QOTW: Favorite Magic System?

15 Oct

This week, the question comes from tymcon, who asks:

What was your favourite magic system in a book?


Oh, I can hardly pick…if pressed, I guess I’d have to say the one in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. I love how “magic” in that world is really done by all sorts of demons, which are invisible to regular people. Only magicians can see them using special lenses, and they control these demons using pentacles and such, making them do their will. Then, to regular people, it seems like the magicians are doing all the work! It was all quite fascinating, and I loved it!

My second favorite would be the bells in the Abhorsen Trilogy. Music and magic always seem to go well together in my mind!

-The Writer Who Just Signed With A Literary Agent


The one in Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy, of course!! The necromancer’s use of bells, and how even pipes and barks are used to control magic creates an intricate system of magic that is inventive, original, and wonderful (without being too confusing). The bells all had not only their own distinct sounds or purposes, but their own functions (Ranna, the smallest of bells and therefore the one with the highest ringing and lightest ringing sound is the Sleepbringer – and there’s no way you can say that isn’t the coolest thing ever). And the charter marks add to the wonderful world that Nix created, where not only is sound used as magic, but so are visual symbols. I may or may not have dreamed that I had a charter mark on my very own forehead, or pretended to draw one in front of me.

Also, the opposition of Free Magic and Charter Magic was something that added an extra layer of depth into the magic system of the Old Kingdom. He was able to give “forbidden” Free Magic a heightened sense of evil. And there is just such a great harmony in this magic system; I still find myself daydreaming about walking into Death with bells in hand (I mean, come on – walking INTO Death! Which has 9 precincts! Awesome!). Nix is just so amazing at including all of the senses in his writing. So magic is not just something to be seen, but something one can smell, taste, and hear (and is more than just chanting a few incantations).

-The Writer in the Publishing Industry Working on Her First Novel


The magic used in Susan Cooper’s THE DARK IS RISING series! I was obsessed (and still am) with these books as a kid. The use of Arthurian legend, and Celtic and Norse mythology was incredible, and really aided in the magical background of the series. I remember reading the second book in the series, THE DARK IS RISING, and loving the idea of the six signs that, when used together, could repel The Dark. The Old Ones had the ability to jump through memories, freeze time, control the elements, and basically do the impossible. To collect certain artifacts, Will had to break through barriers of High Magic. The entire series, really, revolves around the combating magics of The Light and the Dark, and it’s woven into the story so seamlessly that it’s almost believable.

-The Writer Querying


One of my favorite books is CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, by British writer Penelope Farmer. The story centers around two girls in different times that continuously switch places. Although the means of the time travel is somewhat understood, it is far from predictable! Because the “magic” behind the central conflict is never fully explained, there is an inherent danger in relying on it. It’s impossible to know for certain when – or even if – the magic will happen again. At first read I felt frustrated by the fact that the mechanism wasn’t more fully defined, but then I realized it couldn’t be, since it was the randomness of the magic that created a large part of the conflict. No explanation, of course, is preferable to an explanation that isn’t convincing. Ultimately, I think it fit the story that the characters, and therefore the readers as well, never learned how the magic worked.

-The Writer Rewriting Her Novel


I agree with Vanessa; Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy has a pretty unique magic system. However, I’m also a fan of THE GOLDEN COMPASS series… I loved the Golden Compass, which told the truth through different layers of symbols, and the subtle knife which could cut through dimensions. Pretty awesome.

However, my favorite magic systems are the ones where -this is really corny, I know- love makes all things possible. Kind of like in HARRY POTTER. At the last moment, when all hope is lost, the inherent goodness of the characters forces the positive energy of the universe to act and save them. I suppose I enjoy that kind of magic because I wish real life worked that way, that the good triumphed and evil always perished.

-The Writer Condensing Three Books Into One


Ditto on the ABHORSEN trilogy being the most awesome magic system–and I agree with Savannah that HIS DARK MATERIALS has some pretty awesome magic as well. I also ADORE the magic system in Anne Bishop’s BLACK JEWELS TRILOGY–she has a complete hierarchy of magic that goes hand in hand with politics, and the magic itself is uber-destructive. And then there’s James Clemens’ BANNED AND THE BANISHED series, where the magic is just…beyond cool (and violent).

