For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.

For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark, sweeping debut fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

“A masterful debut from a must-read new voice in epic fantasy”—Kirkus (starred review) 

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose—to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood—and her world—whole. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. For the Wolf is available now.

Mysterious with its fair share of magic, For the Wolf had a very classic (as in pre-Disney) fairy tale feel to it. While I felt that some elements worked incredibly well, there were a couple of things that distracted me a little. I am pretty sure I’m in the minority on this one, as the things I didn’t really connect with are usually things that draw people into books. I’m funny like that.

Red has known for ages that her entire purpose in life is to be a sacrifice. The beginning of the book shows her both resigned and (a little) relieved. She has a power that has hurt her loved ones in the past which makes her feel like a danger to those she cares about, including her sister, Neve. The relationship Neve and Red have is my absolute favorite thing about For the Wolf. Their love for each other is the catalyst for much that happens, and a huge part of their characters. I loved seeing their relationship affect every choice they made. Their love for each other really is a part of who they are.

The beginning felt slow to me. I struggled to become interested in the plot because it was originally explained in-between scenes of Red getting ready for a party in honor of her sacrifice. I would start to become invested in the story arc, then get distracted by the details the author gave. It just wasn’t my bag. I doubt my reaction will be shared by many readers in this case, but it was a little off-putting.

Once Red got to the forest, things picked up and moved along quickly. Neve is determined to save Red, no matter the cost. Red is determined to fulfill her role and protect others, no matter the cost. This is an interesting conglomeration of multiple fairy tales, woven together into something new. I have to give the author major points for creativity: she tied several disparate plots together into something very different.

Here’s where those who have read my blog for a while know I lost interest: the love story. It wasn’t overbearing or anything like that, I’m just not big on love stories taking front and center in a book. As far as love stories go, it was a good one, I guess. It’s just not my thing. This is absolutely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. I was definitely the wrong reader.

The book itself is well written and fans of fairy tale retellings that lean in a romance direction will love it. While For the Wolf wasn’t necessarily what I look for in a book, it is an excellent addition to the fantasy-romance subgenre, one that I think will be loved by many.

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic in Fantasy- Magic ex Libris

Over the last week, I’ve been focusing on magic in fantasy. I am in no way an expert, just an appreciative fantasy fan. I have been fortunate in that many amazing authors and bloggers have been generous with their time and have talked about some great examples of magic in fantasy.

Today, Beth from Before We Go Blog makes a compelling case for moving Jim C. Hine’s Magic ex Libris series to the top of the never ending to be read pile.

Before We Go Blog:

As a huge lover of fantasy novels, I have read about a magic system or two. There are some that stick out that have been extraordinary in one way or another. 

One often mentioned is the magic of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. He created the magic called allomancy, where the ingestion of certain metals gives the user certain powers. How much metal is consumed, and who consumed them, and whether they can be digested is where things get interesting. Not everyone can walk up to an ingot of silver, chow down, and hope to digest it. The powers are all different with different combinations of things. It gets fascinating, and the possibilities are endless. It is an excellent example of the creativity that magic systems can have. However, it is not as cool as Jim C. Hines’s series, Magic ex Libris. 

“…bookstores, libraries… they’re the closest thing I have to a church.” 


It is essential to call out again; I am a big reader. I love escaping into books, literally escaping into new worlds. But what if, instead of escaping into a world, I can pull something from stories into reality? It seems like the ultimate expression of power. For example, I am battling a foe. We are sizing each other up as foes are want to do. This person has really pissed me off by eating my favorite silver necklace. Grabbed it right off my neck and started swallowing it. “You wanna battle do you? I liked that necklace.” We happen to be battling in a library. Don’t laugh; lots of rough people go to libraries. I reach into Harry Potter and grab harry’s wand from inside of the book. I use that to whip up a wind vortex, then I grab Peter Bentley’s Jaws off of the shelf, and pull the entire great white shark out of the book and drop it on their head. I am sorry for the whale. Sacrifices need to be made. Don’t worry, I know my foe is still chewing a piece of silver and wouldn’t notice the giant shark that I lofted them. 

Two libriomancers had been disciplined for trying to get an early copy of the last Harry Potter book.”

