M is for Magic Systems

Magic. If you’re reading a fantasy, it’s more than likely got it. And it’s a science, not necessarily dictated by chemical balances (unless said magic system is alchemy), but most certainly limited by the reality imposed by the universe it is a part of.

There are a lot of fantasy books out there, and each one tries to set itself apart by employing a new take on the way magic works. Some are more original than others, but when executed properly, all have the potential to excuse a lot of other weaknesses in the narrative.

Of course, there is no way to mention all of them here (I wouldn’t even try!), but I will mention the top three that come to mind for me.

  1. The Dragon Nimbus series from Irene Radford. Easily one of my favorite magical systems used by a fantasy series. The rules (as I remember them) were concrete, and there were consequences for its use.
  2. The Cycle of Corwin from the Amber Chronicles, by Roger Zelazny. If you’ve been following my blog, you probably can’t believe it made it on this list––however, for all of its issues, I do think the magic system is incredibly complex and interesting.
  3. The Dragaera series by Steven Brust. I love that there is a separation between the types of magic used by the characters, and that their house also dictates their emotional fortitude.

An honorable mention, but only an honorable mention because it’s actually a TV show/comic book, would be Full Metal Alchemist. Don’t let the cartoon medium fool you. Full Metal Alchemist  is one of the darker shows out there, and its magical system, while powerful, has horrible consequences for all of its inhabitants.

"The Alchemist's Experiment Catches Fire" by Mary Mark Ockerbloom

“The Alchemist’s Experiment Catches Fire” by Mary Mark Ockerbloom

What are some of your favorite magical systems? Have there ever been any magical systems that ruined a book, or TV show, for you?

Tomorrow: N is for Naming Characters!

16 thoughts on “M is for Magic Systems

  1. Miranda Stone says:

    I’m out of my element commenting on anything to do with the fantasy genre, but I enjoyed reading about the uses of magic. I look forward to reading your upcoming post on naming characters!

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  2. Claire says:

    I’ll admit to a grave ignorance when it comes to magic systems because I haven’t read that many stories featuring it, but when I do, it’s easy to wow me. Mostly.

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  3. Andrew says:

    I don’t think it much matters what kind of system you have or even if it’s spelled out for the audience as long as you have a system and you -follow- it. Too many books just use magic as an excuse for doing whatever the author wants to do, then he waves his hand and says, “It’s magic.” I hate that.

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  4. S dot Love says:

    Fullmetal is definitely amazing! Ahh.. you really just took me back. Lol. Magic is one of the main factors (though not the only one) that compels me to read a lot of novels. Love this post 🙂

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  5. Virginia Ballesty says:

    I read the Chronicles of Amber years ago and I can’t for the life of me remember anything that happened in them – which is really odd for me. I usually remember the overarching plot of a book. I do remember liking them though… guess it’s time to brush the dust off and pick it back up!

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  6. TraceyLynnTobin says:

    I’m a big fan of magic in all kinds of forms, but something that makes me twitch is magic without any manner of explanation. I can accept magic as just being MAGIC, but I like a little bit of information, like is the magic based in the powers of nature itself, or is it a chemical reaction of some kind, or what? There are a few series that I enjoy, but I can’t help but be bothered when things happen just because MAGIC, you know?

    Also, side note: Full Metal Alchemist is one of my favorite cartoon series of all time. It made me laugh, made me cry, and freaked me the hell out on more than one occasion. AWESOME story.

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  7. Celine Jeanjean says:

    I actually really liked the magic system in The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, it’s very clever in that it doesn’t allow for over easy exit strategies for Qvothe and I also like that it drains the user. I’ll have to check out your recommendations, I haven’t read them yet.

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