The Salamanders, by username Jack Wake, is a Web Serial Novel centered around two main characters, Micah Stranya and Ryan Payne, in a high fantasy world with game-like elements, such as having Classes, Paths, Skills, and levels.
It is set in the city of Hadica, which is built around one of five Towers, massive structures that seemingly have no end. They are filled with monsters, challenges, and treasures. So-called 'climbers' try to climb higher or further into the Towers to earn rewards and get level up, but the floors become progressively more difficult higher up or further in you go and can potentially be deadly.
The story follows Micah, a young alchemist, who decides he wants to get his ingredients himself in the form of monster parts and magic crystals. However, Micah grew up in Westhill, a community that condemns the Tower and climbers and rejects its conveniences.
Not knowledgeable enough about the common dangers and far too unprepared, his first trip into the Tower goes horribly wrong as he makes one (sometimes glaring) mistake after another, both within the Tower and without. And he has to deal with the consequences even as he tries to achieve other things.
The Salamanders is an action-adventure slice-of-life story that mainly deals with the main characters growing up in the setting.
The Salamanders provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Lisa, the strongest member of the main trio. Spellcasting genius, strategist, mentor, and hits like a truck.
- Ambiguously Brown: Micah has brown skin but does not match any real-world ethnicity.
- Anti-Grinding: Repeated tasks that level up your Class have diminishing returns.
- Armor Is Useless: Averted Trope. Micah's armor often lets him ignore monsters that literally have their teeth sunk in him to focus on something else. Shields save lives.
- Attack Its Weak Point: When a monstrous ant's shell is too tough to pierce, the characters have to make shallow cuts first to weaken it before dealing the finishing blow. When a giant monster proves unbeatable, Micah shoves a mutating boot down its throat in distraction.
- Alchemy Is Magic: Alchemy is a common science and profession the city relies on for things like healing potions or better lamp fuel.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Micah is usually friendly and curious, but can drop that if needed to kick ass.
- Boring, but Practical: The characters often wear gambesons, skateboard helmets, and shields to protect themselves when going adventuring.
- Calling Your Attacks: Several 'Skills' characters possess require saying their name out loud in order to activate them. Micah one time thinks about giving an unofficial Skill an over-the-top name to call out when he uses it.
- Character Level: Everyone with a Class has one and some people make it their goal to get theirs as high as possible.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Maria, the monster Micah and Ryan see running by at the beginning of an arc becomes the final boss by the end of it.
- Class and Level System: Everyone living near the Towers get them when they are old enough, depending on what they do or want to do. You can receive more Classes by doing other things, level, combine them, and advance into other Classes, though you have to be smart about it.
- Classified Information: All information going in or out of the state is vetted by the government(s) to curb the technological advancement of rival nations, including pen-pal letters sent via a school progamme to a friendly nation.
- Coming-of-Age Story: The blurb explicitly states that the main focus of the story will be about the characters growing up in and exploring a changing fantasy setting as they try to figure out who they want to be.
- Content Warnings: They're there.
- Cornered Rattlesnake: Micah, when pushed into a corner by a pack of magical coyotes. He killed them with a hunting knife.
- Degraded Boss: The boss monster of one floor might be a regular monster of a higher floor.
- Desperation Attack: When out of options, characters throw caution to the wind and try something risky. Micah starts to rely on his [Savagery] Skill, which makes him ruthless.
- Distressed Dude: Micah. After a Tower climb goes horribly wrong ...
- Double Speak: Ryan's parents ask if he and Lisa are "climbing together" to ask if they are dating.
- Dungeon-Based Economy: The entire economy of the city and state rely on the Towers. When a Guild closes a Tower for a few weeks, people begin to riot.
- Dungeon Crawling: The Tower in the middle of the city is a massive dungeon the main characters go into to earn loot and experience.
- Eldritch Abomination: Tower essence. An amalgam of sensory organs, such as eyes, tongues, mouths, fingers, hands, ears, and noses, made of ghostly silver light that appear when the sun sets, but can only be perceived by few. Ryan loses his cool when he hears of it. Micah thinks it's cute.
- Fantastic Racism: The citizens of Tower cities don't think too highly of other races, magic systems, and foreigners.
- Fictional Currency: They have a coin-based system with the following denominations (from lowest to highest): iron pennies, iron coins, copper pennies, copper coins, silver pennies, silver coins, gold pennies, gold coins.
- Gayngst: At the end of Arc 7 it is revealed that Ryan was gay all along and it is a part of why he struggles with his identity. He had a crush on Micah until Micah developed a crush on Anne and later had a crush on Connor, but they both rejected his unlabeled advances.
- Half-Human Hybrids: Eliot, a minor character later into the story, is a half-vat. He has longevity, can control his aging speed, but is described to be similar to a mule: not really human or vat, infertile, and with biological issues.
- It Can Think: The Firescale Kobold. The Ratman.
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: The Tower lacks insects and wildlife, which makes some floors seem eerily quiet. Later, there are insects, but they and the floor's monsters are hidden when a Ratman stalks the main characters.
- Knight in Shining Armor: Ryan, when he saves Micah from the Tower and continues to look out for him. He is also a fan of stories and wants to be like the knights/heroes in them. Often thinks about looking for someone he can protect.
- Mana: Everyone living near the Towers get it, but can only use it from their teen years onward.
- No Antagonist: Despite character conflict being common, there is no real antagonist in the story.
- Plunder: Climbers loot the Towers for all they are worth: monster parts, bodies, crystals, treasure chests, natural resources like plants and wood, and food from the Gardens.
- Random Drop: The Guardians after the Tower change drop random items, apparently.
- Role-Playing Game Verse: The nation the story is set in is very game-like, with people having Classes, Skills, Paths (science trees), and Skills. There are monsters, mana, loot, covert experience gains, magic equipment, and potions.
- Run or Die: Often, the characters have to run away from monsters too dangerous to fight to make an escape. Sometimes, these are hordes (salamander horde, prowler pack, honey ant horde, ink golem horde, etc.).
- Skill Scores and Perks: People can earn 'Skills' (in square brackets) during level ups or through practice.
- No Stat Atrophy: Somewhat subverted. Skills are kept for life, but some get weaker or more expensive with disuse.
- The Talk: Ryan gets The Talk from his dad and a teacher mentions that the school is going to give a mandatory lecture on it as well. Ryan is horrified, possibly because he's in the closet.
- ¡Three Amigos!: The main trio is made up of three best friends, Ryan, Lisa, and Micah (with an at times rocky relationship).
- Took a Level in Badass: Micah, after returning to fight the type of Kobold that nearly killed him during the entrance exam and punched it in the face.