Or maybe I am feeling sassy and grab Moby Dick instead of Jaws, and I drop a whale on them. Oops, darn it. I grabbed the wrong book. This whale said, “Oh no, not again.” Before falling from a great height, followed by a very confused flower pot. Same effect. I have the power and the entirety of literature to pull from, and right now, I am just working with aquatic animals. Maybe, they would like a kracken instead? There are plenty of those in literature. 

All I am saying is they can go ahead and eat their piece of metal. I’ll throw a shark at them, followed by a whale, then another whale, and a flowerpot. Don’t get me started on movie adaptions, Sharknado anyone? Then I will pull the tea and the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland and have a nice lunch. 

Obviously, there is some plotting that Hines does around this brilliant magic system. It isn’t all fun. Pulling whales from books does take some work. But I love that at its core, this magic system speaks to lovers of reading. It feels like being a well-read person is rewarded with the ability to do magic, and that is amazing. That is pretty much living the dream, reading a book, taking knowledge from the book, and becoming a badass. This is why Magic ex Libris is my favorite system, and I recommend it to anyone who is a big reader. Where else would trivial knowledge of JawsMoby Dick, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy come into use all at once?!  

About the blogger:

Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: instagram.com/elizabethtabler https://beforewegoblog.com/ https://www.pinterest.com/scottveg3/ https://www.goodreads.com/Scottveg3 https://twitter.com/BethTabler

More From this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic for Mercenary Kings
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Discworld
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic-Let’s Talk Mistborn
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Fae Magic

From Merlin to Misborn: A Discussion on Magic- Music as Magic

As we continue our discussion on magic in the fantasy genre, I am privileged to welcome author Satyros Phil Brucato. His novel, Red Shoes, focuses on music as magic. Having been moved by music (as most people have been at one time or another), I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Satyros’ magic system is unique and grounded in the idea of music transcending the ordinary and becoming something more, something magical.

The song poured into me, lent me strength. The pounding beat melted into my pulse. Heavy chords filled my muscles, energizing me, throwing each power chord behind each punch, kick and block. My heart beat in time with the music. 

It was glorious. Red Shoes, by Satyros Phil Brucato

Music, fantasy, and magic. All three have been vital elements of my life since childhood, and so they’re vital elements of my writing, too. In my forthcoming novel Red Shoes (Quiet Thunder, Spring, 2021), I combined those elements into a tale of love, loss, abuse, revenge, and eventual recovery. Genét Shilling, a young bellydancer, sees her friend Blue burn to death on stage. As she traces the cause behind Blue’s death, Genét learns that our “reality” fluctuates in strange and sometimes awful ways. Sound, she discovers, manifests throughout creation. Everything is composed of sublime frequencies, and folks who understand that fact can manipulate time, physics, vital energies, and the nature of reality itself. Few people, thankfully, know how to manipulate sound with such potency. Those who can do so, however, command uncanny powers…

“How so, Meghan? And what sort of ‘powers,’ exactly?”

“Well,” she said, settling into the role of my mystic advocate, “the theory is that everything that exists came from a primal cosmic sound. You know that whole om thing people do in yoga class?” 

I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Go on.” 

“That’s supposed to be an echo of the cosmic sound – the Om, like the real one. The universe is supposed to be the echoes and refractions of that sound, running throughout the universe in infinite frequencies. If you tap into those frequencies, you can change the laws of physics and manifest things that science says are impossible.” 

“This is a weird-ass conversation, Meg,” I said, trying to joke off the eerie crawl up the back of my neck. “You sure we’re not dreaming right now?” 

“If we are,” she said with a flatness that turned that crawl into a full-force shudder, “then it’s a dream I’ve been living for most of my life.” 

There’s so much that even best friends don’t know about each other.

Genét’s best friend, Meghan, learned this stuff the hard way. During a mysterious event in high school (the subject of my next novel, Black Swan Blues), Meghan tapped into those powers by accident. Thankfully, she wound up being trained by people who understand those principles. In Red Shoes, Meghan and Genét call some of those friends in to help sort out the mess behind the burning girl’s demise. Time shifts. Blood flows. Secrets break wide open. All lives change. Some lives end.