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal


That’s a hard one! I love the magic system in HARRY POTTER; it’s just classic and fun, there’s a spell for everything, and it feels really organic and complete. Discworld’s magic is pretty great too. It’s so chaotic you never know what’s going to happen, except that it is probably going to be bad for Rincewind. I also think I’m going to have to read the ABHORSEN trilogy now since everyone keeps raving about it!

-The Writer Revising Between Queries


Thirding ABHORSEN trilogy. Those books are awesome. I also really like the magic systems in the HARRY POTTER series, THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss (and it’s follow ups, which I’m eagerly awaiting), and in Tamora Pierce’s WILD MAGIC books, which I thought was pretty unique. And because I feel like it’s this strange, fun blend of science-fiction and fantasy concepts, the system ARTEMIS FOWL series by Eoin Colfer.

-The Newest LTWF Contributor


Do you have a favorite magic system?


44 Responses to “QOTW: Favorite Magic System?”

  1. Sam October 15, 2010 at 12:02 AM #

    Always loved Tamora Pierce’s magic, and Inkheart too.

  2. Lincoln Law October 15, 2010 at 12:17 AM #

    Ah! SO many to pick from.
    If I had to go with 1, though, the first that comes to mind is Allomancy from the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, where Allomancers consume metals and “burn” them to gain certain abilities. Ironpulling and Steelpushing in particular were awesome. The imagery of people flying through the night sky, pushing and pulling against nearby metal sources was awesome. Feruchemy in the same series was awesome too. Didn’t learn a great deal about Hemalurgy (which involved spikes and a LOT of blood), but it was awesome too.

    • tymcon October 15, 2010 at 12:57 PM #

      You should read his warbreaker book. It’s very good…and free:P

      • Lincoln Law October 15, 2010 at 9:33 PM #

        Already done. Loved that, too. Nearing the end of Elantris now.

  3. priscillashay October 15, 2010 at 12:24 AM #

    I loved the magic system in the T*Witches book series (not so much the Disney movie >_<)


    It spans about 10 books and it kept me going through my Jr. High days 🙂 I read all 10 in a week.

    (BTw, thanks Vanessa for finding the link to the post for me!)

    • Savannah J. Foley October 15, 2010 at 2:34 PM #

      Lol omg I remember reading those in middle school. My two BFFs and I were convinced we had magical powers.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 17, 2010 at 9:55 PM #

      You’re very welcome!!! 😀

  4. Theresa Milstein October 15, 2010 at 6:27 AM #

    I know two contributors wrote it, but I’ll repeat it. My favorite magic system is the Harry Potter series. Even with bad stuff going on, there’s plenty of fun there. The rules are properly explained so the world seems real.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 17, 2010 at 9:51 PM #

      Ah Harry Potter. I actually saw a play where they included an HP spell in it – it was great that they added it in there! I laughed so hard :p

      I guess that goes to show how many people love the magic in Harry Potter!

  5. Cat October 15, 2010 at 8:35 AM #

    I haven’t really read much High Fantasy but so far my favourite magic system is in The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. Basically, magic users called drafters, draw power from colors. Some drafters can draw or ” draft” from only one color, others two or more but no one can draft from every color except the Prism, who has the power to split light into it’s component colors. He’s the spiritual leader and his job is to balance the magic in the world.
    What I like is that every color has a distinct personality trait that gradually changes the drafter the more they draft it. Red drafters are passionate, Blues are calm etc. Unfortunately, drafters can only draft a finite amount in their lifetime before either going mad or being put down.
    I also like the idea of the black ka’kari in Way Of Shadows, by the same author, a magic artefact which has the power to devour all magic, as well as weapons and clothing, give it’s wielder kick ass skills, as well as make them immortal. I wish I had one!

  6. Cat October 15, 2010 at 8:48 AM #

    I haven’t really read much High Fantasy but so far my favourite magic system is in The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. Basically, magic users called drafters, draw power from colors. Some drafters can draw or “draft” from only one color, others two or more but no one can draft from every color except the Prism. He’s kind of like the Pope and his main job is to balance the magic in the world.
    What interests me is that every color has a distinct personality trait that gradually changes the drafter the more they draft it. Red drafters are passionate, Blues are calm etc. Unfortunately, drafters can only draft a finite amount in their lifetime before either going mad or being put down.
    I also like the idea of the black ka’kari in Way Of Shadows, by the same author, a magic artefact which has the power to devour magic, let it’s wielder see into people’s souls as well as giving him badass skills, and grants immortality. Oh, yeah and it talks.

