Magic & magic-users in high fantasy – Part 1


Magic. The power of apparently influencing events using mysterious or supernatural forces. The hands-down single BEST thing about the fantasy fiction genre…and the subject of today’s FANTASY FRIDAYS post.


For the last several weeks, I have been developing the “magic” system for my WIP epic fantasy series GracebornIt’s really got me thinking about the fascinating array of magic types and users in fantasy novels today, and I thought I’d share some of them with you. I could go on and on and on (and on and on and on) about all the systems I’ve encountered in all the novels I’ve read but, well, that would take forever. There are so many imaginative ideas out there!


But I’ve restrained myself. Barely. This discussion will be limited to magic in high fantasy—that is, fantasy set in an alternative, fictitious, “secondary” world—and magic-users that are human (or, at least, mostly human). The post itself will be released in two separate parts. Today, I will summarise the nature and types of magic / magic system in the selected fantasy series, and next week I will explore the magic-users themselves.


I hope you find the content as illuminating as I do, and please tell me all about your favourite magic system or the one in your WIP fantasy series!!





Graceborn by Rebecca Alasdair


Beautiful red rose in dirty male handOkay, yes, I had to start with an example from my WIP fantasy series. In Graceborn, the magic / magic system is known as Grace. I’m still fine-tuning its exact nature and definition, but Grace is essentially energy, left over from the Moment of Making in which the world was created. Grace can be physically manipulated by certain people in a process known as weaving, and can bestow upon others a variety of psionic abilities including (but not limited to!) TelepathyHealing and Telling (the future).







The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan


Wheel of Time_LIn Robert Jordan’s epic (epic epic epic epic) fantasy series The Wheel of Time, the main magical force is known as the One Power. The One Power emanates from the True Source, the driving force of creation which the Creator made to turn the Wheel of Time, and is made of two equal yet opposing parts: saidin, the male half (currently tainted by the Dark One), and saidar, the female half. It is essentially a source of energy capable of manipulating the universe. There is one other, equally important power in this series, but I’m not going to talk about that here because *spoilers*!



The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss


Kingkiller_DThe “magic” system within Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle is unique due to the way it masquerades as a variety of scientific (or pseudoscientific) disciplines. Sympathy is a type of energy manipulation that requires the mental ability to hold a belief firming enough it affects reality (known as Alar). Sygaldry is the application of runes that permanently mimic the effects of sympathy, called Artificing when combined with standard engineering principles. And, perhaps most significantly, Naming is the art of perceiving the true name of a person, place or thing and thus gaining absolute control over it.



Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson


Mistborn_LThere are three key magic systems in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. The most prominent of these is Allomancy, the ability to burn or flare ingested metals in order to fuel a variety of physical and mental enhancements.  The second is Feruchemy, the ability to store, and later expend, their own power or energy within metal holding units known as metalminds. The third magic system is Hemalurgy, which involves transferring power between individuals by driving a metal spike into one person’s heart, then removed and stabbed into the body of someone else.



A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard Morgan


ALFFH_DIt’s a little trickier to describe the magic system within Richard Morgan’s sword-and-planet-style dark fantasy trilogy A Land Fit For Heroes. Mainly because there isn’t a formal or official system of magic recognised by the novels’ society. What there is, is the ikinri’ska. The ikinri’ska is a set of otherworldly glyphs that, when traced upon the air or on an object, can have myriad effects. These include, but are not limited to, causing hallucinations, lighting fires, raising fog or calling down storms—the more complex the “spell”, the higher to toll it exacts on the user.



The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington


Licanius_LThe main type of magic in The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington is known as Essence. Essence, at its heart, is pure energy, the life force of all things. It can be drawn upon be individuals who have the Gift in finite amounts and manipulated into all manner of uses. Essence can also be stored in special devices called Vessels and used for various and particular purposes. There is another equally important type of magic called kan, whose exact nature and origin is currently unclear (at least it is at the point where I currently am in the series!).




The Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon


Pellinor_DAlison Croggon’s Books of Pellinor also centre around a magical ability known as the Gift, which enables its user to command various aspects of nature to do their will. The Gift is usually wielded through the use of the Speech (or, occasionally, the Voice), a magical language that all life forms understand. Certain individuals may also have psychic-type specialities; for example, Truthtelling, an innate ability that can provoke revelations of truth from other people, regardless of their intent.




Grishaverse / Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo


Grisha_LLeigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels feature a “magic” system called the Small Science, which, at its most basic, is the art of manipulating matter. Practitioners of the Small Science refer to it just so, rather than as “magic”, as it is seen as an extension of the natural world. On occasion, the limits of science may be pushed using merzost, the power of creation, or life over death, which requires the sacrifice of something essential by the person attempting it.





Tortall books by Tamora Pierce


Tortall_DIn the extensive Tortall books by Tamora Pierce (5+ series!), the most common form of magic is known as the Gift. The Gift has been described as “all-purpose”, since its users can apply it to a wide variety of spells and tasks. It manifests as a reserve of energy that is unique in both strength and colour in each person. The two less common forms of magic are the Sight, which enables certain individuals to “see” things invisible to the normal eye (e.g. lies, illness, magic and spells, poison in food), and wild magic, which connects its users to the natural world.