For my approach to magic in Red Shoes and Black Swan Blues, I drew upon Vedic and Pythagorean metaphysics, combined with my own experience as a musician, dancer, DJ, and lifelong music fan. Sound, from this perspective has both physical and metaphysical effects. The physical ones are obvious: vibrations that arouse, excite, and occasionally harm living organisms and inanimate materials alike. On a metaphysical level, such vibrations shift emotions, inspire passions, and potentially connect us – for better and worse – with cosmic powers we barely understand. The idea for Blue’s death came from legends of the Dikpa Raga: a song that supposedly burns the singer alive with heat so intense it can evaporate a riverbed. I combined that idea with alchemical principles of transformative vibration and that weird time-dilation sense you get when you’re listening to great (or terrible) music or enjoying (or enduring) a great (or terrible) concert. Adding in the ups and downs of music culture and the people who create it, I wrote an urban faerie tale rooted in real-life experience and my own perceptions of this world. I’ve explored those ideas in my other work as well, especially Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and several short stories collected in my book Valhalla with a Twist of Lethe. The title track of that collection features the Norse thunder god attempting to become a rock star, realizing that the essence of human creativity flows from the uncertainties of mortal life. That interplay between sublime vibrations and earthy passions fascinates me. Although my real-life musical pursuits come nowhere near the powers manifesting in my fiction, I’ve experienced enough of such powers in my life, channeled through artists far more talented than I am, to know that while I exaggerate such magic in my fiction, the essence of that magic is real.

Red Shoes should be available for preorder this June, in print, digital and audio editions, from Quiet Thunder Productions. Ivy Tara Blair reads the audiobook edition, and she’s done a marvelous job.

About the author:

Satyros Phil Brucato is known best for his work with Mage: The Ascension, Strowlers, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and various fiction and nonfiction projects spanning dozens of anthologies, magazines, games, comics, and other media. An occasional musician and outspoken political activist, Satyr lives in Seattle with his spouse Sandra Swan, two cats, and an endless supply of rage.

For an ongoing essay on this subject, expanded from an article I published in Realms of Fantasy magazine, check out the “Mystic Rhythms” series on my blog: 

Satyros Phil Brucato on wordpress: Mystic Rhythms: Music, Magic & History (Part I) | Satyros Phil Brucato (wordpress.com)

For my now-disbanded mystic rock group Telesterion, see our page on Bandcamp:

Telestrion

For some of my other books on this subject, check out:


Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy: Rock ‘n’ roll roleplay (1)

Valhalla with a Twist of Lethe, and Other Strange Tales

Tritone: Tales of Musical Weirdness


For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic in the Copper Circle
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic for Mercenary Kings
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Discworld

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Weather Warden

This week Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub is being joined by a great group of bookbloggers and authors, discussing magic systems in fantasy books. This is such a huge subject and there are so many books with killer magic systems!

Author Rachel Caine has created some incredibly distinctive magic systems in her books. Tabitha from the excellent blog, Behind the Pages, has offered to talk a little about the magic system in Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series.

Tabitha:

When I found out Jodie over at Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub was doing a project based on magic systems I had to join in! Unique magic systems are a key element to the fantasy books I truly enjoy. While characters certainly play a large part in what I love, I need the magic system to be a worthy component as well. Today we’ll take a look at the magic in the urban fantasy Weather Warden Series by Rachel Caine.

Little do people know, there is an organization of magic users taming the wildest of Earth’s natural disasters. The Wardens Association is made up of people who have abilities to manipulate fire, earth, and the weather. But the magic they use has to be executed carefully, or the disasters they try to quell can become phenomenally worse. All those natural disasters that have happened at devastating proportions? Someone made a mistake and manipulated the wrong molecule.

The magic in the Weather Warden series leans more towards a soft magic system. While it’s based on science, manipulating molecules, and meteorology, there are fantastical elements as well. Each warden generally possesses one of the three abilities. Those who possess more than one are rare and often more powerful than the wardens who possess only one. If you possess more than one, chances are you’ll have a target on your back as well. The Wardens Association doesn’t like what it can’t control and views people with too much power the same way it views a devastating storm. They need to destroy them before they can no longer be contained.

As long as you fly below their power radar, the Wardens Association will take you in and educate you on taming the Earth. Unless of course, you can’t even control your singular power. They will magically neuter you if you prove inept. Most likely this will turn you into a babbling incoherent person they then put into a hospital to live out the rest of their lives.

But what happens when the Earth throws a particularly nasty disaster that even the combined power of the wardens can’t handle? Well, that’s where the Djinn come in. Djinn are creatures of fire that are manipulative and spiteful. Though I can’t say I blame them, as most people who encounter a free Djinn try to immediately bind them into servitude. 

