For Wyrd and Wonder this week, I decided to do a Top Five Tuesday of my own devising. We all know that a key element of many fantasy books is the magic that inhabits the world. Sometimes the magic is calculated and precise, with every use having a cost, or maybe requiring a precise set of words to be invoked or certain objects to be combined. Other times, authors favor a more ephemeral kind of magic, one that isn’t really defined, that comes more from feelings and intuition than from logic. Today, I’m celebrating my favorite magic systems, ranging across the spectrum of hard to soft rules. So let’s begin!
If these systems strike your fancy, but you haven’t read the book, the covers link to Goodreads!
Allomancy – MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson
This might be my my favorite magic system. Part of that is that many aspects of it are used in a kinetic fashion, resulting in some truly epic fight sequences across rooftops, with objects hurled and repelled and people bounding through the air. But at the same time, this is a magic system that is contained, where everything exists in balance and according to a tight set of rules. The foundation is thus: there are eight known Metals that power magic in the world. If you’re lucky and born as an Allomancer, you have an affinity for a single metal. Ingest it, and you can wield one power for as long as it takes to “burn” (consume) the metal. More metal=longer burns (though you can’t just carry around metal in your gut all day – you’ll fall prey to the natural kind of poisoning that results from, say, swallowing a bunch of copper). If you’re INCREDIBLY lucky, you are Mistborn, meaning you can use all eight metals. All metals have their opposites. One metal to Push objects, one to Pull. One to sense Allomancers and one to hide the use of Allomancy from that detection. Every piece follows in a logical order and it makes such perfect sense it pleases me immensely.
Technique – NEVER DIE by Rob J. Hayes
Switching from hard and fast rules to a much more undefinable kind of magic, I absolutely loved the light magic system of NEVER DIE. This world very much evokes wuxia-style marital arts films, where the world is grounded but tips juuuuust into fantasy, especially when it comes to fighting. In this case, the celebrated warriors of the land each have their one “technique” – a fighting move they have mastered that is theirs and theirs alone, something that usually inspires the moniker they go by. The Emerald Breeze, for instance, can disappear and reappear somewhere nearby at will, leaving behind a trail of petals on the wind. Iron Gut Chen can harden his skin, rendering it impervious to all blades and bullets. These powers are never explained and don’t always have a particular logic to how they are developed, but it fits in so well with the tone of the world that it ended up resonating with me.
Barter – SEVEN BLADES IN BLACK by Sam Sykes
Here is a world where the magic is bound by cost. People’s magical abilities come in all shapes and forms, but they are all subject to Barter. The Lady Merchant, as the goddess of magic is called, demands an exchange for the power you wield, a cost that is directly tied into the kind of magic you use, and how often you use it. Shape-shifters for instance, find that over time, their true facial features gradually begin smoothing out, until eventually their faces are unrecognizable blank slates. Doormages can create portals, but they begin to lose feeling in their bodies, until eventually they become paralyzed. The more often you use your abilities, the more aggressively the negative effects consume your body. Unless you’re a Prodigy, that is. These incredibly rare gifted people can use magic without any cost whatsoever – and because of that, they are considered the most dangerous of all.
Scriving – FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett
Magic in the world of Foundryside is not something a person just casually tosses around at will. It comes from taking the magical language of the ancient race of hierophants, and inscribing it onto objects. When an object is “scrived” the language “convinces” an object of a certain reality. It can convince a door that it is impossible to open between midnight and 8am. It can tell a wheel that instead of being on a flat surface, it is rolling down a steep hill, so really it should be spinning at a particular speed. You have to be incredibly precise with the runes you use, for messing up the language can cause an object to behave in unintended fashion, with disastrous results – if it ends up doing anything at all. In essence, Robert Bennett created a magic form of computer coding, and I am all here for it! Especially because, as you might expect with a form of magic that resembles coding, there is a way to break the magic that is akin to hacking. There is a key that everyone in the city wants to control, one that allows the one who wields it to interact with an object and find the loopholes in its commands. “So door, you’ve are unable to open between midnight and 8am? And opening is defined by swinging outwards? In that case, could you please swing inwards? Thanks!” It’s a magic that results in a battle of wits, one of my favorite kinds of battles.
Jade – JADE CITY by Fonda Lee
Lastly, let’s hear it for the simple yet effective magic system of JADE CITY. On the island of Kekon, a section of the population are able to tab into the aura emitted by jade, and use that to power certain abilities, from enhanced strength to heightened senses, to the ability to lash out with a concussive force. These Green Bones, as they are called, have to carry the jade on their person in order to harness the power, resulting in them being decked out in necklaces and earrings of jade or crafting weaponry that puts jade in the hilt. Collecting the jade off the body of a Green Bone warrior you have killed is a matter of honor – the more jade you have, the more powerful your abilities, assuming your body is able to handle the load. Too much jade can result in mood swings and physical harm to the body. Thus, there’s a constant struggle of jade as a symbol of your own power and the enemies you have defeated, and the very real reality that by trying to prove your power, you could drive yourself to insanity or worse.
These are some of my favorite recent magic systems – what are yours?