I’ve loved tales of the wilder side of faerie legend since I was young. Books such as Good Faeries/Bad Faeries by Brian Froud (who also did the concept art for the amazing movie, The Labyrinth) caught my imagination. Not much has changed in the respect. Give me a mysterious, wild force, and I’m good to go.
E.G. Radcliffe, author of the The Coming of Áed trilogy, has a fae-like magic source in her world. It makes me think of all things wild and mysterious. She’s been kind enough to give a breakdown on magic in her fantasy books.
The Fae magic at work in The Coming of Áed trilogy–and most fully expressed in The Wild Court–is a naturally occurring phenomenon inherent in certain types of life on the non-human side of the veil. Much of it is understated: some mushrooms develop healing potential under the light of a full moon, some minerals possess connective magic that enables all of the rocks in a deposit to glow in unison, etc. Some of this naturally occurring magic occurs at a larger scale, with creatures like the water horse wielding power over certain lakes or rivers, enough to control the water itself and any vessels on the lake’s surface. However, the most powerful magic belongs to the fae.
The fae are inhuman creatures who live across the veil from the inhabitants of the Gut (the home region of the MC). Fae culture is complex and ancient, but from a purely physical standpoint, they are divided into two groups. The Low Fae and High Fae live separately, like mostly staying with like, and there are a number of differences between their magics.
Fae, as a whole, have two very important forms of innate magic. The first is the one most commonly portrayed in the folklore of the world: every faerie is born with the ability to summon fire. The fire of the Low Fae manifests in oranges and reds, reminiscent of a natural woodfire. It is either confined to the faerie’s body, or it can be sent out in a billow. This fire, like any ordinary blaze, causes no harm to other fae. The fire of the High Fae, on the other hand, is uniformly white, more akin to the color of daylight at high noon. High Fae fire has two distinct peculiarities, aside from its hue: firstly, it can burn Low Fae the way ordinary fire burns a human. Secondly, it can be cast into shapes so long as it maintains contact with the wielder–popular uses are as fiery spears or shields.
The second of the fae magics is much less flashy, and much more unnerving: their power over the mind. In most faeries, this power presents itself as the capability to read emotion very accurately. However, some fae have the capacity to cultivate this ability to a higher level. In its most terrifying form, it can be trained into the ability to induce emotion. This can be as straightforward as pulling up painful memories, or as twisted as inciting madness so targeted as to induce specific hallucinations. The latter is often perceived as illusion magic, and it is the extraordinarily rare faerie who is capable of using it. Magic surrounds the fae, generated like body heat; faintly, it permeates even the human realm.
For humans, magic is never inborn. Practicing it requires a concentrated mind and a certain ability to tune into the residues of fae magic, and is therefore highly difficult, mastered only by a few. Human magic, however, is far more flexible than fae magic. While the fae are extremely powerful in two arenas, humans are limited only by their own concentration; wherever they are able to channel the magic, they can use it. After all, it isn’t theirs–a river cannot change its course, but the one who fills a bucket from it can put it to any number of uses.
To channel magic, there are a number of techniques. The most common is by learning a verbal ‘spell.’ The spell itself holds no inherent meaning: it is usually a series of nonsense syllables which, by their sound and shape, help the concentration of the user to flow along certain mental channels. Those channels of concentration are the same channels through which magic will be directed, producing a result. It is not dissimilar to meditation. In fact, a truly powerful magic-user will be able to achieve results without the guidelines of a spell, if their concentration and vision of the spell’s execution are adequately strong. Other techniques include motions (which fulfill a similar purpose to a verbal spell) and drawings (which are most useful when attempting to use magic to build something, like following a blueprint).
Usually, to master magic one must begin as a child. The reason for this is that children tend to be able to channel less magic, and therefore are less likely to hurt themselves in the stage of learning when errors are common. An adult attempting to learn magic for the first time would find that they could call upon too much–they would likely not be able to channel it, and it would slip out of their control, usually with destructive results. Culturally, magic use is seen as something occasionally necessary, but its practitioners are widely regarded with a degree of distrust.
Each character in the series is either a wielder of magic, a victim of it, or a student of it–for better or for worse. They are warriors; they are kings; they are sarcastic teenagers; they are queens, and consorts, and healers, and family.
About the author:
E.G. Radcliff is a part-time pooka and native of the Unseelie Court. She collects acorns, glass beads, and pretty rocks, and the crows outside her house know her as She Who Has Bread. Her fantasy novels are crafted in the dead of night after offering sacrifices of almonds and red wine to the writing-block deities.
You can reach her by scrying bowl, carrier pigeon, or @egradcliff on all major social media platforms.
We’ve been discussing magic systems in fantasy books this week. There are so many different kinds of systems, some a little closer to the “classic” magic system found in earlier books, and others that are completely different.