The Wardens Association keeps Djinn trapped in bottles to help amplify their own power when needed. The Djinn are little more than slaves to most. Tools to be used then stuffed away, even though they have thoughts, feelings, and emotions just like any other person. And those wardens who show they will play nice with others, rise up in the ranks of the association and earn themselves their own slave to use.

It’s a twisted world and oftentimes the main character, Joanne, battles with what is morally right and wrong. As much as the wardens help people by taming the Earth, they can be pretty corrupt. But it isn’t just the wardens you have to watch out for. Sometimes, natural disasters are caused by demons trying to enter our world.

What is your immediate thought when you think of demons? It’s probably something along the lines of what traditional stories paint them as. Horns, pitchforks, nasty creatures that are some combination of human and animal. In the Weather Warden series, demons are like a parasite. They leech onto wardens, draining their power from the inside out. Sometimes the victim doesn’t even know it until it’s too late. And as the demon leeches a person’s power, it also begins to corrupt their very being. Turning them violent and unpredictable. 

The problem is with demons, they won’t leave a powerful magical host. They sit and squirm, growing until they can no longer be contained by the body they’ve taken over. To say letting a demon fully manifest is a disaster would be putting it mildly. The amount of magic and power released by a demon is catastrophic and just about the world ending.

I love the Weather Warden series. The use of magic is so original and refreshing. The way Joanna can manipulate the molecules around her and change the atmosphere is fantastic. Not to mention the constant twists and turns that are thrown throughout the series as the use of magic by the main character evolves. It is definitely one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And I highly encourage you to give it a try!

About the blogger: Hello everyone! My name is Tabitha and I run a review blog called Behind the Pages. It’s my little corner of the internet where I geek out about books. I’m an avid fantasy reader, but dabble in other genres from time to time. Book blogging has allowed me to connect with so many other people who love reading as much as I do. I hope you enjoy this snippet of my bookish thoughts!

Find Behind the Pages on her blog: Behind the Pages

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy

When I think of interesting magic systems, the Coldfire trilogy by C.S. Friedman comes to mind. This never ceases to amuse me, since this is one of the few series I’ve read that seems to truly float freely between the fantasy and sci-fi genre (seeing the two genres smushed indiscriminately together as one is a pet peeve of mine), weaving the best from both genres into something alien and fantastical.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve reread the series, it’s one that stands out to me because of the creativity in the author’s use of magic. Well, that, and the character of Gerald Tarrant, who is both terrifying and fascinating in pretty equal measure.

The magic in the Coldfire trilogy stands out to me because of its origin. It’s an innate force in the world. The story itself takes place on Erna, a planet that was colonized by humans over a thousand years before the events in the book. Erna is covered by a sort of energy known as the Fae. This energy interacts with humans in ways that were unexpected: it gives life to dreams, and form to nightmares. These nightmares aren’t just illusion, though: they can cause pain and even kill.

The Fae sort of works against humanity in the way that humans are affected. However, there are some who can work with the Fae and mold it, so to speak. What I find interesting about magic in this world is that it isn’t necessarily anathema to those of religion, but it gives the characters a way to explore their faith, their morality and, ultimately, their very humanity. The magic- or natural force- in the Coldfire trilogy is what stirs the plot and gives the characters their motivation.

C.S. Friedman obviously put a lot of thought into how her magic works. There are multiple types of Fae, each with its own slight differences. There is Tide Fae, its power ebbing and flowing with the tides. It is mainly used by a race known as the rakh. Then, there’s Earth Fae, which is what is mainly used by sorcerers and adepts. Solar Fae is the third kind of Fae. This is too powerful to really be used, although a group of church adepts used it to create powerful weapons at one point. Finally, there’s the Dark Fae. Used only by the Hunter (which I will not spoil here), it is only matched in power by the Solar Fae. I personally think the Dark Fae is most interesting because of the way it can be used. It’s a bit grim and utterly fascinating. It is basically a reflection of the worst in humanity and it is incredibly powerful.

The Fae in the Coldfire trilogy is really nothing like the fae of mythology other than in the wild, untamed quality it has. I love how everything in the world is affected by it in some way.

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic in the Copper Circle

About the Blogger:

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub: Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog and a contributor to Grimdark Magazine. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”.

