Tough Traveling — Magic Systems


tough guideEvery Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.

This week’s subject is “Magic Systems”:
Is there a subject nearer and dearer to a fantasy reader than magic systems? How an author meticulously explains just how Joe Necromancer is able to raise the dead, rather than just vaguely referring to “casting a spell.” And thanks to Brandon Sanderson and his laws of magic, readers want to know the “science” behind the magic. Here are some of the best magic systems:

The Will and The Word — “The Belgariad” by David Eddings

pawn of prophecyEddings keeps it simple in “The Belgariad.” Think what you want to do, summon your will and say the word. If your will is strong enough your magic will succeed. But pushing yourself too hard can drain your will to the point where you can’t accomplish anything. And you also need to make sure you aren’t using your magic to uncreate something, otherwise you will be destroyed. There seem to be other considerations that pop up as the situation requires, like not setting off a storm in one place because weather is interconnected and it will cause problems on the other side of the world. But generally, you just need to think, speak and have the will to accomplish your magic.

Allomancy — “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

The Mistborn Trilogy introduced Sanderson's inventive magic system, Brandon Sanderson has come up with all sorts of interesting magic systems in his Cosmere novels, and there are two other systems in the “Mistborn” series, but I’m going to stick with Allomancy. Allomancers are able to use ingested metals to manipulate themselves and the world around them, some allow for greater strength and speed, others heighten sense, some block other allomantic attacks while others remove all allomantic powers from the user. Most allomancers can only manipulate one metal, but the rare Mistborns like Vin and Kelsier can manipulate all metal. There’s a lot more involved, but Sanderson has plenty of charts explaining everything, if you are so inclined.

Sympathy— “Kingkiller Chronicles” by Patrick Rothfuss

nameThe elegant magic practiced by Kvothe and the other students at the University is based on creating relationships between objects. By affecting one item, the other item is affected as well. The sympathetic magic is fueled by energy, usually fire. In emergencies sympathists are able to draw on their own body heat to perform magic, but this is dangerous, lowering body temperature and causing “binders’ chills” or even death. There are other scientific based laws that govern sympathy, making it as much about physics as about mysticism. 

The Force— Star Wars

star warsFirst off – fuck Midi-Chlorians. The Force is a powerful energy created by all living beings in the galaxy that can be tapped into by Force-sensitive beings for good or evil. It is the source of the Jedi Knight’s power, tapping the Force through selfless actions to boost their strength and speed, as well as influencing the minds of others. But there’s also the Dark Side of the Force, fueled by strong emotions like hate and anger. The Sith channel the Dark Side to produce lightning and to choke their enemies. 

Osteomancy — “Daniel Blackland” by Greg Van Eekhout

dragon coastDaniel Blackland’s Los Angeles is a grisly place. The La Brea Tar Pits are filled with a variety of fossils, not just of dinosaurs but also mythical creatures like kraken and griffin. Osteomancers are able to take those fossilized bones and distill their magical essence, which they then consume to gain the powers of the creature. But there’s more. Because powerful osteomancers have a variety of powers from the numerous creatures they have consumed, they can also be consumed themselves. So cannibalism also has a place in this magic system. Dragon Coast, the finale to Van Eekhout’s trilogy, hits stores next Tuesday. 

‘Mancy — Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz

Flex-144dpiIn Steinmetz’s wonderful Flex, ‘Mancy can take many forms. A persons magical ability is determined by their obsessions and interests. A musician would be a musicmancer, for example. The heroes of Flex are a gamemancer, who is able to summon powers from videogames, and a bureacromancer, who can manipulate paperwork and regulations. But casting ‘mancy has a price, whenever a ‘mancer attempts to bend the universe to their will, the universe fights back, creating “flux”, an equal and opposite reaction to the magic which can kill the ‘mancer or cause great damage nearby. 

“The Magicians” Trilogy by Lev Grossman

magiciansThe Magic System isn’t named in Grossman’s “Magicians” trilogy. But it is complicated. Brakebills may seem like a less whimsical version of Hogwarts, but there is a lot more to magic then “flick and swish.” The students have to endure hours upon hours of rigorous hand exercises to form the proper shapes to cast spells, learn dozens of dead languages to speak the words and memorize charts of variables ranging from the phase and position of the moon, the date and time, latitude and longitude and such. It actually sounds like work! Or worse, advanced mathematics. 

As an added bonus, here are Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, Jaye Wells, Sam Sykes, Myke Cole and Stephen Blackmoore discussing magic systems at Phoenix Comicon.

Come back next week when we take a look at “Portals to another land.”

—Michael Senft

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
This entry was posted in Tough Traveling. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Tough Traveling — Magic Systems

  1. proxyfish says:

    Great post 😀 I’d never heard of Flex or the Daniel Blackland novels. They sound fantastic! Added to to-read.


  2. I love how you have the Force on your list! 🙂


  3. That osteomancy is so cool! Imagine if those osteomancers went into Flex’s world and started eating the people there!?


  4. Yay, Flex! ‘Mancy is just too cool.


  5. lynnsbooks says:

    Mancy, The Force and Sympathy. A winning list!
    Lynn 😀


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s