This week, everyone had the chance to chose a topic of their choice. For my topic choice, I decided to go with the Top 5 Magic Systems Read in 2021. I love magic, and I’ll talk for days about it, so this felt like a fun choice, and a way for me to highlight some truly amazing books.
Personally, I lean more towards Hard Magic Systems, where the costs and limits of magic are sharply defined. Of course, Soft Magic – where the rules are loose or even unknown – can be absolutely fantastic for creating a more magical feel to the world, it’s just not my preference.
With that said, I included magic systems from all sides of the spectrum, because they’re still awesome, but I also listed the books from Hardest to Softest in terms of how clearly the reader understands the limits of magic.
Let’s talk magic!
Top Five Magic Systems Read in 2021
by Charlie N. Holmberg
Set in an alternate England where people are separated into two types of magic users: spellmakers and spellbreakers, this is probably the Hardest magic system on this list. Spellbreakers have the ability to break spells and enchantments. Those who are spellmakers are often gifted with an affinity for certain schools of magic, but all magic users are not created equal, and spellmakers actually have to buy the ability to use certain spells, so the most powerful are only available to the rich, powerful lords of England.
It’s a very cool system, and I especially enjoyed the author’s description of how her main character finds and identifies certain spells – sometimes it’s a feel, other times it’s a smell! It was an excellent set up for the use of magic and the author uses it for some great worldbuilding. Definitely recommend if you like to mix magic and Victorian drama.
The Queen of Blood
by Sarah Beth Durst
Not quite as Hard as the previous entry, but still leaning towards it. Queen of Blood has magic everywhere in the form of the spirits. The magic of humans is limited to controlling the spirits (and preventing them from killing every human in their path) and the more power they have, the more spirits they can control. It’s a simple set up, and doesn’t really place strict limits on the magic user themselves as it’s all generally centered around how ‘powerful’ they are.
The really interesting thing about this book was the protagonist Danica’s abilities. She’s a magic user, but by far one of the weakest, so she’s limited as to how many spirits she can control, and on how powerful they are. She has to get really creative about how she gives her commands, and it placed a hard limit on her powers right from the start. Overall, a really cool concept that’s magical while also being absolutely horrifying when you stop to think about it.
The Iron Crown
by L.L. MacRae
For something a little more in the middle, The Iron Crown is a fantastic mix of different kinds of magic systems. In general, there are two main types of magic: you have the Dragon spirits, who guard their domains and may bless or curse anyone (un)lucky enough to cross their path, and the magic serving the Iron Throne, protecting the land from the evil spirits called the Myr… at least until now.
I particularly loved the Dragon spirits – fiercely protective of their domain, and as likely to help you as kill you depending on their mood. It made for a wonderful bit of suspense because you were never quite sure how these spirits would react, and created some great contrast with the more rigid attempts at control and order by the Iron Throne. If you haven’t checked this book out, I absolutely recommend you give it a read.
Prince of Thorns
by Mark Lawrence
Now we’re stepping into the softer side of the scale, and Prince of Thorns is probably one of the best examples. More thematic than tool, the magic helps to fully flesh out the sheer brutality in this world where everything seems ready and willing to strike you down: the costs are horrifically high for all magic users, and those we see are closer to monsters than men.
The reader may never fully grasp the rules and limits of the magic, but they will know it is absolutely terrifying whenever it appears. It actually makes our ‘hero’ Jorg seem slightly more friendly in comparison, and that is saying something.
The Poppy War
by R.F. Kuang
The Poppy War probably has the softest magic system on this entire list and yet it’s also one of my favourites ever (because I like contradicting myself). Set in a fantasy version of ancient China, magic is less a natural force users can wield, and more like contracts with Gods where you always get the worst possible part of the deal. There aren’t too many limits placed on the actual magic itself – since, you know, Gods – but we don’t really need them, since the cost of using it is often more than anyone could fathom.
This book is already a dark, heart-wrenching tale of suffering and war, but add in the incredible and horrifying consequences of mortals wielding power a million times beyond their understanding, and it’s practically an epic tragedy. And I love it. If you want to see Soft magic done to absolutely devastating effect, this is the book for you.
Have you read any of these books? What kind of magic system do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading everyone!