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Unique concepts of magic


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Jul 14, 2007, 4:12pm Top

Does anyone else get tired of the same old tried-and-true forms of magic found in fantasy novels? I'm always happy and impressed when I find an author who comes up with a novel idea for a system of magic. Some books that I've enjoyed for that reason are the Dragon Prince trilogy and the Dragon Star trilogy, both by Melanie Rawn--I love the use of sunlight, moonlight, and starlight as her magic system. Also, I enjoyed the use of glass and stained glass for holding magical power in the Serpent and the Rose by Kathleen Bryan. What are some unique or unusual magic concepts that you all have discovered in your reading?

Jul 14, 2007, 4:49pm Top

I'm not sure how "unique" she is but I like how Jo Clayton handles magic. I'm think particularly of The Soul Drinker, Wild Magic, and Moongather

And, of course, there is Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series. I go with the Witch books if you want magic, starting with Wyrd Sisters

Roger Zelazny the whole Amber series is unique starting with Nine Princes in Amber.

John Crowley, Little, Big is certainly unusual and Aegypt is even stranger.

Charles de Lint doesn't do the standard fantasy magic check out Moonheart, Greenmantle, or even Trader

Jul 14, 2007, 4:56pm Top

I like the way Elizabeth Haydon does magic with her trilogy/series beginning with Rhapsody; it's controlled through song. I can't remember very well what other ways magic is used in the books, but I do remember thinking that was different.

Jul 14, 2007, 8:09pm Top

I think this is a wonderful topic, but I have to ask, can we first identify the traits of those boring "tried-and-true" magic systems? I'm actually having a hard time thinking of unique systems because I'm not sure which systems would be considered boring and which unique.

Tentatively, I'd mention Black Sun Rising and its sequels by C. S. Friedman as examples of a good, unique magic system. The power that fuels magic, called fae, is a natural, abundant resource that anybody can use -- however, this power reacts to all human thought and emotion, not just conscious "spells", so that if you dream of being killed by a monster, you might wake up with a real live monster standing over your bed.

I might also mention The Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop, though I don't remember it as well. I seem to recall that it had something to do with jewels or colors...

Jul 14, 2007, 9:06pm Top

Saturnine13 Excellent advice....I posted this topic while at work, quite quickly I'm afraid, so didn't take the time to flesh it out a bit. Let me see...I had originally posted this with the idea of the "tried-and-true" system of magic being the one involving spellbooks, wands, wizard's staff...that sort of thing. When people who don't normally read fantasy books hear of magic, I'm thinking that THIS is what they picture in their minds...the cookie-cutter magic systems, all the same. However, like in the wonderful novels that people have already posted in here, there is a seemingly endless collection of various concepts of magical power in this genre of literature. Does that help clarify it a bit? I apologize for my earlier haste and inadequate explanation, everyone!
While I'm here, I have to mention the Last Rune series by Mark Anthony. Runes carry power in these novels, and the author makes good use of them, in my opinion. Also, Elantris, by Sanderson, uses "aons" to shape and work magical force. I enjoyed that one, too. I guess that I'm a sucker for esoteric symbols and such. : )

Jul 14, 2007, 10:01pm Top

In The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey I thought there was a cute magical idea. There was the normal fairytale magic, but then there was the Tradition, with a capital T and everything, which was pretty much the overwhelming magic of the land that subconsciously forced everyone into their Traditional Roles as stereotypical fairytale characters.... So the main girl character had to be careful to do all the right things to make sure the magic would shape her into a good role, rather than forcing her into a bad role if she didn't act the proper part...

Publishers Weekly describes it well on Amazon saying, "In the land of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, the Tradition, that ineffable magic, holds the promise of happily-ever-after for all deserving young maidens and courteous princes charming. But the Tradition also leads some in its thrall to pain, suffering and gruesome death..."

Jul 15, 2007, 5:26pm Top

I've always enjoyed the style of "wish" magic in C.J. Cherryh's Rusalka and it's sequals. it's subtle and yet pervasive - no wishing for a fireball, but be careful none the less! moreover. the Magic does not over power and become the story.

Edited: Jul 28, 2007, 8:07am Top

I'm currently reading Laurie J. Marks's Fire Logic, where the magic isn't a formal kind of spell-casting but an elemental affinity that occasionally allows for great feats. Only halfway through, and there's more books to come in the series, so perhaps I speak too soon.

And there's also Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswomen series, in which the magic is the subject of a very smart, non-technological investigatory mind trying to comprehend it, and will make you wonder at stuff you've taken for granted all your lives. (Which is why I include it in the fantasy category, even though technically it's actually in the SF one, because it's about the IDEA of magic.)