Find her online at :
Blog: https://wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic

Banner Credit: Sue Bavey

I’m so excited to spend a week discussing magic in fantasy books! A creative and epic magic system is always a huge draw to me when it comes to fantasy. While some magic isn’t necessarily fully explained, (which is absolutely fine) other novels have unique and complex systems. This week is going to explore some of those books.

Due to either time constraints or inexperience with a specific book (I haven’t read every fantasy that’s ever been written, to my obvious consternation), there will of course be holes in this series. There will be books that maybe aren’t discussed that you feel ought to be. Please mention them in the comments: I’m a glutton for punishment and love seeing my already-teetering tbr list grow ever longer.

Fortunately for me, there will be far far less holes because both bookbloggers and authors have offered to give their time and talents to this little project! There will be more books mentioned and explained by bloggers, as well as some amazing introductions to unique magic systems by their authors. Stay tuned because this week is going to be great!

To start things off, author M.D. Presley has an excellent breakdown of different kinds of magic that can be found in fantasy novels. Among other books, M.S. Presley is the author of Worldbuilding for Fantasy Fans and Authors, a guide on fantasy worldbuilding. Enjoy!


M.D. Presely: Magic systems are a lot like worldbuilding in that we frequently discuss what we like about them, but we don’t have a shared understanding as to what makes a good magic system. Brandon Sanderson has laid the foundation with his three (secretly four) laws of magic, but few outside of serious worldbuilders can quote them beyond the first, which differentiates between hard and soft magic systems. So then, what makes a great magic system?

The short answer: The right kind of magic for the story you’re trying to tell. 

Like worldbuilding, magic systems run the gamut for the highly mysterious soft systems to hard ones exacting enough to make computer programmers blanch, whereas most reside somewhere in the middle. However, while working on my upcoming Fantasy Worldbuilding Workbook, I noticed there’s a progression of magic systems. And these four types just so happen to align with Sanderson’s laws of magic as well as the Four Cs of Worldbuilding. Each of these types builds off of the ones that came before, such that Point Systems include all the facets of Soft Systems, while Level Systems include the aspects of Point and Soft, and Cost Systems include them all. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the A.A.L.C. system:

Appearance: Soft Systems

Soft systems focus mostly on what the magic looks like in the story and serve to either make the world more fantastical, make the villains more powerful (and the heroes greater underdogs), or attach to the protagonists in such a way that they must overcome the mysterious magic through a character arc. Because of Sanderson’s first law, these soft magics cannot step in to solve the main conflict of the story without feeling like dues ex machina. So they make the world more awesome in the fact they inspire awe, which is Sanderson’s secret fourth law as well as the C of Compelling. 

Abilities: Point Systems

Point systems follow the classic video game model with a certain amount of fuel (mana) that can be exchanged for varying abilities, with the understanding that the fuel is finite and the characters must make choices as to which abilities to use. And when the fuel is overtly referenced like in video games, this is the hardest of magic systems and can solve the main conflicts since the audience understands the rules (Sanderson’s first law). However, most stories only make oblique reference to how drained the characters are after using their powers, which softens the system considerably. Because the mana levels are not overt, it still feels like dues ex machina when the exhausted heroes find their hidden reserve in the finale. But Point Systems can employ a cost when dramatically necessary to make it more satisfactory. Because the powers are worked out ahead of time, this maps to the C of Consistent.

Limits: Level Systems

Sanderson’s second law states that Limitations > Powers since audiences want to see how characters creatively use their limited abilities rather than gaining godlike powers. As such, leveling systems have clearly defined parameters of what the characters can and cannot do at each stage of their development. Without the need for a point system, the characters have unlimited use of their powers established within their levels, which includes Airbender, Harry Potter, and the Jedi in Star Wars. Because they have unlimited uses of their abilities, characters in level systems usually face down villains of a higher level, and have to come up with clever uses of their lesser, limited abilities to overcome them, thus demonstrated the C of Creativity.

Cost: Cost Systems

The best things in life may be free, but everything else has a cost; so it makes sense that magic would too. And authors have unconsciously been using cost systems for centuries to make magical effects feel earned. In so doing, the magic suddenly has implications, which forces choices and dilemma among the characters. Cost systems create drama because the characters know they must either give up time, valuable materials, their health, sanity, or even life, to use their magic. Cost systems can either be overt from the onset, or can (and often are) tacked on to Soft, Point, or Level Systems when dramatically necessary, meaning that systems can move up the hardness scale at will (although it’s ill-advised to ever go the other way). Cost systems map to Sanderson’s third law in that they extrapolate further on the magic, which in turn makes the magic more Complete. 