Today, Sue from the fantastic blog Sue’s Musings, gives a wonderfully laid-out explanation of the magic system in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. You really can’t have a discussion on different magic systems in fantasy without mentioning Sanderson’s incredibly detailed and well-thought out addition to the genre.
In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books there are three types of magic: Allomancy, Ferruchemy and Hemalurgy, with Allomancy being the most prevalent. The thing I like the most about the Allomancy system is that it makes physical sense. It is governed by the laws of physics, if a “pushing” or “pulling” force is applied to something by an Allomancer, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.
Allomancers use metals to enhance their mental and physical capabilities by ingesting them. Allomancers capable of only “burning” (or using) one metal are known as “Mistings”, whereas those who can use multiple metals at once are known as “Mistborn”. There are different types of Misting, named for their capabilities:
Coinshots use steel to “push” on metals in their area. This lets them force metals which weigh less than they do, such as coins, away from themselves at speed to act as a weapon. If a steel object weighs more than the Coinshot, physics will mean that the person is pushed away from the metallic object. A Coinshot is unable to “push” on alluminum or its alloys, so an aluminium bullet can be used to kill a Coinshot.
Lurchers “burn” iron and are able to “pull” on metals that are close by. This lets them pull metallic objects weighing less than they do towards themselves. If an iron object weighs more than the Lurcher they can pull on it to cause themselves to be pulled towards it. A Lurcher cannot feel or pull alluminium or several of its alloys.
Tineyes use Tin, to enhance their senses. Tineyes are often used as lookouts because, when burning Tin, they can see in when there is barely any light. A Tineye can be stunned for a short while by a loud noise or bright light overwhelming their senses while they are burning tin.
Tin also enhances mental capabilities and allows a Tineye, or Mistborn to assess a situation more quickly than non-Tineyes.
Pewterarms or Thugs
When burning Pewter, Pewterarms or Thugs are able to enhance their physical capabilities, allowing them to fight for longer than a normal person, or perform strenuous tasks for longer, since they become much stronger while burning pewter. This increased strength also means they can heal quicker and also have greater balancing skills, speed and dexterity. A “pewter drag” allows a Thug to run for hours at speeds similar to a racehorse. However this drains their body and requires them to continue burning pewter after the run to heal themselves and stop themself from dying of exhaustion. Running out of pewter at the wrong time can therefore be fatal to a Thug. If they are carrying something extremely heavy and their pewter runs out they could be crushed by the object.
Bronze is burned by Seekers and tells them if another Allomancer is using metals in their area.
A Seeker can often pinpoint the location of the person using metals and figure out which metal they are burning, and so what kind of capabilities they will have.
Copperclouds or Smokers
Copperclouds, affectionately known as Smokers have the ability to burn Copper and hide themselves from Seekers. The area they hide is known as a Coppercloud. Smokers therefore help Allomancers within gangs from being spotted.
By burning Zinc, Rioters are able to affect the emotions of the people around them. In this way they can incite a riot, or just affect one person within a crowd.
Soothers burn Brass and can soothe the emotions of an individual or a group of people.
An Augur can burn gold. This lets them see what might have happened if they had made different choices in the past. This can lead to emotional trauma, so it is rarely used.
Oracles can burn Electrum, an alloy of gold. This lets them see their future.
Pulsers burn Cadmium which lets them slow down time in a bubble they set around themselves. Noone can enter or leave the bubble while the Cadmium is being burned.
Sliders burn Bendalloy, which allows them to speed up time within a bubble they set around themselves. If a Pulser and Slider set a bubble at the same place their effects cancel each other out.
Nicrobursts or NicrosA Nicro burns Nicrosil, which causes their target’s metals to burn off in a brief intense flash.There has to be physical contact for this to work.
Seers are able to burn Atium, one of three “God metals”, the others being Lerasium and Malatium. Atium is mined in the Pits of Hathsin and is the most valuable metal in the world and coveted by the nobility and Allomancers. Atium lets the Mistborn burning it see a few seconds into the future, which lets them anticipate the moves of their opponent. It also enhances their mind to help them understand these new insights, effectively making a Mistborn invincible for a short amount of time. Atium burns very quickly.
The other two God metals are not used by specific types of Allomancers and are:
Lerasium lets the burner (which can be anyone) become a Mistborn, giving them access to all of the Allomantic metals. These beads are the source of Mistborn, which is a genetic trait.
Malatium is an alloy of Atium and Gold which lets an Allomancer see someone’s past. In legend it is called the Eleventh Metal. Kelsier thought it would defeat the Lord Ruler when burned in his presence, but that did not happen. Instead, it showed Vin the Lord Ruler’s possible life as a mountain guide. From this vision she worked out that he was Rashek, not Alendi and was able to figure out how to defeat him.
