“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is favourite magic systems.
“Kathy, why do you have like a thousand shelves on your Goodreads?”
Well, readers, I have them for moments like this. Because god knows I can barely remember the names of characters from books I read a week ago, let alone the ins-and-outs of their magic systems. So I had to go through my “interesting magic system” shelf to joggle my memory.
1. Unsounded – Pymary
There are many reasons why Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is currently my favourite western comic series (and one of my favourite fantasy series–of any media). Aside from complex characters and insanely rich worldbuilding, it also boasts a fascinating, dynamic magic system that’ll have you waving your hands and squinting real hard at some random object on the off chance that maybe–maybe–the magic’s a real thing (no luck yet).
Here’s a quick rundown of how pymary works: the story’s continent, Kasslyn, rests on top of a spectral plane called the “khert” which governs every material and non-material thing that exists in this world. Pymary is the art of “speaking” to the khert to manipulate–condense, reassign, switch, isolate–physical properties of objects which include density, colour, pressure, temperature, contour, and so forth.
So wrights (pymary-users) can take the heat of a campfire and use it to incinerate an enemy. Or condense all the pressure of a waterfall to create the biggest KABOOM. People also use it for cosmetic purposes–like taking the scent of a rose and assigning it to their pet pooch.
It’s super exciting, the possibilities are endless, and I freaking love the balance of it. Do yourself a favour and go check out this webcomic.
2. Mistborn – Allomancy
While I adore the complexity of the Stormlight Archives magic system, there’s something about Mistborn’s Allomancy that’s incredibly attractive, addictive, and…marketable (kind of like the Maria Sharapova of fantasy). Maybe it’s the idea of using coins to fling yourself through the air. Maybe it’s the romanticism of quaffing down vials of metals to prepare for a big battle. Maybe it’s just my bird-brain seeing the list of Allomantic metals and going, “Ooh shiny!” Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that this is one hell of a magic system.
3. Manifest Delusions Series – Geisteskranken
I love magic systems that reflect and feed off of the characters’ psychological state, and Michael Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series is the prime example of this. In this world, mental disorders shape reality. If you believe there are doubles of you running amok in the world, then there really are doubles out there. If you believe that the figure you see in the mirror is a whole other person with their own personality, then yes, they actually are.
The stronger your delusions, the more powerful your abilities; the more you slip away from reality, the more you can shape it. It’s twisted, dark, and the sheer imagination of it floors me.
4. Realm of the Elderlings Series – Skill and Wit
The magic in Hobb’s series is predicated on the idea that there’s this massive, powerful life-force that flows through, over, or beneath the world. It allows the living people to use its energy to perform various “magics” using the Skill or the Wit or some bastardized form of both. With the Skill you can do things like heal and communicate over long distances via thought. With the Wit you can communicate and form bonds with animals. It’s much more complicated than this but I’ll avoid spoilers and just say that there’s a lot you can do with these two magics.
This is the least flashy system on the list, but it’s one that feels the most natural to me–like, I can very easily see it existing in real life. It’s also the only magic system on the list that plays such a huge role in character development. And I find that absolutely incredible.
5. The Chanters of Tremaris Series – Music Magic
This is probably one that none of you have heard of. It doesn’t have the most exciting magic system (at least, not by today’s standards) and I’m not sure how the series holds up as an adult, but it was the first fantasy series I read that introduced the idea of music magic, and I loved that. You never quite forget your firsts.
If you happen to be one of the rare creatures who have read these books, come find me. Close your eyes and turn thrice widdershins under the light of a full moon. And when you find yourself in an unmarked stretch of forest, walk around and lose yourself for a while. Eventually we’ll convene at the roots of the ancient white oak where we’ll spend the night drinking the nectar of gods and singing praises of this series.
Or I can yell-gush about it with you over the internet. I’m good either way!
The only one I’m familiar with is Mistborn but they all sound great. I also like music magic but it’s not common.
Oh I so wish there were more of music magic in fantasy. The most recent one I read was Los Nefilim by T. Frohock which has music magic-making angels and demons. 🙂
I do love the magic in Hobb’s series. It has rules but doesn’t feel regimented.
I need to use shelves more on GR. Every time I run across a prompt like this I regret not being more thorough!
I have shelves with ridiculously long names so the “shelf” section of my reviews end up being a wall of text, but they *do* come in handy when someone asks me for recommendations for books on specific topics 😀
Really liked Mistborn, but only read the first one. I need to go back and read more of them.
You should definitely read the next books! They only get better and better imo
Good tip! Will do.
Allomancy may be one of my all time favourite magic systems. I agree with the romanticism of it haha.
I’ve never read a Robin Hobb novel (and I call myself a fantasy fan 🙄), but your description of the magic system intrigues me.
