My Favourite Magic Systems

orangutan list

Okay it’s time for a little hocus pocus, cos I’m gonna be talking magic systems today. I was very much inspired by Merphy Napier’s video– which I *definitely* recommend, if you’re looking for hard magic systems (and excellent content in general) especially since I lean more towards soft systems. For some reason, the mysterious fantasy of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones have always appealed to me more (although, for various reasons, those magic systems didn’t quite make the list, soooo that was a quick honorary mention 😉). Also, there will be other notable series missing- either cos I’ve never read or didn’t get into the series enough to see it develop (don’t expect Wheel of Time for instance). Alrighty, *abracadabra* *allakhazam*, without further ado- onto the list!

final-empire

Mistborn– I’m starting off with one of the few hard magic systems on the list. I’ve only read a few of his books, but I can already state that Brandon Sanderson is a master at world building. Allomancy is an ingenious magic system, based around metals, and entirely convinced me of Sanderson’s skill in creating convincing fantasy.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover

Harry Potter– not the most mature system, yet it still charms me to this day 😉 Whimsical and fun, there’s a reason this made a generation of children want to be witches and wizards!

red sister

Book of the Ancestor Trilogy– this is quite a straightforward system, with four inherited powers, yet it has some cool complexities to it. While it seems simple enough, what makes the magic system in the Book of the Ancestor series appeal to me is because of how characters can inherit one type of power. It especially works for me that Nona gets most of the abilities- yet not all. I won’t spoil anything, but this ends up playing into the chosen one trope in a very clever way.

assassins apprentice

Farseer Trilogy– I very much like the way Hobb layers up different types of powers, constantly expanding the magic and the world. However, I particularly like how it starts with a clear conflict for the main character’s magic, with Fitz inheriting both the socially acceptable Skill and the stigmatised Wit. That conflict works brilliantly within the plot.

name of the wind

The Kingkiller Chronicles– okay yes, this is completely a trend: I like having numerous systems in one book. In this series there’s two types: sympathy and naming. What I especially like in the Kingkiller Chronicles is how one system is hard (sympathy) and the other soft (naming), making them work together in tandem.

magician's guild

Black Magician– I could be putting this on here because I’m fuelled by nostalgia- but I don’t care, it’s my list 😉 As I said, I like layered systems- and this does that achieves that twice over! Firstly, because magicians have many skillsets they can learn. And secondly, because while the main system is a hard one, it also has a contrasting soft power (called Black Magic). I also really love the way this one works because it also pits the hard system (which is less powerful, but easier to control) against the soft one (which is more dangerous, yet also more powerful). I also appreciate how it develops across the course of the series.

diviners

Diviners– I’m a bit spellbound by this series at the moment. The basic concept is quite simple: there are Diviners who have powers that they’ve kept hidden from the rest of the world. What makes it special to me is how each book allows the characters to grow with their powers in each book. The fact that it’s not static makes it all the more exciting to me. While it’s quite simple, I very much appreciate how it pushes against the boundaries and increases its scope with the story. Also, pro tip, for full immersion, try the audiobook- it’s divine 😉

raven boys

The Raven Cycle– there are a few types of magic in this world, yet the one that really appeals to me is dream stealing- which is basically magic ever invented! For that reason, I particularly liked Dream Thieves (and to a lesser extent Call Down the Hawk), since that’s where it features most prevalently. Still it’s worth bringing up the whole series since, as I’ve mentioned, I do like my multiple magic systems 😊

And that’s all I’ve got for now! Do you agree with me about any of these systems? Do you have any you’d add? Let me know in the comments!

62 thoughts on “My Favourite Magic Systems

  1. An awesome list! 🙂
    I am kicking myself right now – I picked up a copy of The Diviners at Christmas for a friend of mine. It looked like her kind of thing rather than mine, but now I totally want to read it!! Dagnabbit! (note to self: don’t buy books for people unless you’ve read them too). 😀

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  2. This was such a creative idea for a list! 😀 I 100% am backing dream stealing from the Raven Cycle. That would be such a cool power to have, just imagine what you could pull from your dreams? The possibilities are endless!!

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  3. I never thought about this but you are right! These books all have their unique magic system. The most “traditional” is still Harry Potter I think

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  4. Once upon a time I was attracted by the magical system that was developed in “The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure” by James Redfield because in this book the magical powers weren’t innate to a few exceptions but basically attainable for anyone who wanted to do the effort to study the principles of it.

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      1. I have another one: The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda. It was presented by its author as an anthropological study, but most contemporary critics consider it a work of fiction.