    • Cat October 15, 2010 at 11:13 AM #

      Oops double post!

    • tymcon October 15, 2010 at 12:58 PM #

      I read the black prism. It is of the shizeel! Yeah I loved the main characters pervy thoughts:P
      (I know it’s a bit of an even split between characters but I think of him as the first character)

      • Cat October 15, 2010 at 1:37 PM #

        Kip? Yeah, his perky thoughts were cute. You should read the Night Angel Trilogy too. I have crazy love for the main character there.

        • tymcon October 15, 2010 at 2:41 PM #

          I did. I must admit though.
          He should’ve kept Durzo dead. Because that was one climatic fight:O

          • Cat October 16, 2010 at 3:57 AM #

            I sort of agree although I liked book 3 Durzo.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 17, 2010 at 9:56 PM #

      Never heard of those books – I’ll have to put them on my list!

  7. Chele October 15, 2010 at 9:29 AM #

    Oh man you guys win so hard for mentioning the Abhorsen Trilogy! That tops the list of my favourites. And Vanessa, I totally went around visualizing Charter marks too! (I still think I’d make a kickass Charter mage… -cough-)

    Harry Potter’s pretty much a given too, of course! Another favourite is the system in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. It’s so huge that I don’t even know how to begin describing it, but I swear Lackey splits everything up brilliantly. There’s everything in it – Healers and Mind-Readers and Adept-Mages and Heralds and Shamans etc etc. SO good ❤

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:45 PM #

      Ahahaha, just realized that I had the longest comment. Clearly, I love the ABHORSEN trilogy a whole lot! :p

      I’ve never read the Valdemar series, but it looks interesting.. I might just pick it up!

  8. Amie Kaufman October 15, 2010 at 10:49 AM #

    Ms Bina has it in one–THE DARK IS RISING is absolutely my favourite. I re-read that series every year, and I time it so I’m reading book 2 over Christmas, even if it is hot and sunny in Australia while I read about epic snow drifts. The ABHORSEN trilogy and Tamora Pierce’s systems (wild magic in particular, the gift in general) would round out my podium.

    • samanthabina October 15, 2010 at 11:55 AM #

      You, dear Amie, get a virtual high-five. THE DARK IS RISING is clearly the best. Sadly, my copies were all destroyed by mold this summer, so I need a new set ASAP! I haven’t read it in about a year, and I think it’s high time I fixed that!

      • Amie Kaufman October 16, 2010 at 5:19 AM #

        There are some gorgeous new covers out, it’s a sign you should investigate them! My copy is al all in one omnibus edition–I bought it when I was eleven. My beloved library teacher at school told me that TDIR was her ‘desert island book’, so I spent all my worldly wealth, twenty bucks back in those days, and got myself the series. Was she ever right. My husband long ago accepted that if we have a boy, he’ll be called Will.

        • Sammy October 17, 2010 at 11:32 AM #

          I LOVE the name Will. Good choice.

          Also, I will have to look into the new covers. God knows I’m a sucker for cover art.

  9. Caitlin October 15, 2010 at 11:02 AM #

    Oooh, how to pick? I love the idea of the magic in Inkheart (and I admit, I have never thought of my abandoned stories in the same way ever since reading those books) but no matter what book it is, I like it when magic is very specific and has some limitation. “Poof, there, everything’s fixed!” magic is just kind of boring. But if it can’t do everything there are still fun challenges (well, fun for me to read about, not necessarily for them) for the characters.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 17, 2010 at 9:57 PM #

      Inkheart is a great book – totally agree!

      And yeah, the best magic is limited!