These four types then break into 13 different subtypes, with more than one showing up in some of the most popular systems like Harry Potter and Airbender. In fact, the Force in Star Wars has been a Soft, Point, Level, and Cost System depending on who is writing it over the years. Which should demonstrate all the effort that goes into making an inspired magic system and the importance of finding the one that works best for you. 

About the author:

Never passing up the opportunity to speak about himself in the third person, M.D. Presley is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. Born and raised in Texas, he spent several years on the East Coast and now waits for the West Coast to shake him loose. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night.

Where to find M.D. Presley: https://www.mdpresley.com/


For more posts in this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic in the Copper Circle
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic for Mercenary Kings
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians

The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards

Welcome to the Justice Academy – the galaxy’s best superhero college! Teen grifter Grey arrives at the school carrying a lie: he isn’t really tech heir Mirabor Gravane. At the first opportunity Grey plans to leave the Academy. That is until he makes the mistake of starting to like his fellow students. The Justice Academy promises to “equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs” and Grey is beginning to believe the hype. But as he takes more risks to protect his secret, events spiral out of his control. When the real Gravane is kidnapped, Grey and his new friends must come together to mount a rescue and defend a city from an attack by hostile super-powered aliens. If he is to succeed, or even survive, Grey must decide who he is, and does he want to be a superhero? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Ascension Machine is available now.

Found family? Check. A unique world? Check. A main character who is incredibly likable? Double check. The Ascension Machine is a fun, creative adventure with surprises galore.

Grey (what is his real name?) is a con-man. Well, a con-teen, anyway. He flits from planet to planet, making it on what he can steal or cheat from others. He’s directionless and lonely, although he won’t admit it. He’s also short on funds. So when he’s approached with a high paying offer- impersonate a wealthy teen named Mirabor Gravane- he doesn’t hesitate. Imagine Grey’s surprise when his mistaken identity lands him in a school for superheroes.

One thing that I really appreciated about Grey was that, deep down, he was a genuinely good kid. Sure, he conned an entire school full of people (and aliens) into believing he’s someone he’s not, but he never intended to hurt anyone and he took advantage of every opportunity he had to be helpful, even at risk to his life expectancy. I loved his story arc. It was never stagnant, and he was never demoted to plot device. Instead, he grew and changed in a way that made perfect sense for his personality and the story.

A book like this needs a great supporting cast, and we’ve got one. While there are several side characters, each very important to the plot, I have two favorites. Gadget Dude had the interesting superpower of being great at creating all kinds of gadgetry-but he sometimes seemed a bit unclear as to what he was creating, or how it actually worked. For me, though, Seventhirtyfour stole the show. His size (and four arms) were only eclipsed by his giant heart and his loyalty. He was always enthusiastic and threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever he was doing, whether it be schoolwork, or taking on a mob racket. I absolutely loved him.

The hijinks the characters got up to were a lot of fun. While the final confrontation was fantastic, I loved the inventive problem-solving involved in earlier escapades. Grey’s talents weren’t necessarily what most people think of when they hear “superhero”, which made him that much more interesting. Plus, they came in very handy on multiple occasions.

There was a bit of a mystery as part of the plotline, which was a lot of fun. I know my oldest will have a great time solving the puzzle alongside the characters. There was also action and adventure aplenty. The action was well-described, and the stakes were high without the book being too gory for its intended audience. The Ascension Machine is intended for the middle-grade/teen age range, I believe, but it’s a ton of fun for any age group. I fully enjoyed reading it and am hopeful that a sequel will be coming.

Dragonlance Week: The D&D Connection

As with other successful fantasy series, the best example being Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance has strong ties to Dungeons and Dragons. The original novels were written to tie into several D&D Campaign modules, after all. In fact, in the original Dragonlance D&D modules players would choose one of the characters from the novels to play, as opposed to creating their own.

Eventually, Dragonlance stopped being made into gaming modules. The novels continued to be written, however, and the world expanded. New characters, ages, and storylines continue to be introduced. That sense of inclusion though, the one that draws a person into table top role playing games, continues in the novels. At the moment, you can find Dragonlance source books in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons edition, and the 3.5 edition, although Dragonlance characters often make appearances in other D&D editions (the most recent edition is 5th). I am hopeful that Dragonlance will play a larger role in any new D&D editions. That would be amazing

If you have never played Dungeons and Dragons, I suggest you give it a go. It gets a bum rap, I’m assuming because it involves “playing pretend”, but who says we have to stop using our imaginations once we become adults? Readers use our imaginations every time we open a book.

