Thoughtful Thursday: Do You Believe in Magic… Systems?

Have you ever come across a magic system in a book that made you think, Wow what a cool idea? Maybe the book itself is not the greatest thing ever, but the way the magic works or the powers the characters possess is so intriguing that you’ve just got to keep reading it anyway?Brandon Sanderson The Final Empire 4. The Alloy of Law

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBrandon Sanderson‘s MISTBORN series has a magic system that’s so cool and unique that I often wish other writers could play around in the MISTBORN universe, too.

Jim Butcher has a series called THE CODEX ALERA where the magic comes from elemental creatures that certain individuals are able to control. Sort of like Pokémon for adults.

Those are a couple of my favorite cool magic systems in fantasy literature. I’d like to hear about some more from our readers. We’ll pick a commenter to receive a book from our stacks.


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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff since September 2009) is a Cyber-Security Analyst/Network Engineer located in Northern Kentucky. Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on authors like Tolkien, Anthony, and Lewis. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. When he is not reading books he is likely playing board games or Tabletop RPGs. Justin lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, their daughter, and Norman the dog.

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21 comments

  1. I really liked the magic system in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. His concept of Sympathy just makes so much SENSE to me!

  2. Harry Potter!

    Just kidding, that magic system is actually pretty bad when you really think about it… doesn’t seem to be any constraints except for knowing the right words and wand movements.

    I guess I might have to go with the classic channeling in The Wheel of Time since you already took my other 2 favs

  3. Like Justin, Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN series is one of my favorites. I just read The Alloy of Law this week and it was great to get back into that world!

  4. Sir Read-a-Lot /

    Anything by Brandon Sanderson. Mistborn is the best so far, but all his systems (even the one in the Alcatraz books) are interesting and creative.

    After that, I’d go with the Five Magics from Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy. There are five magic systems in this book, each one defined by laws. For example, Thaumaturgy is governed by the Principle of Sympathy (like produces like), and the Principle of Contagion (Once together, always together). The books aren’t amazing, but the magic systems are interesting.

    *SPOILERS* in the second book, it it revealed that there is a 6th, “metamagic” which can alter the laws of magic of the other systems.

  5. Sir Read-a-Lot /

    I almost forgot:

    Ursula LeGuin’s magic in A Wizard of Earthsea is great. It’s not as “science-y” as some other magic systems, but it also isn’t hand-waving. It just feels magical.

  6. I guess the only good thing about “The magician’s apprentice – Trudi Canavan” is one technique that allow low level magicians to transfer their magical energy to high level magicians. I guess it was a good resource considering that they normally bleed them to take that energy.

  7. In James Clemmen’s Godslayer Chronicles magic power came from the “humors” of immortals.. Y’know, like sweat, blood, tears, etc.. If I remember correctly, with a good pile of sh..er crap, you could make an airship fly. :) Sorta gross actually.

    I prefer it when the magic system isn’t detailed so much and its left mysterious, like it came from dark, forgotten gods or ancient natural forces. Kinda, like the legends of our real world are; witch-doctors, Voo-doo, Druids..For some reason, I just find magic more believable in those terms.

  8. I’ve got a soft spot for the magic in The Golden Key by Roberson/Elliott/Rawn. It’s mostly based on painting — painters can manipulate people and events through their art — and it also ties in with the language of flowers, so that if you put (for example) a plant that means “fertility” into the royal wedding portrait, they might end up having more kids.

  9. @Kelly- there was a guy like that in Thieves’ World. Anything he painted would come to life.

  10. I always liked Zenna Henderson’s People and their magic system.

  11. I’ve liked a couple recently:

    Shadow’s Son by Jon Sprunk uses shadows in a cool way as the magic system.

    I like the system in Dresden Files by Butcher, not because it’s super unique, but because it’s so well-explained.

    Also Sanderson’s Way of Kings is pretty cool, can’t wait to see more of it. Both the shardplates and the gravity-defying one.

  12. I loved the magic in Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet. The idea that language and words can be used to fully describe an intangible idea so fully that it becomes a sentient being, and that those beings can then be controlled only by the poet who knows its full description, was so fun to turn over in my mind. I still find myself thinking of what andat I’d want to bind and how I’d go about it if I were a poet whenever I get bored!

  13. Sir Reads a Lot
    I thought for sure I’d be the only one to list Hardy’s books. I haven’t read them for ages, but they’re always on my I-really-want-to-go-back-and-read list.
    As others have notes, pretty much anything by Sanderson
    I second the Abraham as well–one of my favorite systems
    speaking of godslayer (another unique system),when’s that gonna continue? Grr.
    Earthsea of course for its elegance of portrayal and if you’re a reader, who doesn’t love a system based on true words?

    Those are the ones that leap off; I’ll have to peruse the shelves

  14. I think Brandon Sanderson is the master of worldbuilding, but I also think Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series has a pretty cool system – there’s a language wizards learn that everything in the universe understands – and so do Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books – when the world got too dependent on technology, magic returned in all the legendary varieties and some new ones.

  15. I am currently reading Flesh and Fire, the first of Laura Anne Gilman’s Vineart War novels, and the idea of wine based magic is an original, audacious and well thought out idea.

  16. Sir Read-a-Lot /

    People keep naming systems I forgot about!

    I’m adding to my list:
    Abraham’s Long Price Quartet. I found that system to be very… poetic.
    Butcher’s Dresden Files.
    Duane’s Young Wizards series. My favorite scene in the entire series is quite possibly the one in the 2nd book where they are calculating the volume of air to take with them when they teleport to the moon. It’s magic, but that doesn’t mean it can escape physics!

    Haven’t been mentioned yet, but I also enjoyed
    Amanda Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles. Not a particularly unusual system, but I just found the concept of Entropomancy too cool for words.

  17. Sarah, I love The People and their inborn skills and talents in what we would call magic. Zenna Henderson’s books are wonderful. I also love Steven R. Donaldsons “Thomas Covenant” books. They can get long and difficult to stick with at times and yet I love his characters and his magic. I also love a series that is YA, by Tamora Pierce – There are craft magics, painting, weaving, plants (Bonsai) and metalworking, as glass making that controls natural things like fire or weather

    Dresden Series has some mental exercises that I have actually used to control back pain, not magic but meditation with magical results

  18. Echo – Always nice to find another People fan. I read some of the Covenant series. And I almost mentioned the Tamora Pierce Circle Mages the whole family is a fan of that series.

  19. Janny Wurts does good magic systems. I especially liked the system in To Ride Hell’s Chasm.

  20. A couple of my favourites:

    Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files – especially the procedure used to make potions (one ingredient for each of the five senses)
    Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy – this is one of those systems where the reader might not understand what’s going on at first (the magic is just sort of *there* in the world) but as you read it begins to make sense, I think.

    I haven’t read it yet, but the magic system in Brent Weeks’ “The Black Prism” intrigued me from day one. I think that’s saying something if I manage to find the system interesting when I haven’t read the book.

  21. Seak, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

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