This October, T5W is exploring not only the paranormal, but also magic and wizardry in general!
My favorite kind of magic has always been the very weird one without clear rules; I think it’s more fun that way. That’s one of the reasons magical realism and surreal contemporary fantasy are some of my favorite genres. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a well-written magic system – in a fantasy book, I need one. Magical realism, surrealism and related genres can afford not having rules for their magic; the average fantasy does not.
Grishaverse was one of the first fantasy universes I got to know in which I actually liked the magic system. It has well-defined limits, and a cost for those who decide to ignore them – as we see with the abominations that are merzost and jurda parem.
I love how this series blurs the line between magic and science – as you’ll see from this post, it’s one of my favorite traits a magic system can have – as the Grisha’s magic is called “small science” and also studied as such.
I also love reading about factions that are not based on personality traits or bloodlines, and to see how the magical school was organized – the corporalki are healers and killers, the etherealki are elemental magicians, and the materialki are those who work with inanimate objects like metals or chemicals – was one of my favorite aspects of Shadow and Bone.
For a Muse of Fire
I read For a Muse of Fire recently, after not feeling strongly about Heilig’s previous duology (liked the first book, didn’t like the second one, just average overall), and I can now say that a magic system rarely gets better than shadow plays made with possessed puppets.
The main character of this book is able to see and control ghosts. At the beginning of the novel, she uses this power to make shadow plays with stringless puppets, and the result is… a very unusual form of necromancy. I would have liked to know more about the details and limitations of her magic but I really liked the concept.
Book of the Ancestor
The only thing that I don’t like about this magic system is the fact that it’s tied to a character’s bloodline and that’s not a trope I like that much, but apart from that, I love this. My favorite aspect about Red Sister‘s magic system is the visuals. It’s a magic system focused on fighting, and the way marjal (non-path magic) and hunska (supernatural high speed) magic are shown in the fight scenes is one of the reasons I liked this book so much. But the most interesting part is quantal magic. I can’t explain what “the path” is in so little space, but I can say that it is one of the most imaginative aspects of a magic system I’ve ever read.
Anything by Yoon Ha Lee
One of the main reasons I like Lee’s worlds is the way he writes magic. The line between magic and science is always blurred and there’s a lot of fictional math, sometimes even fictional physics. I love all of this, and it’s what I want from science fantasy. In Ninefox Gambit, the magic system is based on calendars and people go to war over them. It’s very weird and I love it. In his collection Conservation of Shadows, you’ll find:
- shadow magic, killer shadows, and shadow mathematicians
- quantum chess warfare
- ancestry-erasing guns
- deadly weapons unfolding from raining origami
- magic able to erase languages + “tactical linguistics”
- myths coming to life from the pages of books, and more
This is one of the best novella series I’ve read because of the worldbuilding, and my favorite aspect of the worldbuilding is the magic system, especially the way it is explored in The Red Threads of Fortune. This is a series about the conflict between magic and science, and the way magic and science come together, and most of the magic is based on threads and five natures (and while I didn’t understand how it worked immediately, I loved the very pretty descriptions of it since the beginning).
What are your favorite magic systems?