Feruchemy is the second magic system in the Mistborn series. I find this to be a particularly intriguing magic system. It would be fantastic to be able to store away knowledge, strength or wakefulness for a time in the future when you might need it. You could revise for an important exam and store all of the knowledge away in a metalmind. You wouldn’t have any of those useless facts floating about in your brain as you went about your daily business. Then you would be able to retrieve all of the knowledge exactly when it is needed.
A Ferruchemist does not burn metals in the way that an Allomancer does. Instead they use them to store up their own power – as containers known as “minds”. A Ferruchemist can transfer all of their energy into a mind but will then be without energy until they become rested and restored. They can draw on the stored up energy at a later date. A Feruchemist can draw out the power of the metalmind with barely any upper limit, using it up in one big burst if they want. In this way a Feruchemist using a pewtermind can be a whole lot stronger than a powerful Mistborn burning pewter, but for a limited time. The Terris people such as Sazed have Ferruchemy in their genes.
* Iron: Stores Weight. Less weight slows descent . A Skimmer Ferring using this will decrease the pull of gravity on them in exchange for increasing it later.
* Steel: Stores Physical Speed. A Steelrunner Ferring using this will be physically slower now in exchange for being faster later.
* Tin: Stores Senses. A Windwhisperer Ferring using this will become less sensitive in one of the five senses of his choice (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) in exchange for heightening that sense later.
* Pewter: Stores Strength. A Brute Ferring using this will lessen the size of his muscles to increase them later
* Zinc: Stores Mental Speed. A Sparker Ferring using this will think very slowly in exchange for thinking faster later.
* Brass: Stores Warmth. Firesoul Ferrings using this will cool themselves in exchange for being able to warm themselves later by tapping the metalmind.
* Copper: Stores Memories. An Archivist Ferring using this will be able to store memories inside copper, forget it, then will be able to recall it with perfect clarity later while withdrawing it from the metal.
* Bronze: Stores Wakefulness. A Sentry Ferring using this will sleep or be drowsier now in exchange for staying awake longer later.
* Cadmium: Stores Breath. A Gasper Ferring may hyperventilate while storing breath in exchange for eliminating or reducing the need to breathe later on.
* Bendalloy: Stores Energy. A Subsumer Ferring using this can consume large quantities of food and store the calories in the metalmind, in exchange for the ability to forgo eating later.
* Gold: Stores Health. A Bloodmaker Ferring using this will feel sick now in exchange for increased regeneration and healing later.
* Electrum: Stores Determination. A Pinnacle Ferring using this will become depressed in exchange for a manic state when tapping the metalmind.
* Chromium: Stores Fortune. A Spinner Ferring will become unlucky during active storage in exchange for increased fortune later.
* Nicrosil: Stores Investiture. Little is known about Soulbearer Ferrings.
* Aluminum: Stores Identity. Trueself Ferrings can store their spiritual sense of self within an aluminum metalmind.
* Duralumin: Stores Connection. A Connector Ferring can store spiritual connection inside a metalmind, reducing friendship and outside awareness during active storage, in exchange for the ability to quickly form friendships and relationships while tapping.
* Atium: Stores Age. A Feruchemist using this will become older now in exchange for becoming younger later, the same amount of years for the same time.
Mistborn Allomancers who are able to also use Ferruchemy, such as the Lord Ruler gain great advantages over their opponents. There are certain Allomancers called Twinborns, who can only access one type of metalmind, and also have one Allomantic power (the following is taken from the Mistborn Wiki: https://mistborn.fandom.com/wiki/Mistborn_Wiki):
* By burning a metal containing a stored attribute, such as burning atium which contains youth, the user effectively makes a profit on the attribute stored in the metal due to allomancy’s property of drawing power from the metal. Thus the user gains more of the attribute than invested. A Twinborn who can do this is called a Compounder. An example of this process is the Lord Ruler’s immortality which he achieves through periods spent aged and sickly, storing youth in atium and health in gold, which he later burns and stores in the main metalminds which sustain him. With effectively limitless amounts of youth and healing, he convincingly posed as a god. Note that the attribute stored must have originated from the user, hence Vin’s inability to use the power in Sazed’s pewtermind.
* If a Feruchemist taps an Ironmind and steelpushes or ironpulls, then they can increase their weight to become the anchor for the push or pull, even if an enemy also manipulating the piece of metal weighs more, or the metal weighs more than the user. One could also decrease their weight to gain more movement of their own body from each push or pull.
* If a Feruchemist taps a Pewtermind, Steelmind, Bronzemind, and Goldmind and Allomantically burns Pewter, they will gain increase in Strength, Speed, Wakefulness and Health beyond what one would normally be able to achieve. This will work if you tap smaller combinations of those minds, however, only for the attributes you tap.
* Likewise, if a Feruchemist taps a Tinmind and Allomantically burns Tin, then their senses will increase beyond what one would normally be able to achieve.