Jul 15, 2007, 11:46pm Top

#5 Ui_Niall: This is a fascinating topic, and I'm glad you've brought it up. :D I think magic is the defining trait of fantasy, so it's worth talking about.

The 2 things that bother me most about boring magic systems is that:

1) The only cost to do magic is to feel tired afterwards. I like magic systems where real sacrifice or danger is involved.

2) Spells are limited to things we've seen a hundred times before: flying through the air, throwing fireballs, telepathy, cure-all healing, etc. Having seen all these things so many times, it no longer seems like magic -- I think magic should evoke an "Oooh! Wow, that's so cool" feeling. It's magic, it should be magical!

For another example: Paper Mage by Leah R. Cutter, in which magicians use origami magic.

Jul 16, 2007, 1:29am Top

# 9 Saturnine13: Origami magic! Wow...now I call that interesting! I may have to find that book soon and see what it's about!

I pretty much agree with you on the magic systems. Sacrifice or danger definitely makes it more exciting. Ones where a person has limitless power and can seemingly do anything without having to pay some sort of "price" always makes me think that those characters might as well be deities instead of mortals.

Now that origami magic sounds darned interesting...I wonder if the author uses it in the manner of some other symbol-based systems, like runic magic. Does the act of folding the paper into the various forms imbue it with the personal energy of the magic-user, or does its form "capture" the ambient power that exists around everything?

If you cannot tell, I'm quite delighted to have found LibraryThing and these marvelous discussion forums! I love being able to talk about these subjects with others now...since you can't talk about these kinds of topics with just anyone! They'll look at you like you're weird or something! *GRIN*

So, what do you (or anyone else, for that matter) think about "ley" energy to fuel a character's power?

Jul 16, 2007, 1:44am Top

How about Garth Nix's necromancy in the Abhorsen Trilogy Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen? He presents necromancy from the point-of-view of the practitioner who is trying to preserve the natural states of life and death. He uses different sized bells, the ringing of which, has different effects. One bell sends undead creatures back to death, while another wakes the dead, and others...oh I can't remember!

Jul 16, 2007, 2:42am Top

Hi all,

I'm fairly new to LT & very new to FantasyFans, so I hope you dont mind me posting without doing an intro thingy, but this is such an interesting topic so I wanted to contribute...

I'm reading Glenda Larke's Song of the Shiver Barrens (Book 3 of the Mirage Makers Trilogy) at the moment & its got a pretty differrent take on magic. The race that can practice magic are the Kardi & their ruling class have gem stones known as "Cabochons" inserted into their left palms at a young age & these cabochons are the main source of their power… When they reach the age of 12-13, they are taken to a magical place called the “Shiver Barrens” (a desert of magical sands) where the Mirage Makers live & they have a “Major Sword” bestowed on them, this sword expands & enhances their cabochon power. The Mirage Makers are a really different idea in themselves, they are beings of magic that have no physical form & are almost like the gods of kardi culture. At some time in Kardi history, the Kardi ruling class & the Mirage makers nearly wiped each other out in mage wars, so in the interest of the survival of both races, they came to an agreement where the Mirage Makers basically stay out of the Kardi’s way with the exception of bestowing the Major Swords, as long as the Kardi would not use illusion in their magic…

That sounds really jumbled sorry, I’m not good at writing reviews, but hopefully its clear enough to encourage some people to give this series a try – I highly recommend it :)

Jul 16, 2007, 2:57am Top

#11: I was just about to post this too! I found it a rather fresh concept; I like the use of the bells. I don't know how "new" it is, though, but it's pretty new to me at least :)

Jul 16, 2007, 3:33am Top

I really like Juliet E. McKenna's Einarinn series. It's not that the magic system itself is new, but that she focuses on the idea of two very different types of magic in conflic; one is elemental-based, and has been in use for the last several centuries and the other is more like what we might think of as psychic powers, and is just starting to reappear after disappearing for a long time.

It's really interesting to see the elemental practitioners struggle to adapt to this new power they can't understand or, since elemental mages are the only people INCAPABLE of using the other type of magic, even see.

Jul 16, 2007, 4:01am Top

Janny Wurts manages to have a few differently unique magic forms in her various works. Hell's Chasm is probably the most unique - some powered by demons with the sorcerer held in eternal thrall to it. Countered by shamen's magic sung and in the form of geometrically shaped wards.

Several main 'normal' styles I think -
Through books and study Dragonlance Chronicles
Through gods Priestess of the white
Mental 'power' Belgariad

16Anrake First Message
Edited: Jul 16, 2007, 5:01am Top

Steven Erikson's Malazan series has one of the most unique and regimented systems of magic that I have come across. The more you read of the books the more you also come to understand the origin of the different magics and their aspects. Especially in the most recent book, Reaper's Gale, there are some really fascinating points that come to light. Not just magic itself, but the theories about religion and worship in his books are most fascinating.

