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Types of Magic Systems

There’s something about magic that has always drawn me into stories. For me, the use of magic in storytelling is like tapping into the excitement and wonder about the unknown that I had as a child. It takes that sense of wonder and brings it to life through a story that’s enjoyable to read. The allure magic brings to a story’s world-building, plot, and character development adds a layer of complexity and is irresistible for me. From the flick of a wand to the ancient language of dragons, magic weaves its way through the intricate fabric of fantasy worlds. In this month’s post, we’ll explore some of the coolest and most captivating types of magic that commonly arise in fantasy novels; several are ones I use in my stories.

1. Elemental Magic:

This is one of the most fundamental forms of magic that we see in fantasy books. This type of magic is based in the elements of the world, like fire, water, or wind. Some of my favorite examples comes from Brandon Sanderson’s works. In “The Way of Kings,” Sanderson uses light conducted from storms to infuse a powerful strength advantage into armor and develop shard-blades, the world’s most dangerous weapons. Those who have the advantage of this unique armor or sword are dominant on the battlefield. In my “Rulers of Tarmigan” series, I use elemental magic as the basis for my magic system.

2. Necromancy:

This type of magic is traditionally associated with the dark side of magic, but in recent decades is becoming more commonly written as a helpful tool for protagonists. Necromancy delves into the manipulation of life and death. This goes beyond, and differs from, the science experiment Dr. Frankenstein used to create his Monster. Characters who practice necromancy are using magic to communicate with spirits in the beyond and/or reanimate the dead. Some use necromancy as a tool to predict the future through communing with the afterlife. Other’s can use their communication with the dead to solve crimes. Some notable examples that showcases necromancy are “Rivers of London,” by Ben Aaronovitch, “The Ninth House,” by Leigh Bardugo, and “Sabriel,” by Garth Nix. In these worlds necromancers walk the line between life and death, working with and battling supernatural forces to maintain balance. I haven’t used necromancy much in my writing, because I find it’s a tricky business to write.

3. Shapeshifting:

Shapeshifting magic is one of the oldest written about forms of magic. It’s commonly used in stories spanning genres throughout our history. This type of magic is when a person, whether they are a witch, wizard, warlock, mage, or just an individual who’s bitten by an animal of supernatural being, can transform from their human form into that of an animal. The animal can be fantastical or one commonly seen in nature, like a wolf. An outstanding book featuring shapeshifters is “Moon Called,” by Patricia Briggs, where the main character can transform into a coyote, is raised by werewolves, and walks the line between two worlds. Shapeshifting is most common in contemporary and urban fantasy genres. Popular books like “Twilight,” “The Dresden Files,” and “Harry Potter” all contain shapeshifting magic. I like this form of magic and have used shapeshifting in more than one of my books. I find it offers characters a layer of complexity and a unique ability that is enjoyable to write.

4. Divination:

This is a mainstay in fantasy stories all across the board. Divination is magic that uses language to create and cast spells. The obvious example of this type of magic is, “Harry Potter”. There are a vast array of books where witches and wizards use the spells to accurately channel their magic. Common uses of divination, beyond waving a wand, are in epic fantasy. One example, in “Eragon,” by Christopher Paolini, magic is channeled by speaking the ancient language of dragons. Other epic fantasy stories highlight the elves as having magical language that allows them to cast spells and use healing powers. In my “Bonnie Glock Mysteries,” I use a variety of Latin-based languages to create the magic she casts in spells.

5. Alchemy:

Alchemy is unique because it weaves science and magic together. This is typically seen in more traditional works of western fantasy and is where experts seek to transform substances in hopes of unlocking secrets of the universe. One great example of this type of magic was in “The Name of the Wind,” by Patrick Rothfuss. His character, Kvothe, delves into a world where students of a university can discover hidden truths about the world and use them to unlock and create powerful potions that defy ordinary limits.

6. Time Manipulation:

Time manipulation magic can be tricky and will take you on a mind-bending journey. In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Hermione’s Time-Turner allows her to travel back in time, showcasing the intricate possibilities of manipulating temporal reality. How and why Hermione didn’t decide to just go all the way back and stop the villain from committing his crimes in the first place is plot hole many readers point out. I’ve used time magic in my Bond of a Dragon series. It’s tricky to write without creating a plot hole, but it can be helpful to use in explaining some limitations to other powerful magics.

7. Enchantment and Glamour Magic:

Enchantment magic/glamour magic involve the art of weaving illusions over objects, people, or places. From the fey enchantments of Holly Black’s “The Cruel Prince,” to the mysterious glamours in Patricia McKillip’s “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld,” this form of magic adds an ethereal and enchanting layer to the narrative. This is a common use of magic in urban and contemporary fantasy. We see it in high fantasy as well. I’ve used it in my "Bonnie Glock Mysteries," and will continue to keep it in my bag of tricks for story telling.

There are plenty more types of magic we see in fantasy books, what I’ve mentioned here are just a handful. Whatever type of magic system used, I think it adds a quality layer of complexity and, when done right, is very enjoyable to read. Magic fuels our imagination and transports us to worlds we couldn’t otherwise imagine. Whether it’s the powerful flows of wild energy born from elemental magic, the unsettling qualities of necromancy, or the intricate spell-casting of divination these magical systems continue to captivate readers and invite us to explore the limitless possibilities created by authors. Within the pages of fantasy novels, we can use magic to represent and reflect aspects of our society while making them more interesting and fantastical imagine.

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