* If one Allomantically burns a metal then fills the Metalmind of the same attribute, they can fill the metalmind without lessening that attribute. This is why one might burn pewter to fill a Goldmind, then fill an Atiummind and tap the Goldmind, possibly creating the Lord Ruler’s ability to live forever. This is most prevalent with burning pewter, which can fill Pewtermind, Steelmind, Zincmind, Brassmind, Bronzemind, and Goldmind.
* If a Pewtermind is filled using Allomancy burning pewter, then the Feruchemist won’t experience an increase in muscle size when they tap their collected strength from the Metalmind. This allowed the Lord Ruler to tap enormous strength without revealing his use of Feruchemy to onlookers.
The third magic system in Mistborn is called Hemalurgy. This one creeped me out somewhat as it involves metal spikes being inserted into a person’s body/vital organs.
To use Hemalurgy, a metal spike must be driven through someone’s heart. Then the spike is taken and stabbed into the body of another person, the location of which determines the power transferred. The preferred method is to stab it directly through the heart into the other person, as the longer it is left out of the body the more power is lost. While Allomancy is the art of Preservation and Feruchemy is the art of balance, Hemalurgy is the art of Ruin, as the transfer of power destroys some of it. Allomancy creates power, and Feruchemy does not destroy or create, but preserves. Having a hemalurgic enhancement makes one susceptible to Ruin’s influence (e.g. Zane, to whom Ruin could directly communicate; and Vin, who occasionally heard Ruin’s voice in her head, though she mistook it for memories of her brother, Reen) or even to his control (e.g. Steel Inquisitors in books two and three). This, along with the fact that kandra and koloss, both of which are hemalurgically enhanced, can be controlled by Soothing, leads to the further speculation that hemalurgic enhancement of any kind makes one susceptible to being controlled by an outside force.
* Iron: Steals human strength
* Steel: Steals Allomantic physical powers
* Tin: Steals human senses
* Pewter: Steals Feruchemical physical powers
* Brass: Steals Feruchemical cognitive attributes
* Zinc: Steals human emotional fortitude
* Copper: Steals human mental fortitude, memory, and intelligence
* Bronze: Steals Allomantic mental powers
* Aluminum: Removes all powers
* Duralumin: Steals Connection/Identity
* Atium: Steals all Allomantic and Feruchemical powers
* Malatium: Unknown
* Gold: Steals Feruchemical hybrid powers
* Electrum: Steals Allomantic Enhancement powers
Hemalurgy + Allomancy
When an Allomancer increases a certain aspect of themselves using Hemalurgy this aspect can gain new powers assuming the Allomancer can already use this power.
What each metal does after Hemalurgically increased is as follows:
An Allomancer is able to pull much harder. Since Steel Inquisitors can pull upon metals inside people’s bodies, it is assumed this power is granted also
An Allomancer is able to push much harder. Since Steel Inquisitors can push upon metals in people’s bodies, it is assumed this power is also granted.
A Seeker can pierce Copperclouds.
A Smoker can prevent his cloud from being pierced, and put his cloud around a wider range.
A Soother is able to soothe peoples emotions at more drastic rates
A Rioter is able to Riot peoples emotions at more drastic rates.
A Tineye is able to increase their senses to far higher rates.
A Pewterarm is able to have incredible strength when burning pewter.
Hemalurgically Enhanced Groups/Characters
* Steel Inquisitors (many spikes in various places in their bodies)
Marsh- He became a Steel Inquisitor at the end of book one and provided the crew with more in-depth knowledge of the nature of the Inquisitors.
* kandra (a pair of spikes called the kandra blessings)
* koloss (four spikes positioned in various places in their body)
* Vin (earring that her mother gave to her)
* Zane (spike through the middle of his chest that allowed the God Ruin to speak to him and likely granted him increased precision with steel)
* Spook (tip of a sword left in his shoulder during a fight lets him burn pewter
Sue Bavey: Sue is an English mum of two teens living in Massachusetts with husband, kids, a cat, and a bunny. She enjoys reading all kinds of genres, especially fantasy, historical fiction, and thrillers.
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:
I had a hair-brained idea for my blog: a discussion on magic in fantasy! Not just in one fantasy book, but across the broad spectrum that is my favorite genre. Of course, there is absolutely no way I could do something like that justice, so I put a call out for bookbloggers and authors to lend their unique perspectives. They have shown up in a huge way to kindly share their time and opinions.
Author and Youtuber Rob Edwards sharing his thoughts on a big addition to fantasy: Discworld. You can hear his discussion on YouTube.
Look, there in the dark.
It’s hard to judge size when the only comparison available is an endless stretch of inky dark nothingness, but the shape is huge. Beyond huge. Huge, and moving. Huge, moving and, on reflection, not just one shape, but a compound, complex set of shapes. Flippers. An impossibly vast shell. And standing on that shell, four elephants. Perched on their backs, it can only be…
Shape, then, is the wrong word. This has every appearance of being a place; more geography than geometry.
