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!

Why I’m Happy to Suspend My Disbelief for Fantasy

Magic systems seem to be a big deal to a lot of fantasy fans and for many a well explained system can make or break a book. Now, this may shock some people, but it really isn’t a big deal for me. Naturally, I appreciate the beauty of an intricate magic system (who doesn’t have infinite admiration for Sanderson’s allomancy for instance) but if something is left in broad terms or defined simply as *magic* I genuinely won’t care and here’s why:

confessionsIt is the genre of the unexplainable– *crazy* idea BUT there is a reason why many supernatural forces are left unexplained in fantasy. It creates an atmosphere of mystique, eeriness and unfathomability. Here is where fantasy is haunted by the hallmarks of gothic literature. Feeding into the uncanny plays with the unwritten rules of the universe and allows the writer to explore hidden corners of the human psyche. And isn’t exploring *what we don’t know* what fantasy is often all about? Obscuring the logic of a world is valuable in its own way.

simarillionSometimes, however, there is a hidden explanation, even if we don’t know it– I know I’ve seen *loads* of people criticising Lord of the Rings for its “lack” of magical explanations. My answer to those people is that there are plenty of Tolkien’s notes you can look into if you’re unsatisfied with the reasoning behind his world building. Which goes to show, just because you don’t know the reason for something, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Plus, if you need an origin story, look no further than The Simarillion. But really, ultimately, it’s important to note where Tolkien got his ideas from…

grimmsBorrowing from literary predecessors deserves praise not censor. Personally, I value stories that are self-aware and acknowledge where they’ve come from- for a story to revive its forefather’s memory and offer us something new is a very special thing. When it comes to fantasy, I’ve already mentioned fantasy’s connection with gothic literature, yet the modern genre has more than one forefather. It is very much rooted, thanks to Tolkien, in the oral tradition and fairy tales. There is a lot of borrowing going on between these genres, including the educational element. Following in the steps of fairy tales, supernaturalism is often far from the main message of the story. In reality…

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverMagic is often a tool to get us from a to b. A very beautiful, interesting tool- but a tool nonetheless. That’s why, there really is nothing wrong with the *because it’s magic* explanation. I know, I know, that’s an extremely unpopular opinion in the fantasy world and I will probably have my fantasy fangirl status revoked for saying it, but hear me out. The truth is, no matter how far you get under the skin of any given magic system, the answer at some point will always be *because it’s magic*. Most of the time, we see an elaborate system on the surface and do not question why it works. Yes, I know there are some people who are not satisfied with the Harry Potter world building, for all its wonder and intricacies, but really do those people seriously think that diverting the plot for a “scientific” explanation of witchcraft and wizardry would have made those books better? (I will stupefy! anyone whose answer is yes to that) We have the surface details and that’s all we need!

the martianAt the end of the day scientific discussions mean nothing to me. Yeahhh in case it isn’t obvious I am not a scientist and the mechanics of how things work rarely holds my attention. I did love the Martian, but that was in spite of the explanations (where, let’s be honest, my attention glazed over) not because of them. So if an author is going to go into a huge amount of detail about how their world works, it’s not going to light my fire, in fact…

The_Eye_of_the_World_UKI find overlong explanations or infodumps boring. There I said it. If a book goes on a long tangent explaining something *made up* to me that I really don’t need to know, I’m gonna get bored fast. Everyone that’s read my review of Eye of the World can’t be surprised by this- cos that’s the perfect example of exposition getting out of hand (no Robert Jordan, I don’t care if you came up with a really interesting backstory to some backwater village, if it’s not plot relevant now, I don’t need 5 pages of explanation).

question mark bookAnd finally… it would make me a hypocrite. Okay, so I don’t normally refer to my own writing, but I hope you don’t mind my self-indulgence here, cos it’s relevant. I try to write things I’d like to read- so a lot of the reasons I do not often include explanations is because of a combination of the above (ie it’s not always relevant in the moment, I hate infodumps and I like to borrow from other genres). But to give a more concrete example to how important hidden explanations are, I’m currently working on a trilogy where in book 1 magic is more of a blunt tool (because, bless their little hearts they don’t know any better), book 2 explores some of the costs, and book 3 (which I’ve started working on now) is all about the big reveals. It would fundamentally destroy the setup of the story if I’d just given everything away in book 1.

So those are my reasons for why I don’t get too bogged down with magic systems. I know this will divide readers- and that’s a-okay- different opinions are the spice of life! Let me know which you prefer!