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Author Topic: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?  (Read 19770 times)

Offline tcsimpson

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #30 on: March 28, 2012, 09:22:14 PM »
I can deal with either extreme, but I love my magic and I like there to be some type of explanation for me to get a handle on how things work. I feel like some authors leave out those explanations because they truly don't know. (I'm looking at you George R. R. Martin.) And I do love Game of Thrones. I just think he has a very basic idea of how the magic in his world works and thus avoids it because he wants it to remain a 'mystery' as he said in one of his quotes about how he feels about magic. His characters and plots make up for this though so he gets an easy pass.
Some authors don't delve into their magic to leave it open for them to also hit us with a Deus ex Machina, which I hate the most. Some authors to me just aren't good at writing magical battles and tend to stay away from them. However, for the most part, as long as the characters and storytelling is good, I can deal.
My favorites are easily Sanderson and Jordan. I love Sanderson's systems. I think he's gotten even stronger now with his characters and WoK is proof of an incredible world, incredible magic, great plot and characters.

Offline Annomander Matt

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #31 on: July 09, 2014, 05:42:50 AM »
I can deal with either extreme, but I love my magic and I like there to be some type of explanation for me to get a handle on how things work. I feel like some authors leave out those explanations because they truly don't know. (I'm looking at you George R. R. Martin.) And I do love Game of Thrones. I just think he has a very basic idea of how the magic in his world works and thus avoids it because he wants it to remain a 'mystery' as he said in one of his quotes about how he feels about magic. His characters and plots make up for this though so he gets an easy pass.
Some authors don't delve into their magic to leave it open for them to also hit us with a Deus ex Machina, which I hate the most. Some authors to me just aren't good at writing magical battles and tend to stay away from them. However, for the most part, as long as the characters and storytelling is good, I can deal.
My favorites are easily Sanderson and Jordan. I love Sanderson's systems. I think he's gotten even stronger now with his characters and WoK is proof of an incredible world, incredible magic, great plot and characters.

I agree with this. I can get into a story like First Law, ASOIF, or Long Price where magic is a part, but not the major theme. However I loved the use of magic in Malazan, WOT, and Mistborn that was explained in detail and a major part of the story. Not to mention that in each case non magical peeps still had a part to play. I just figure, "hey, I'm reading epic fantasy and magic is a part I enjoy".

Offline Timstar

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #32 on: July 09, 2014, 08:54:35 AM »
I would also vote for Mistborn as one of my favourites, but I haven't really been able to get into the Stormlight magic systems.

Not far into Powder Mage trilogy but I am enjoying that magic so far.

Offline Susie Mander

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #33 on: July 10, 2014, 02:54:10 AM »
I love my magic and I like there to be some type of explanation for me to get a handle on how things work. I feel like some authors leave out those explanations because they truly don't know.

This made me laugh. It is so true. If an explanation isn't in there then the author probably hasn't thought it through. I fear my stories are a bit like this but hopefully with practice I'll get better!

The problem with this is it means anything is possible. Magic needs boundaries and limitations. I tend to prefer magic that is learned or that is volatile if someone doesn't understand how to control it. I really love the magic in Jo Spurrier's Winter Be My Shield...I loved Sierra's "gift". Because she raises power from the suffering of others it makes it quite dark and unusual.
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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #34 on: July 10, 2014, 03:30:00 AM »
I really liked Francis Knight's pain magic in the Rojan Dizon novels. As she said, any magic that becomes a curse rather than a blessing is interesting. On the flipside of this, for some strange reason I've lately been enamored with "mathematical" magic in the vain of Entropy for Mark T. Barnes's Echoes of Empire series and Rjurik Davidson's debut, Unwrapped Sky. Neither are explained in detail ('cause math makes my head hurt) but make the numbers mixed with art believable. Maybe it's not so much in the system as it is the written word.

The problem with this is it means anything is possible. Magic needs boundaries and limitations. I tend to prefer magic that is learned or that is volatile if someone doesn't understand how to control it. I really love the magic in Jo Spurrier's Winter Be My Shield...I loved Sierra's "gift". Because she raises power from the suffering of others it makes it quite dark and unusual.