Jul 16, 2007, 6:14am Top

#12 - I love Glenda Larke (but then you already knew that!). Her magic system in The Aware is quite unique, too IMO. I love the concept of magicians not being able to see the spells/illusions other magicians cast.

Jul 16, 2007, 12:34pm Top

#10 Ui_Niall: I'm not sure how the origami magic works, since I haven't had a chance to read Paper Mage myself yet (too many books to read, gah). But the author of the book is a member of LibraryThing, so maybe we'll have a chance to ask her. :D

And the idea of ley energy is interesting to me... I remember ley lines being mentioned in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, but she never talked about it further than that, which irritated me because it sounded neat. Has anyone else heard of this?

#11 Katissima: I've read Sabriel, and the idea of using sound to control the dead -- just brilliant. Loved it! Sarah Ash's Lord of Snow and Shadows has something similar, musicians called guslyars who use the sound of a stringed instrument to summon or exorcise ghosts.

#12 Seanie: Sounds interesting! And welcome to LibraryThing (I'm fairly new myself :D).

Lots of good posts here, and good books being mentioned too~

Jul 16, 2007, 12:56pm Top

Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar series has an interesting twist to its magic: each mage is paired with a source, and can perform only the magic for which the source can provide the necessary strength. Therefore sources must be rested, etc. I would describe this as the "masculine" magic in Fionavar. There are some other types as well, some wielded by the priestesses of the goddess, and some specific (and appropriate IMHO) to particular peoples. Interactions among the wielders of the different types of magic provide some interesting plot points and themes.

Jul 16, 2007, 1:24pm Top

I'm guessing the best example of "tried and true" boring systems would be something like the Harry Potter books. In terms of new and different, I'd recommend Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, starting with Storm Front. The system still utilizes potions, spells, wands, and staffs, but manages to be quite unique anyway. the staff and "blasting rod" or wand part of the system utilizes focused emotion to create fireballs and other effects, as well as sells in foreign languages such as Fuego for fire spells, or even nonsense words, the spoken part used purely as a focus, and not necessarily key. The potions system doesn't rely on the typical eye of newt, claw of a banshee thing either. Instead, cutouts from magazines and other things are used as focuses for each of the five senses, and bases of boiling water, energy drinks, etc. Its set in Chicago in modern times.

Jul 16, 2007, 1:55pm Top

>10 Ui_Niall: Ui_Niall:
Re. Papermage and origami magic: The book dosn't state explicitly, but it is a point in the novel that the act of folding the origami 'right' imbues it with magic and the characteristics of the object it mimics (without leaching energy from the maker), and that there are other schools of magic, and one of those (as opposed to the origami magic) use the lifeforce of the yielder to power the spell - meaning that they can only make that many spells before they die from having exhausted their life force.

Jul 16, 2007, 3:18pm Top

Very interesting topic, and very interesting books mentioned!
For my part I'd mention the Death Gate cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. In this series, two races oppose each other. Both use very different types of magic, although both are based on the same runes. One race, the 'good guys' (they're called the Sartran) classically speak the runes, or trace them in the air (I don't quite remember as I read the series a long time ago). The other race, the Patryn I think, tatoo the runes on their body. The way the runes are interwoven creates the magic, and their runes protect them as well as allowing them to cast spells.
The world of the series is also very interesting: long ago, there has been a war between the Sartran and the Patryn, and the Sartran won, but to achieve this, they had to sunder the world into the four realms of air, fire, earth and water. By doing so, they were able to create a fifth realm in which they have imprisoned the Patryn.

I've read these books a long time ago and absolutely loved them. Speaking about them makes me want to read them again and see if I love them as much now I'm an adult.

A book with a very interesting approach to magic, which I haven't read yet, is The Light Ages, by Ian R. MacLeod. In this book, all magic is fueled by aether, a magical ingredient that can be found buried in the earth, and is therefore mined just as coal. The discovery of aether therefore started a kind of industrial revolution in the 18th century England.
I'm waiting forwards to reading this book, because the concept sounds fascinating and I've read much praise about it.

23iisamu First Message
Edited: Jul 18, 2007, 2:02pm Top

I am surprised someone hasn't yet mentioned the The Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan. Being able to see the individual elemental threads and then weaving them together in complex patterns to create all sorts of enchantments. I picture it almost like the cartoon Avatar, without all the movements. And talk about an element of danger! Channel too much, and your gone.

Jul 22, 2007, 6:01pm Top

Ui_Niall, you asked about "ley" magic. In her Ring books, Jane Fancher uses "ley" as a form of pure energy that can be tapped, like oil or natural gas, but mentally through special rings.

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