The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini


Inheritance_LFinally, I draw your attention to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle where magic, quite simply, is known as magic. Magic, or gramarye, is the manipulation of energy, and is generally controlled by speaking specific words or phrases in the Ancient Language. Using magic draws strength from the user, although it can also be drawn from their surroundings with the proper knowledge. Magic used with malevolent or ill intent is known as dark magic.







This is just a small taste of some of the more well-known magic systems used to enrich modern high fantasy novels. Next Friday, we’ll take a look at the magic-users that correspond to these types of magic, so stay tuned in for Magic & magic-users in high fantasy – Part 2




What’s your favourite type of magic from a high fantasy novel? What are your thoughts on those described above? Tell me about the system you’ve developed for your own WIP!



RA_logo _backdrop-01_miniRebecca Alasdair


  One thought on “Magic & magic-users in high fantasy – Part 1

  1. 11/05/2018 at 9:35 PM

    Query about your WIP magic system – is Grace a renewable energy source?

    Liked by 1 person

    • 11/05/2018 at 10:39 PM

      An interesting question! I’d like to stick to conservation principles, where mere humans can’t actually create new Grace, nor destroy it. Lighting a fire, for example, requires one to extract Grace from the air (or elsewhere) and weave it into flames. The act of weaving it doesn’t change the amount that’s there (so it’s “renewable” in that regard), but individuals have a limit they can weave at any one time. I can foresee a few issues this concept might cause down the track so it does require a bit of fine tuning, as these things always do. Does that answer your question? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • 11/05/2018 at 10:51 PM

        You did answer my question! I thought that if it were non-renewable, that could cause a major change in the way magic is used – as long as the characters knew about its depletion, anyway. Since it is renewable, you get the opportunity to really explore a very high-magic universe, which is exciting. Good luck, and keep posting updates on your WIP!

        Liked by 1 person

      • 11/05/2018 at 10:56 PM

        Excellent! Thank you for your comments and I will for sure continue posting updates!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. 13/05/2018 at 10:12 PM

    I love this! The Patrick Rothfuss system in particular sounds fascinating. I’ve heard amazing things about his writing, though I’m yet to pick up one of his books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 13/05/2018 at 11:16 PM

      Aw thanks ❤ Kingkiller is definitely a unique gem in the fantasy genre, and as a fantasy-nut-slash-science-student I was a complete sucker for the rather scientific magic system!!


  3. Cait @ Paper Fury
    14/05/2018 at 9:56 PM

    Ooh this was so interesting to see the magic systems lined up like this! I haven’t read a TON of these (shaaame on me) but I do love the Grisha magic system. I have to admit, I’m a bit tired of elemental magic.😂It just seems so overdone?? But I really like magic with a bit of a sciencey flare. (The Kingkiller chronicles are AMAZING.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • 14/05/2018 at 10:03 PM

      Why thank you 😊 I also love magic that can be explained on a scientific level! It appeals to the rational, analytical part of me (which can be so at odds with my creative/writing streak btw). Elemental magic is a pretty common one no doubt, but it’s also pretty versatile so I definitely see the appeal!!


  4. barbarabrutt
    15/05/2018 at 2:05 AM

    When I read Brandon Sanderson, I was blown away by his magic system! I’d never met a such a collection of pulling/pushing energies that were balanced by the slow burn of metals. That series completely astounded and delighted me.

    I love that authors can create their own worlds with magic. But, I’d never really considered making it. Like what. Cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 15/05/2018 at 12:09 PM

      Magic is just so…well…magical right? The Mistborn magic system is awesome. I love how you can read so many books about magic and STILL come across systems that are utterly unique!

      Liked by 1 person

      • barbarabrutt
        15/05/2018 at 9:17 PM

        YES! I’ve been enjoying Patrick Rothfuss recently!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. 15/05/2018 at 8:22 PM

    I’m still working on the finer details for the fantasy novel I am outlining, and one of those things is the magic system. In broad strokes it’s a blood magic system that is strongly religious to them. Just as the first mage bled herself of her magic to give the gift of magic to the world, its users for the most part see it as an act of giving of themselves. There is magic without that sacrifice, and everyday magics don’t require it, but there is judging of the Unmarked by the Covenants as people not willing to give their own energy and force into the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 15/05/2018 at 9:57 PM

      Wow that sounds very intriguing 🙂 So many times in fantasy, blood magic is portrayed as an “evil” or “dark” form of magic…which is a bit of a shame, since it has so much POTENTIAL! I like the religious twist you’re putting to it too. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  6. 20/02/2019 at 2:03 PM

    I’ve gone with mainly the tried a true elemental for my base magic system. Cliche, yes, but in my mind also classic. I can’t help it, I love it. 🙂 Plus my main magic users are elves or humans with elven lineage, so to me it makes sense to have their magic stem from the earth itself. Not to say there are not other kinds, the elements are simply the base line. I have necromancers who deal in reanimation and death magic, and also blood magic using blood to power their spells. Dark magic is a big no, no is my world, due to past history. I have just introduced another race of people who use magic very naturally in their everyday lives, they use more glyphs and runes, though I am still perfecting this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 21/02/2019 at 12:32 AM

      You’re so right that elemental magic is so classic! I see people say they’re tired of it and think NO WAY!! Being a sciencey person, I always like my magic to be connected to the natural world and its physical laws, which works really well with the elements. It also makes for a great contrast with “darker” types of magic – like necromancy and blood magic. Sounds like you’ve put some great thought into your magic system. Best of luck with the project!! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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