I lowkey wanted to cosplay Vin when I first read the books because I loved the thought of carrying around those metal vials. 😀 And oh do check out Hobb’s books when you have the chance!
Haha that would be so awesome!
I’ve not read any of these sadly but I’ve come across the Mistborn series and Brandon Sanderson aplenty! I like to dabble in writing (badly, badly dabble) and when I’ve researched world building and magic, his is a name often mentioned because of his Three Laws! It’s like Asimov without the robots! I’d love to read his series one day to get context to the advice because his seems to be held as the pinnacle of magic systems in books!
Oh my gosh, you should totally read Brandon Sanderson at some point! Most of his books are set in the same universe (but different planets), so while the magic systems are all different, they have the same origin and they’re interconnected in many ways. It’s super cool!
And he builds everything from the ground-up, piece by piece, which I can’t imagine having the patience to do. The guy is insanely meticulous. 😀
I know! I feel like I’m missing something by not reading anything of his! I’ll have to add it my list, it grows every day! EEP!
Unsounded sounds and looks awesome! A western comic? I’m in. I must admit I’ve never read a Brandon Sanderson book but I definitely plan on correcting that 🙂
Yay! Unsounded is ridiculously good and even after all these years, I can’t believe we get to read it for free. And all of Sanderson’s books are pretty great!
I need to check that unsounded comic
Looks very cool!
Omg Hamad, it is AMAZING. The beginning’s a little rough because the author was still developing her artstyle, but then it gets really good *really* fast. 😀
I added it to my TBR
Seems like something I would enjoy, thanks 🙂
Mistborn is just the best! It was on my list too 🙂
It’s simple but still so interesting! And ooh, I’ll go check it out!
Aaaah, nice to see someone else who has read the Chanters of Tremaris series. It’s been a long time since I last read it, but nice to see it remembered. I remember loving the Magic System in it as well. It felt really unique.
AHHH I honestly didn’t expect to find anyone else who read it!!! <3 I've been thinking of rereading it but it seems that the series is out of print now. I may have to dig around in some of the bigger libraries
I learned a big something new today- understanding the concept of a magic system! And now I want to know about all the magic systems, Kathy! 😂 This is a wonderfully informative and entertaining post for the magic system newbie. I loved it! ♥️
Hehe glad to be of help, Jennifer! I adore dissecting magic systems and peering into how they work. Probably the scientist in me! 😀
The idea of magic being insanity in Manifest Delusions simply blew my mind! Imagine, the crazier you are, the more power you have…gotta hand it to Fletcher 😀
He has a brilliant, twisted imagination and I’m going to point to his work whenever people tell me Canadian books are nicer/”tamer” than the US ones. 😀
Robin Hobb’s books have been on my TBR for so long, but I’m determined to at least read the first book in one of her series before the end of the year. I haven’t read any of the others, but they all sound fascinating and I would definitely have been attracted to the idea of music magic while growing up too!
WOOT! I get VERY excited whenever someone tells me they’ll be reading Hobb’s books for the first time. If you end up liking it, do come and gush about it with me! I need more fellow Hobb fans in my life 😀
I still need to read Beyond Redemption *hangs head*.
Allomancy is such a great magic system isn’t it – you have to hand it to Sanderson for coming up with it.
Oh definitely do check out Beyond Redemption when you have the chance! The series is one of the most psychologically grim things I’ve read but it’s sooo addicting and imaginative!
Allomancy is my all time favourite. I love the simplicity of it. It sounds like it would be so much fun. The Mistborn trilogy is so special. I adore them, especially as I came across them by accident one day while I was on Book Depository. I think they got me back into reading fantasy.
I’m praying that there will be a Mistborn video game adaptation in the near future, as it’s probably the closest I’ll get to experiencing Allomancy. 😀 And accidental discoveries are the best! So glad to hear that the books helped you get back into fantasy! <3
I love Robin Hobb’s magic system, too. I enjoyed the Mistborn book that I read, but I can’t recall the magic system. I need to check out more music-powered magic systems as I think there is a lot of scope with those. Thank you for a really entertaining article!
The Chanters of Tremaris has been on me list for quite some time. Maybe I need to move it up the list. Beyond Redemption sounds interesting. I will have to look that up. Fun post matey!
x The Captain
Beyond Redemption is twisted, with despicable characters, but it’s incredibly addicting and well, not “fun”, but very entertaining. And yes, do check out the Tremaris books! 🙂 I’ve been wanting to do a reread, but it’s been difficult finding libraries/bookstores that have them…
Oh, Mistborn! I should really read that one. I’m usually more drawn to realistic stuff, or the Stephen King style paranormal, but then again, whenever i read something with magic, i end up enjoying it a lot.
Beyond Redemption sounds super interesting too!
Well, I think Mistborn’s magic system has a pretty logical set of rules, so I can easily see it appealing to non-fantasy readers. 😀