And this is a place steeped with magic. The sort of place the word “steeped” was made for. A place left to soak in an octarine infusion, like a tea bag left in a cup so long it…
This metaphor is getting away from me.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is quintessential gateway fantasy. It is a place of wonder, a place of life, of humour, sharp satire, beguiling stories, larger than life characters and a whole lot of magic. Both in the world, and the way it is described.
And yet, while there are multiple volumes about the Science of Discworld, if there is such a treatise on the magic of the Disc, I’ve not encountered it.
So, what then can I divine about the Discworld’s magic system? This is my interpretation based on many rereadings of the series, but only recent revisits of Eric and Reaper Man.
Three fundamentals drive all magic in Discworld: Purpose, Personality and Belief.
Magic wants to be used. We see it time and again across the series, from the single spell that Rincewind learned, to the magic of Moving Pictures and the mysterious globes in Reaper Man. Magic once manifested, needs to fulfil its purpose.
It is something that the Wizards and Witches appreciate. The more senior the Witch or Wizard, the more power they have access to, the less likely they are to use it. You don’t claw your way up the hierarchy of the Unseen University without learning a healthy sense of self preservation, and an appreciation that wotting things man was not meant to wot of, is just not the done thing. Much better to have a big dinner and then a long nap instead.
Which is not to say that Witches and Wizards are fakers incapable of magic. There are plenty of examples in the books where both engage in activities which can only be described as magical. But there is always a risk in the act, the chance that the Wizard or Witch might get carried away. Sometimes literally. The Dungeon Dimensions and the terrible horrors which live therein are always waiting to take advantage of the unwary. We see several times in the series what happens when magic is unleashed too freely. Calamity and Chaos are never far away.
With purpose, oftentimes, personality follows.
Death is the prime example of this. He is an embodiment of the most fundamental aspect of life, he has purpose to which he must attend, but more he has, he is, a personality. One of Sir Terry’s greatest creations, in fact, and one of the most beloved characters in the franchise. Which is weird when you think about it. He’s not the only example, though. The Hogfather, the Tooth Fairy all fill similar roles. And it’s not just the anthropomorphic aspects of reality that end up with personality. Almost anything infused with magic develops personality eventually, like Rincewind’s Luggage.
The final pillar of magic in Discworld is belief. Most obvious in the case of the Disc’s pantheon of gods, large and small, sometimes all that is needed to manifest something magical is enough belief. Pratchett lays it out specifically: the existence of gods does not result in belief in them, belief in gods results in their existence. Again though, the use of belief in magic is not limited to the gods. If you come in the door marked wossnames, that means you get treated as a wossname, right?
At the end of the day, Discworld is not the sort of series to have a regimented magic system. Instead, it’s a tool that Pratchett uses to fill a need in the story, a useful tool that can fit many shapes. Still, if the specifics of magic are malleable, I think it’s clear that the principles that underpin it are consistent.
About the author:
Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything.
His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.
A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.
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.
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!
Today, I’m moving on to the darker side of magic in fantasy. You know, the sort that gives you shivers and speaks of power and things that cannot be contained. I’m fortunate to be joined by author Maria Blackrane as she discusses magic in her upcoming debut,Blood, Fire, and Death.
Hello! I’m Maria, and I’m currently editing my debut novel, Blood, Fire, & Death. It’s a “girl power” dark fantasy that takes place in a militant matriarchal culture in a country called Helvendias. It’s about a main ruling family, the Darkthornes, and their group of close friends who wade through drama, politics, and war to stay on top of their world in some rather morally black ways. The main female lead, Pensilea Belith Darkthorne, is to inherit the crown but her grandmother refuses to pass it to her, which causes conflict between them. It follows her the challenges of her kind of life, her mental and emotional struggles with the world around her, how she navigates through political drama and handles men seeking her for the prize, to father the next queen.
As for the magic system, its very title, Blood, Fire, & Death represents their three main deities. Keldoreth, the god of war and blood, his sister Azaliel, goddess of death who walks through the battlefield and places a flower on the slain warriors before her brother Keldoreth takes them to his Hall. Their mother Mala, is the goddess of the underworld and fire. Much of the story centers around their worship and loyalty to their gods, the practices dedicated to them. Three is a sacred number, symbolic of their three deities. Their use of trident spears as weapons reflects that. It’s also their country’s emblem. Three points are for each deity. They refer to Mala as “the mother of them all,” for they believe her to be the true founder of their country, Helvendias.