  10. Aurora Blackguard October 15, 2010 at 12:01 PM #

    OMG YES! The ABHORSEN TRILOGY was AMAZING. Seriously, I craved those bells for weeks after reading SABRIEL. I absolutely loved the magic system in GRACELING (certain people have ‘Graces’ that grant them, not necessarily magical aspects but more like powerful quirks) and I cannot express in proper words how much I loved the magical system in THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series! The whole concept [SPOILER] of a stele that can draw runes on your skin and that will momentarily grant you some sort of wickedass power and drawings that come to life and creating runes that don’t exist and and and three instruments that have the power to do unholy devastation and create an army of rebel angels who will KILL ALL!!! Fantastic.

    All in all, magic rocks no matter how you put it. 😉

    • tymcon October 15, 2010 at 1:06 PM #

      Oh I read on garth’s amazon blog that he’s putting some bell charm bracelets into production.

      • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:46 PM #

        OMG. I would totally buy them! (I guess that makes me a bit of a fangirl, ahaha!)

      • Aurora Blackguard October 16, 2010 at 10:48 AM #

        OMG. Okay, wallet, OPEN 🙂 THANK YOU.

      • Chele October 16, 2010 at 11:38 AM #


  11. tymcon October 15, 2010 at 1:04 PM #

    Love all the abhorsen love. And i love how my question is here:P
    My favourite has to be The wheel of time’s one. It’s pretty much controlling the elements, but the author uses it in such a creative way, and describes using the magic so vividly. It’s awesome.
    Yeah after I read the abhorsen trilogy I used to imagine myself as a character. I was usually hurling free magic and fencing with a flaming sword. (loved Chlorr).
    Jenn ( I think that’s your name. The rusty trowel?) you should totally read it. Although, you’ve probably heard a lot about it and it might not live up to your expectations. That happened with me and Terry Pratchett.
    Also I was at a university open day and I saw a stage that said archeology and I thought of your blogXD

    • tymcon October 15, 2010 at 1:07 PM #

      Forgot to add this. In my opinion Sabriel only really hooked me after Touchstone arrived. Also meeting the badassness that is Kerrigor helped:P Seriously, after reading Sabrial I’ve wanted to write a climatic battle scene like in the book
      (geek out over)

      • Aurora Blackguard October 16, 2010 at 10:49 AM #


        But they ain’t got nothing on Mogget 🙂

  12. Cari October 15, 2010 at 2:04 PM #

    My answer is probably influenced by the fact that I just finished The Lost Hero, but I’ve also loved mythology and the way that the gods and heroes in those stories take the most basic things like water, sky, or wisdom and make them magical. I’m also a fan of Tamora Peirce.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:48 PM #

      I’ve always been a huge fan of anything by Tamora Pierce! She’s just so amazing.

  13. A. Barone October 15, 2010 at 4:08 PM #

    The magic in the TORTALL books is awesome. I love the idea of gifts and them being stronger or weaker depending on the person…

    …I also like the magic in the AVALON series by Marion Zimmer Bradly & Diana L. Paxton. The whole mythos that went into explaining the King Arthur myth and the previous generations is just amazing.

    And although it’s a little know series, Cate Tiernan’s SWEEP & BALEFIRE series are just so amazing. Blood witches and dark forces and true love, you can’t get much better than that. ^_^

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:55 PM #

      Anything by Tamora Pierce is awesome.

      I’ve never heard of Cate Tiernan or SWEEP & BALEFIRE, but it sounds really interesting!

  14. Renee October 15, 2010 at 5:43 PM #

    I absolutely LOVE the magic system in Alexandra Bracken’s BRIGHTLY WOVEN. North’s cloaks–so cool! 😀

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:50 PM #

      I agree – the cloak’s were a cool way to use magic! I think that was my favourite thing in Brightly Woven.

  15. Nicole October 15, 2010 at 5:48 PM #

    Tamora Pierce’s magic system is a favorite, as well as the Wheel of Time Series. got to love the mystery and forbidden nature of it.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:52 PM #

      I keep hearing about The Wheel of Time series! I really gotta get my hands on it!

  16. Jennifer October 15, 2010 at 11:16 PM #

    My absolute favorite magic system is the one in Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic universe. The Abhorsen Trilogy is a not-so-distant second.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 15, 2010 at 11:51 PM #

      I love how ours is reversed! Tamora Pierce is actually a very close second to the Abhorsen Trilogy for me :p (And His Dark Materials is tied with Tamora Pierce).

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