Likewise. My own WIP has the same take on magic (drawing on the abstract pain of others and themselves; this form being the rarest of the 3) which seems to be becoming quite popular. Strange. But how is Jo's book other than that?
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Offline Susie Mander

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #35 on: February 01, 2015, 09:01:29 AM »
Sorry for the very late reply, I was busy having a baby, which was fun and challenging. I'm also new to forums so hadn't set up notifications. I really loved Winter Be My Shield and reading this has reminded me to go and buy the sequels. What I found amazing was that Jo is from Adelaide, Australia, where there is no snow, she hasn't seen snow (apparently) and yet her descriptions of snow are brilliant.

How is the work in progress?
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Offline Yora

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #36 on: February 01, 2015, 12:44:44 PM »
I really love the Force in Star Wars. In the movies it's a very basic and simple form of magic. Relax your mind and just do it. No fancy ritual, exotic materials, or flashy sparkles, just simple telekinesis and telepathy. And at the same time it's very versatile. The telekinetic use of the Force can be used for all kinds of things that are up to the creativity of the Jedi. Throw things, catch things, throw yourself, bend things, deflect blaster shots, whatever you can think of. There are no spells, just whatever you can imagine in your mind.
I think it's one of the most plausible magic systems in fantasy. If there is some kind of magical energy that can be manipulated with the mind, this is how I would expect it to work. Non of that hocuspocus and abracadabra.
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Offline Wizard Police

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #37 on: February 02, 2015, 06:02:14 AM »
I like it when magic is used as a device to help people get out of tight situations, and for it to be used strategically rather than just getting them out of a tight pinch "just because".

In the manga Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, in one story arc there's a war between a kingdom of magicians and a normal kingdom ruled by humans. The humans were outmatched by the magicians, so they send in these Hulk like beings capable of astonishing physical feats, like the Hulk (just gonna keep calling them the Hulk because I forget what they're called). The magicians have this magic artillery like weapon that can kill armies in droves, so the Hulk like warriors block its attack by lifting up a large chunk of rock from the ground, and the magic artillery can't penetrate it. The Hulks then put their unparalleled strength and speed on display when they go on a killing spree; the Hulks can attack faster than the magicians can cast spells. The magicians then have to fly and cast their magic in the air against the Hulks. It works for a bit, but then the Hulks counter by breaking up large chunks of rock, and creating sort of a stair case towards the magicians. The magicians counter by taking away the ground from the Hulks by flooding the earth with water. The battle is a constant back and forth of trying to outsmart each other.

It's scenes like these that make me appreciate magic more; when the characters are cornered and have no choice but to use it, but even when they do use it they're still being outdone, so they have to use their brains in conjunction with their magic.

Offline koffern

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #38 on: February 03, 2015, 06:02:26 AM »
i loved how Craig Andrews explained magic in "The Machinists"
most mages believe that magic is fading from the world since elemental powers gets weaker and weaker.
main character realizes at some point that magic is changing along with human evolution.
in the dark/middle ages fire was important for warmth and water for feeding crops and therefore humans really depended on it, but in modern society humans are much less reliant on the elements and alot more realiant on technology.
therefore magic has developed into being based on different technologies instead of being based on the elements.
i think the idea is great and the 2nd book in the series just came out so im eager to see where he takes this.

On the other hand i love how Terry Mancour explains magic as a science in the "Spellmonger" series.
A more classic view.
Magic is based on a taught system that is based in magic research, but you also have wild magic which is based on instinct but its all a science in one form or the other.
And u have other races than humans who have magic based in unknown ways which the author has yet to reveal.

I really didnt like the magic system in "Codex Alera" by Jim Butcher.
The story was good, dont get me wrong the guy can write.
But the lacking magic (people seem to know how to do it like we know how to breathe with not even a shallow explanation) made this book good and not great in my opinion.

Offline Elfy

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #39 on: February 03, 2015, 11:04:58 PM »

I really didnt like the magic system in "Codex Alera" by Jim Butcher.
The story was good, dont get me wrong the guy can write.
But the lacking magic (people seem to know how to do it like we know how to breathe with not even a shallow explanation) made this book good and not great in my opinion.
This is probably a bit off topic, but I've heard that the Codex Alera (not read it myself) was the result of a bet someone made with Jim that he couldn't write a more standard epic fantasy. That may explain some of it's failures.