There are three priest circles dedicated to the deities. There is a sacred fire, like a portal that leads to her underworld, maintained by a circle of priestesses trained in fire magic. Similar to the Vestal virgins and Zoroastrian fire temples, which I loosely based on them. The purpose of their fire magic is to control the fires and for purification rituals. Also, people can seek Mala’s wisdom by being guided by a priestess through the portal. I based her on Hekate, so she carries a torch and is something of an “enlightener” figure. The main character’s grandmother Thora has fire capabilities because she’s descended from fire witches, only she’s used it for destructive purposes. Her grandchildren, twins Pensilea and Leorin, inherited it from her. She has prophetic dreams of them causing great destruction with it and pissing off the Mother Goddess, so she forbids them to be able to access any kind of magic.
Next are priests who serve Azaliel, the death goddess. They oversee the death rites and guide spirits into the Afterlife or to Keldoreth’s hall for slain warriors. Their practices are more Shamanic, where they act like mediums between the living and the spirit worlds. They assist in ritualistic human sacrifices.
The priests of Keldoreth train in combat magic. They create stealth on the battlefield and the warriors go into a battle meditation while the priests infuse them with blessings of strength. Keldoreth’s aspect is blood, so they perform human sacrifice rituals with captured enemy warriors as blood gifts to him.
The religion worships life and sex and as much as they do blood and death. Sex is a powerful energy. They engage in ritualistic sex for certain celebrations, such as the Festival of the Wolf Goddess, which is a fertility festival. They also believe sexual energy strengthens magic and blessings so they engage in it during some rituals, especially after the blood offerings.
Helvendias refer to the ocean, the Cathian Sea, as the “goddess of life” since it’s their livelihood. Their food source comes from the sea, they extract their medicines and healing oils from seaweed, so they rely heavily on the sea to sustain them. There is a scene in Chapter 1 where my main character, Pensilea, is watching a circle of priests on the beach bless the fishing ships before they take off. It’s a ritual that involves prayers and burning sage around them. They pray to the goddess of life for an abundant catch. But just as they pray for life, they also worship blood and death. I point this dichotomy out in different ways throughout the book. Pensilea watches her priest lover among the circle pray to the goddess of life, while he has also performs human sacrifices. She often ponders the life and death aspects of the religion of her people.
“Pensilea chuckled to herself at the irony of life and death. How those who sanctified battle also praised life. The very priests who sacrificed lives also uttered the sacredness of it. Hands that kill can also give life.”
“How many have died under his blade, bleeding out on a cold stone slab? Yet, there he was, praying to the goddess of life. Oh, death and life.”
How one becomes a priest is that it’s actually a blood type. I refer to people with this blood type to as the Bloodkind, with the ability to access higher senses and powers. One can only inherit it from both parents. At age twelve, they enter an academy and after a few years, they’re evaluated on where their skills and powers lean toward to see which deity they’ll serve. Not all Bloodkind choose to become priests. Why would someone choose not to? Believe it or not, it’s more grueling than fighting school, there’s a lot more commitment involved. Using their powers can take a mental and physical toll on them. They spend a few days in rest and meditation to recover. Those with the blood type who do not become priests are allowed to perform certain rituals, spells, and to access some minor powers. Pensilea can communicate telepathically with crows, for example. They also are stronger and faster with higher senses, which are useful in combat.
Look for Blood, Fire, and Death on October 27th.
About the author:
Maria Blackrane was born in upstate NY under the sign of Gemini some decades ago. She discovered a passion for writing when she was six years old. She started writing stories about the adventures of people and their pets before she moved on to more twisted subjects later on in life. She studied history and anthropology and took creative writing classes as electives. Her favorite genres to read and write are horror, darkfantasy, and grimdark. In her spare time, she’s a horse rider, wine witch, and collects dead things.
This week, I’ve gotten the opportunity to hear from some excellent bookbloggers and authors about magic in fantasy. I have yet to read The Mercenary Kings by Nick Martell but Fantasy Book Nerd, bookblogger extraordinaire, has succeeded in moving it up my massive tbr with his explanation of magic in Martell’s books. Check it out below!
Fantasy Book Nerd: When I was asked to do this by Jodie, I have to admit that I had to wrack my brains for a maximum of about two seconds before I knew what I wanted to discuss. And that was Nick Martell’s magic system, which I have found to be one of the most fascinating magic systems that I have read recently.
Now, I know that Nick Martell has only released two books in an ongoing series, but with both ‘The Kingdom of Liars’ and ‘The Two Faced Queen’, the magic is developing in ways that I didn’t expect.
For those of you that have not read these books, I will try to avoid spoilers because as I said the story is still developing, and no one likes spoilers.
Right, before we go anywhere let’s first look at the word ‘magic’! What does it actually mean?
There are many definitions of the word. The Collins English Dictionary describes it as: –
The Power to use supernatural forces to make something happen, such as making things disappear or controlling events in nature.
You can use magic when you are referring to an event that is so wonderful, strange, or unexpected that it seems as if supernatural powers have caused it. You can alsosay that something happens as if by magic or like magic.
You use magic to describe something that does things, or appears to do things, by magic.