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  5. There are a few flaws with the Eragon series (actually, I think it’s called the Inheritance series, or something like that), but I really enjoyed the magic system there. Rules were in place. If there’s one thing I loathe, it’s unregulated magic that only appears to follow a system.

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  6. I have only heard of harry potter and the dream thieves series in this list, I’ll have to check out the rest of the books that you listed…especially the first one! It sounds so interesting!

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  7. I’ve always liked magic systems that were subtle. The Farseer system definitely. There’s also Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea system with its implicit morality. My favourite – inevitably – is Tolkien’s, which was immensely subtle in the sense of it being largely an undefined ‘power’ held by various characters, entwined with their persona and nature, and not always obvious, except for Gandalf. Even then, he ended up with powers that were never defined. (OK, now I’ve really GOT to go and dig out The Hobbit and LOTR for a re-read…)

    All of that was the opposite of Rowling’s magic system, which on the surface of it was a deeply unsubtle cliche of all the tropes – a mechanistic list of wands, incantations and potions that had to be learned just like arithmetic, spelling etc. Which of course made it precisely the right system to use for a series of ‘coming of age’ school stories – which I am fairly sure is one of the many reasons why her stuff struck such a chord with everybody (including me).

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    1. Ah I hear you- I generally have a preference for subtler magic systems. And I love Tolkien’s magic system- in fact I like that it’s not quite defined. hehehe! You’re tempting me to do the same with LOTR!

      Yeah that’s true- and yet it works so well! I agree! 😀

      Like

  8. What this list tells me is that I have not read very widely in the genre.

    In Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, somebody breaks the world and the magic begins to stop working.

    In David Edding’s Belgariad, magic is done by “the will and the word.”

    In The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew goes about magic to manipulate reality to his will by using certain procedures. It’s all an expression of pride. When Jadis, the “witch” who has natural magical ability in her own world, meets him, she scorns his methods. This is all an outworking of Lewis’s ideas about magic and science which are expressed in The Abolition of Man, where he says, “The serious magical endeavor and the serious scientific endeavor sprang from the same impulse” or something like that.

    Please define hard vs. soft magic systems for this newbie.

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    1. haha I wouldn’t say that! I haven’t read Le Guin’s books (well, I made the mistake of trying a short story collection first and it was the wrong way to dive into her world). And I haven’t read Belgariad either- but that sounds interesting.

      I very much liked the ideas of magic in Chronicles of Narnia (but didn’t include it for similar reasons to Tolkien- I like it, but it’s not a favourite)

      Good question! Sorry, I should’ve included that in the post. Soft magic is the kind of magic with fewer (or no) clearly defined rules (and can often be more mystical, like Tolkien or Lewis), whereas hard magic is follows much stricter rules and is more like a tool. Sanderson, I think, was the one who came up with this distinction (and is pretty famous for writing hard magic systems) I hope that helps!

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  9. ‘The Name of the Wind’ had a wonderful magic system indeed. More than the magic system, I found myself marvelling at the sheer amount of story building within the main story. Still need to get to book 2 though.

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  10. Wow, I’ve never given much thought to magic systems and kind of take them for granted, but this list is remarkably cool! I love magic in books but I rarely think of the rules and lore behind them, but knowing the lore behind a magic system can enrich the entire fictional world, which is fascinating!

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  11. The Wit in Robin Hobb’s world is so interesting. I need to read more of her series to learn more about other magic systems, though. Her liveship magical system is also so creative and a great premise.

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  12. Great post! I read The Diviners years ago, and keep thinking I should go back and finish the series. Nice to know the audiobook is good, because I’ll definitely need a reread if I’m going to continue with the books.

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  13. At first, I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to identify with this post because I don’t read a lot of books with magic in them. I totally loved Raven Cycle and Harry Potter, though! I was so happy to see them here!

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  14. I’d definitely add McClellan’s powder magic to any list of great magic systems, he was able to make something quite powerful, but still limited, and show it against a background of more traditional magic… I just love it 🙂

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  15. The magic system in Mistborn is one of my all-time favourites. I love the metal manipulation and the intricacy in the mechanisms of the magic systems is a thing to behold. Sanderson is definitely a master world builder in fantasy. I also loved the ‘dreamers’ concept in The Raven Cycle and I can’t wait to explore more of it in Call Down the Hawk cause I still have a ton of questions about Ronan’s abilities.

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  16. The magic system in the Mistborn trilogy is among my favorites as well; it’s so detailed and cool! I bought Name of the Wind the other day, can’t wait to find out what the magic system in that one is!

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