My absolute Achilles heel in fantasy reading are magic systems. The rules, the magic, the spectacle, the power…..man I love a good magic system. Throughout my reading I have come across a variety of different ones, some staying closer to more traditional elemental roots of fire, earth, water and air, putting their own spin on them; others inventing their own ideas with a source of power at it’s centre and others being more theoretical, creating diagrams and connections in order to form the magic. I thought within this post I would collect some of my favourites, each following one of these paths within their novels.
One of my first tastes of magic with fantasy was at the hands of Benedict Jacka. Within the Verus set of novels, which I absolutely love, they follow the traditional four key elements within it’s magic system. The magic users within the books all have an element which their magic falls into, but expanding it beyond the range of the originals, including time, space and life magic, along with many others. Each magic users then has a range of abilities linked within their element, whether they be for attack, defence or utility based spells. An great example of this magic system would be the main character Alex Verus. His affinity is within divination, being able to see the future. The author does a terrific job of explaining how his powers work, demonstrating his abilities to see the multiple paths within the future he can follow, using it to sense danger, direct his muscles and movement or to decide the best option. The author also does a great job to highlight its limitations, grounding the magic system, never allowing anyone to feel too perfect. The rules are very soft, but this magic system benefits from the imaginative and openness, not limited by strict rules. The other aspect of the magic system, is when it takes advantage of what are known as adepts. People who are only able to use one specific spell, adding layers within the world and opening the story for some interesting uses of magic.
The next magic system I wanted to mention, and I know that this is a favourite of fantasy book lovers, is Mistborn series of novels. Brandon Sanderson is an absolute master of creating magic systems within books, and this is by far one of he best defined within any novel. The magic system within these novels is known as Allomancy, being able to ingest metals in order to gain certain buffs. For example, if you ingested steel, you are granted the ability to push an object. Within the world they are known as Coinshots, because it is common for them to carry coins with them to shoot at high speeds towards your enemy. Now each metal has a counter alloy, the opposite to steel being iron. Ingesting iron allows the user to pull objects towards themselves, as long as they are lighter than themselves. The system follows specific rules, doing a brilliant job throughout the novels following these rules, there is nothing worse than a book breaking their own rules set. The rules within these novels allow the reader to imagine themselves within the world, making the whole novel feel more real. The rule in which grounds the system the most, is the time limit of ones power. The more metal ingested grants the user more time with their buff, and only certain individuals can safety ingest and gain these buffs. This allows the powers within he novel to keep controlled, not allowing it to turn into a competition of who can be the most destructive.
Taking a slightly different turn, but a magic system reinforced by strict rules, is the light based magic found within the Light-bringer series by Brent Weeks. Next to the Allomancy system, I think this is the most in-depth magic system I have read about to date. The magic system within this series is based around the light spectrum, giving each colour of light specific properties, such as Blue light being very smooth yet brittle, which can become sharp and used as weaponry. Whereas the the more less obvious parts of he light spectrum such as Paryl, can’t be used by many and is saved for the more delicate art of assassination. Weeks does a fantastic job keeping to the rules he creates, and slowly introducing a further set of colours within and new abilities, but always keeping to the rules. I also loved how there was a risk in place for the light users, over use of their abilities would cause them to eventually lose their minds, which added the interesting question, especially during times of conflict; do you fight and risk losing everything or retire, saving yourself but ricking your people.
This next book is another Sanderson title, but who can blame me right…… and I know strictly speaking it doesn’t contain a magic system technically, however the spin on superheroes follows a set of rules similar to an actual magic system. In the Reckoners series, a event known as the Calamity causes random individuals to gain superhero like powers but it comes with a hitch. The newly powered people fail to become your traditional heroes and instead grow in their lust and greed, becoming villains. Those with greater powers sit at the top and those underneath holding lesser abilities, with a crowning superman style bad guy at the top. In these novels it is in fact the normals who are the heroes, having to research each villain, discovering both their powers and single weakness in order to kill them. As with the Allomancy series, Sanderson follows a strict set of rules he follows throughou, even using it to play out interesting plot points and introduce exciting twists to the story.
Let me know your favourite magic system in the comments! I know their are plenty of brilliant magic systems out there, so I will most likely do another discussion post covering others in the future.