If you refer to the magic of something, you mean that it has a special mysterious quality which makes it seem wonderful and exciting.
Hmm, all of these definitions of magic apply in fantasy fiction really don’t they, each and every one, and they are prominent in each of the magic systems that I have read.
Prior to discussing the magic in the books of Nick Matell, let me tell you a little of the story for those that don’t know it. The main focus of the book is Michael Kingsman, the disgraced son of the king’s right hand man, David Kingsman who was executed for killing the king’s young son.
That is about as much as I am going to tell you about the plot.
I have found in fantasy books, there are many ways that magic systems are introduced, some authors will describe how their systems work in one go and will give the information in one long exposition, and others will drip feed the system throughout the book as the story demands,and it will be used as a device to move the story along.
Fabrication,the magic system of The Kingdom of Liars comes in many forms, such as light and dark fabrication. Additionally, the magic can take different forms and be individualised to each person, with the effects of the magic having a different effect on those that use it. As the story progresses, we learn that there are Lightning and metal fabricators.
In Nick Martell’s books, the power of fabrication is primarily used for militaristic purposes, and most of the characters (especially if they are from the lower classes) strive to get into the Fabricator army, or in guard service. At this stage of the books, it isn’t described as being intrinsic or part of the essence of the world like in some other fantasy systems.
Now, when describing magic systems, they can effectively be placed in the soft magic/hard magic camps. Depending on the author they can fluctuate between the two on a literal spectrum and can have as many or few rules as the author sees fit.
You all may have heard of a relatively unknown author by the name of Brandon Sanderson (yes, yes! That was a terrible example of sarcasm) who puts forth that there are rules in relation to magic systems.
(I have no doubt that someone will have mentioned the difference between the soft and hard magic camps. But just in case they haven’t, here is a quick recap).
Soft magic follows very few laws. However, there is a law attached to it, in that if it is used to solve problems, in a deus ex machina kind of way, it can diminish the impact of the magic system.
However, with hard magic there are explicit rules for the magic system and the characters do not step outside the boundaries.
Additional to this, there is the middle ground, in which the author designs a set of rules, but they are fluid as the story progresses.
(If you want to read these set of essays on the rules of magic, then I suggest you go to Brandon Sanderson’s website and have a look, they are all rather good pieces, and I attribute all the words above to those pieces)
Looking at Nick Martell’s books, the magic system in there definitely falls into the hard magic camp, (now please don’t quote me on any of this. This is conjecture on my part). Throughout the book, most of the characters can only have one fabrication (although, there are exceptions to this rule, but it is very rare). The magic is based on tangible things in nature i.e. elements, such as lightning, metal, smoke, fire, light, dark etc. and they may take on certain characteristics of the said fabrication. For instance, if you are a metal fabricator, you can alter your body to be hard and impervious to damage. However,it doesn’t make you impervious to everything as this can be negated by a lightning fabricator who could use your body as a conductor for electricity or maybe throw you in a pool of water, in which you sink as if you are heavy, like metal.
From the outset, Nick Martell is applying rules to the magic system. This obviously has an effect on the reader, as it is applying boundaries and laws and also giving the reader a limit as to what magic can achieve, thus making the reader more involved with any plot developments that may arise.
However, when you look at Nick Martell’s magic system, it is not just the ‘what can the magic system actually do’ point that makes it interesting, it is also the ’what can’t it do, and the effects that it has on the user’ that elevates it’s wow factor.
In his essay on the second law of magic systems, Sanderson identifies that limitations are greater than powers. He then goes on to discuss that in the Wheel of Time,Robert Jordan introduced one of the greatest costs to any magic system, in that men who use magic lose their sanity, thus increasing the jeopardy when using a magic system and has ramifications on the story and the characters..
Similarly, in Nick Martell’s magic system, he introduces a significant cost to the use of magic. The concept is introduced in the early stages of the book when Nick Martell highlights that the use of magic leads to the user losing memories. This could be some simple everyday memory. However, this is not the only cost. In some instances it can leave the user blind, because they have ‘forgotten’ how to carry out this intrinsic task. And if there is a constant use of magic, the user is at risk of becoming something called ‘a forgotten’ which is basically a fantasy representation of Alzheimer’s, where the person loses most functional skills, in addition to their memories. This weakness of the magic system introduces some pretty large ramifications to the story in that it introduces a significant element of risk and thus reducing the use of magic as a ‘deus ex machina’ plot device.
In the second of his two books, he expands the magic system to include other races in the world and differing systems. However, again, he introduces cost, and I have to say that in this instance, the ramifications are more visceral in that the use of magic comes directly from the infliction of pain, and this pain comes from the user in order to access magic. So, the user may break their own fingers, or use other instances of pain. However, either way there is a cost that can have a permanent and lasting damage to the magic user.