Again I've not read the series (although I do know the first book is on the TBR pile), but Blake Charlton looks at writing as magic in his Spellwright series. I quite like what Jim Hines' does in the Libriomancer series, where if it's written down somewhere in a book there are a group of people that can reach into the book and remove it for use. For instance someone could open up a copy of an Arthurian saga and draw Excalibur from within it's pages.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Yora

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #40 on: February 03, 2015, 11:12:32 PM »

This is probably a bit off topic, but I've heard that the Codex Alera (not read it myself) was the result of a bet someone made with Jim that he couldn't write a more standard epic fantasy. That may explain some of it's failures.
The bet was that he (or anyone) couldn't write a good story based on the poorest and most random story prompt. He said you can make a good story out of anything, so the challenge he got was "Lost Roman Legion + Pokemon".
Which I can imagine led to a rather unconventional magic system.
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Offline koffern

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #41 on: February 03, 2015, 11:17:55 PM »

This is probably a bit off topic, but I've heard that the Codex Alera (not read it myself) was the result of a bet someone made with Jim that he couldn't write a more standard epic fantasy. That may explain some of it's failures.

yes thats correct.
a friend of Butcher said something along the lines of " you cant possibly write a book from some really dumb sourcematerial" which ended up as Codex Alera based on pokemon and some roman comic called Legion or something about legionaires.
which in and of itself is a pretty amazing feat by Butcher.
i still dont like to have no explanation of how the magic works because it kind of alienates a core part of the characters and the society in general.

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #42 on: February 04, 2015, 04:04:23 AM »
I can't stand when magic isn't explained, because it allows for wizards to just use it whenever they get into a tight spot, or not be able to use it because the author doesn't want to make the solution too easy.
My favorite magic system ever is in Brent Weeks' Light Bringer Saga. I just love how they have to use their imaginations and create something to get them out of a situation. Throughout the series, we see countless times that you can be really powerful, but that means nothing if you not only don't know how magic works, but have no creativity.
Is it just me, or are the elemental magic systems getting a bit old? I feel like the power to summon water, fire, air, and all that other wonderful natural stuff is overused.

Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #43 on: February 04, 2015, 10:44:22 AM »
I really didnt like the magic system in "Codex Alera" by Jim Butcher.
The story was good, dont get me wrong the guy can write.
But the lacking magic (people seem to know how to do it like we know how to breathe with not even a shallow explanation) made this book good and not great in my opinion.
That's presumably because everyone in that world is taught how to use furies (magic) at a very young age, just like how we were taught to do basic things like walk and talk. Remember that this a world where a) a lot of things revolve around furycraft and b ) everyone is able to use it (except Tavi). So it's pretty hard to call that a criticism since it is given a good explanation in context.

Honestly, Codex Alera is actually probably one of my favourite uses of magic in fantasy. Not because of the magic system itself, which is pretty basic if you look at it, but the way that Jim Butcher has successfully created the world around it, rather than simply having it as a side aspect as so many fantasy universes do. Things like farming, transportation, even basic lighting rely heavily on furies. And Butcher actually bothered to work out an entire basic tactical system for his armies, taking the magic into account (the fire-users are siegebreakers, the wood users are scouts/archers, salt arrows are regularly used against wind-users, etc), which makes a pleasant change from the usual use of magic on the battlefield which more often than not turns into 'who can throw their magic at the enemy hard enough'.
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Offline JMack

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Re: What was your favorite (and least favorite) use of magic in fantasy?
« Reply #44 on: February 04, 2015, 12:06:37 PM »
I think one of my least favorite tropes in Fantasy is the magic savant.  We've all seen them, even in some very very good books.  Our hero (hmmm, call him Harry) has incredible magical powers, even at an early age.  He amazes his teachers.  When faced with danger, his powers unaccountably manifest themselves to save the day.

Many writers address this in terms of showing progress and training (hmmm, call our heroine, Vin), but the concept is still there that this one has more innate power than any other (the Force is strong in this one).

A comparison to elite athletes might be useful.  If magic is a physical trait, then some will have better genes than others.  But there is still a massive amount of training required.  Tiger Woods was a prodigy, but also an obsessive with an obsessed teacher and at least ten years of work before he could compete with elite adults.  Vin trains for two years in Mistborn, and achieves feats that a lifetime of training never produced in others.  (Yes, I know, maybe she was chosen by Preservation, but  that's part of the trope, too, right?  And I do love me some Vin.)

Disclaimer: I loved all the stories I'm using here as examples, which is evidence that this trope can work pretty darn well.  But it always bothers me, and any author who uses it has, for me, set a real hill to climb.  Maybe a perfect treatment?  Wizard of Earthsea.
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