entire civilization built on the genre-savvy exploration of thousands of coexisting fantasy magic systems - a sort of isekai nexus where every 'protagonist' brings their own rules with them, except instead of that being the start of a system apocalypse, it's Tuesday and everyone still has to get up and go to work in the morning.
And it's exactly that worldbuilding which sets this story apart and sells it. This isn't a blank, stale world waiting for a mildly clever protagonist to come along and paint their awesomeness all over it. The industrial revolution wasn't the end of our world; so why would whatever bizarre, exploitable magic truck-kun brings next be the end of their's? People are curious. Society is adaptable. And this story is keenly interested in asking "how would people actually live in this world? How would society change? What could they accomplish?"
And that's just a fun question to ask! Sure, tell me more about how siege-engineers have replaced horse-drawn carts.
Unfortunately, it's not all praise from me. Right now, we're 29 chapters in (214 pages by Royal Road's count), and I still can't really tell you where this is going. I mean, sure, I can tell you some things that are going to happen - the protagonist will learn more about their power, the author will tell us more neat things about the world, there will be some self-aware jokes at the genre's expense, fun will be had, and Bob will do more drugs. I know those things are going to happen. But in the 'narrative' sense, I have no idea what the characters are going to overcome or how they're going to grow. If there's anything resembling a traditional story arc being built here, I couldn't tell you what it is.
Right now, this is very much a toys in the toybox kind of story. There are some cool concepts on display, but they're not currently being used to thread together a story that is larger than the sum of their parts. I don't think that's a damning flaw, especially in this genre. There are some fics I like to call popcorn fics - light, indulgent, tasty. Grab a bowl of popcorn and binge away.
But at the same time... well, I wouldn't mind having a little narrative meat to bite into over the coming chapters, either.
I've been a fan of logical magic since the Incompleat Enchanter, and this one scratches that itch nicely, starting out at least it's right up there with the Lord Darcy stories and what Wizard's Bane could have been without the creepy bits. The fluidic computing feel of the magic is pretty unique and I hope to see more of it as the story progresses.
Slightly too high ratio of worldbuilding to plot. That said, the worldbuilding is fucking excellent, so I'm not at all mad. The action scene was surprisingly good; it'll be real interesting to see how the MC's perspective on them changes as they get less overwhelmed and/or more accustomed to *being* overwhelmed in combat.
Great story. interesting characters, and fairly unique storyline. It's on my can't wait till the next chapter list. fifty words . . . . . . Fifty words . . . . Fifty words fifty words more fifty words fifty words it's a wonder anybody leaves reviews. Gotta drop an essay to say nice story.
When I first started reading this I was really excited. The world was interesting, while both the characters and the plot had the basic building blocks that indicated that good things were coming. 13 chapters later and there has been a plenty of world building, but no character development and minimal plot progression. So many details are thrown into your face that do not particularly matter, and nothing has made me care about what happens next. If you love deep and intricate worlds, then I would recommend this to you, otherwise I would move on.