As you can see, this gives the reader the sense of jeopardy and brings to the fore that magic cannot solve all the problems that Michael Kingsman comes across, thus having to force him to use other methods that he may have at his disposal, such as his wits, or other tools.
Now, we come to the final bit of the magic system. How does the magic system develop and grow?
Relating this to Sanderson’s third law of magic, Expand what you already have before you add something new. .
Throughout both Kingdom of Liars and The Two Faced Queen, Nick Martell is constantly evolving the magic system. In the first chapters of The Kingdom of Liars we are introduced to just the two fabrications – Light and Dark Fabrications. However, as the story progresses and the main character is attempting to find his own power, we are introduced to the other facets of fabrication, and that people have other abilites beyond these two powers. We learn that there is lightning, metal and a plethora of other interesting things. And then we come to the second book, The Two Faced Queen, again the magic system is expanded with the introduction of other races and cultures. But not only that, there is the big expansion of the magic system, and when I say big, I mean big. However, I am not going to tell you anything about that – major plot spoiler! However, the expansion of the magic system with the other cultures is relatable as it is building on to a similar concept used by Michael and the other characters in the book.
Right, there you have it. My ramblings on Nick Martell’s magic system. I hope you enjoyed it and please check out the other contributors on this week of magic systems..
About the Blogger: Fantasy Book Nerd here! As you can see from the name, I might have a bit of a thing for fantasy. I know, shocking isn’t it? I don’t know what gave it away! Anyway, if you liked what I wrote, you can find some more reviews on www.fantasybooknerd.com. Don’t be scared, I don’t bite, and neither does Frank – The skelebog jester who guards the site. Oh, and I also occasionally post on Gingernuts of Horror.
This week I’ve been fortunate to welcome many guest contributors on my blog to chat about magic systems in fantasy. I am privileged to have Dan Fitzgerald, author of the (fantastic) Maer Cycle and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence. One thing I really enjoyed about the magic in the Maer Cycle was how the magic seemed to be connected to the character’s own energy. It was incredibly unique and led to interesting growth.
Instead of carrying on and possibly butchering any descriptions, Dan Fitzgerald will explain his magic system.
I’m thrilled to be invited by Jodie of the Witty and Sarcastic Book Club to discuss the magic system in my newly named Copper Circle, which includes the Maer Cycle trilogy, the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology, and the planned Time Before trilogy. There are several systems in the Maer Cycle, but I’m going to focus on the one that connects to the other series, which is inspired by yoga and meditation, with a little alchemy and artificing mixed in.
In the Maer Cycle, we meet Finn, whose discipline is called Bodily Control. He uses a regimen of three-times daily yoga-like poses to focus his mental energy, which allows him to perform seemingly impossible physical feats like harden his skin to ward off blows, leap great distances, and eventually heal himself or others. As the series progresses, he learns to conserve his power, so each feat takes less out of him, and he recovers more quickly, in a way inspired by meditation. It involves silent concentration and poses, becoming aware of the body’s energy and bringing it to the center of his mind. In yoga and meditation, the idea of centering is essential, and my own practice has led me to think of magic in a similar way.
Ujenn, the Maer sorceress in the trilogy, has powers of empathy, language, and communication, as well as a little fertility magic she uses in the mystical surrogacy in The Archive. The essence of her power is the ability to feel what others feel, through a combination of touch, ancient spells, and herbal concoctions. Perhaps the most interesting are the ancient copper circles she uses to communicate with Carl over great distances. This magic requires intense concentration, and though the connection is imperfect, they are able to communicate simple but important details over hundreds of miles.
In the Weirdwater Confluence, which will be independent of the trilogy but with some underlying connections, followers of the Endulian tradition use meditation and mindfulness-based practices to enhance their awareness of their bodies, their minds, and the minds of those around them. It allows them to share each other’s thoughts and feelings, usually in combination with alchemical tinctures, though there are some whose power is great enough they do not require tinctures. The Living Waters includes a number of scenes of such mind-sharing, which leads to some very interesting discoveries between characters and factors into an unusual romance subplot.
Copper circles similar to the ones in the trilogy are seen in The Isle of a Thousand Worlds as elements of the mystical social media-like platform known as the Caravan, which allows communication over great distances. It requires extensive meditation training, specially designed ‘cradles,’ and highly refined alchemical tinctures, and the book features an alchemist MC whose search for the Universal Tincture may turn the entire system on its head.
The copper circles themselves are all ancient, and the planned Time Before trilogy will take readers into the distant past, 2,000 years before, when the magical tech they represent was at its apogee. I can’t say too much about that, as it’s not even written yet, but it will involve the origins not only of the circles themselves, but also the philosophical traditions underlying the magic system described above. Finn’s bodily control magic, Ujenn’s communication powers, the Endulian meditation practice, and the Caravan all have their origins in the events of the Time Before, which is planned for release from Shadow Spark Publishing in 2023.
Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.
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.
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”.