I was fortunate to join Behind the Pages, Fantasy Book Nerd, and Sue Bavey on a Dragonlance Advanced Dungeons and Dragons gaming session, run by author and Youtuber Rob Edwards. Check it out below (and please ignore the fact that I am a singularly unconvincing Tanis).

Let’s Play Dragonlance: First Edition AD&D Gameplay

Interview With a Middle-School Reader: Spring 2021

My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.

Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:

Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate — and find a way to save their world in their own way. (taken from Amazon)

“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.

I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

The disturbing Mr. Hyde is making his repugnant presence known in late 19th Century London. But punishment for his vile acts are always parried by the good, and well-respected, Dr. Jekyll. Soon, the secret relationship between the two men will be revealed. (taken from Amazon)

“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

With a lonely boy named Ben on board, the brave young dragon Firedrake sets out on a magical journey to find the mythical place where silver dragons can live in peace forever. Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage — and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home. (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people. (taken from Amazon)

“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”

Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.

Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan

Wind-voice the half-dove, formerly enslaved, is now free, and Maldeor, the one-winged archaeopteryx, hungers for supreme power.
Can Wind-voice and his valiant companions—Ewingerale, the wood-pecker scribe; Stormac, the myna warrior; and Fleydur, the musician eagle—save the future of their world? (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”

Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles

Twelve-year-old Ash waves goodbye to her miserable life as a traveling circus stablehand when she and her feisty bird, Flynn, are whisked away to the Academy of Beasts and Magic: a school where wealthy children train unicorns, manticores, and scarf-wearing ice dragons. The downside to owning such a highly magical beast? Everyone wants him. When a mysterious sorcerer suggests the Academy may have dark intentions, Ash realizes her tiny bird might be the key to saving Cascadia…or destroying it. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”

There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?

The City that Barks and Roars by J.T. Bird

Animals rule the world

They hit cafes for breakfast then nine to five at the office, and fritter away evenings at jazz clubs.

But paradise is still a distant dream, for there are devils amongst the angels.

Lucas Panda is missing; clues on the riverbank suggest he was probably kidnapped. Enter Frank. Who else you gonna call? Hard-boiled penguin and the finest detective in town. And meet his new partner, Detective Chico Monkey – yeah, the wisecrackin’ kid with all the snappy suits. But the stakes have been raised; three more creatures are missing and the citizens of Noah’s Kingdom are faced with possible extinction. Can the grouchy bird and plucky young ape save the city from doom? Or, will evil prevail and escape the claws of justice? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Man, this place has gone to the dogs! Okay, okay, I couldn’t help myself. But in this zoo-meets-noir, the joke is mildly appropriate.

The story of The City that Barks and Roars has been told before, many times. You have a a detective that goes missing, and it’s up to his grizzled, cantankerous partner to solve the crime. In this case, the missing detective is named Lucas Panda (what with him being a panda and all). The grumpy partner? King Penguin Frank. Add his new fresh-faced partner, Charlie Monkey, and you’ve got the bare bones of many a detective tale. However, in this case, it’s a detective tail. Badum-tish! (I’ll be here all week folks.)

Now, the fact that the plot isn’t anything new and original does not detract from the story. Rather, it adds to it: we all know which beats to expect, but there’s a twist of the furry variety. It highlights the fun the author had writing The City that Barks and Roars. Think Zootopia for adults.

The mystery was clever, but the book ended up falling a bit flat for me. The characters, other than being animals, did not really have much in the way of development. However, The City that Barks and Roars is a shorter tale, so that could be the issue right there.

Where the author shone was in the descriptions, leaving me thinking that perhaps this story would be better in a different medium. As a TV show or movie, perhaps. The City that Barks and Roars was full of quippy humor, some of which landed, and some that didn’t.

At this point, I’m afraid my review seems to be entirely negative. I truly don’t mean it that way. The City that Barks and Roars was an entertaining tale. It’s wasn’t incredible, but it was fun. I think people who read the detective genre will appreciate what the author did here more than I did, simply because they’ll have more experience with the genre.