It’s All in the Magic

There are lot of elements that go into building a fantasy world that will draw the readers in and allow them to love this new world and believe it can all be true. Strong characters are pretty much at the top of the list, but right up there are the rules of magic and how it works–or doesn’t–within that world.

 For me (speaking as a reader here), I want to learn the parameters the writer has established for his/her world and then watch how the action plays out against that backdrop. The rules have to be clear and consistent. No sudden changes just to make it easier for the writer to tell the story because that’s cheating.  If the rules are broken, there should be a terrible price to be paid by the character who breaks the rules. Yeah, I want him to pay with blood, pain, or even being cast out and shunned for what he did.


 On the other hand, that isn’t to say that every character in a book has to have the same abilities or even the same attitudes toward magic. One of the best examples of what I am talking about here is Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. Each country in her world has its own view of magic, and often it is those differing views that causes the conflict in the story. Her Heralds only believe in very specific gifts. Another country limits the use of magic to its priests. Another treats magic as a science.  It all brings an incredible richness to her world. 


ElginAnother favorite of mine, which was one of the very first fantasy series I ever read, is The Ozark Trilogy by Suzette Haden Elgin. (Book One is Twelve Fair Kingdoms.) The magic was amazing. There was Granny Magic, practiced by feisty, little old ladies in button top shoes. The men with magic were called wizards, and they thought they were the ones who were really in control of the world.  But the great part of the story was that the real power in the world rested with a young woman named Responsible of Brightwater. You see, names have weight when it comes to women. Men’s names are simply that: men’s names.  By the way, Responsible has a sister–Troublesome of Brightwater.  I love that.  (The author also has another sci/fi series about Coyote Jones, another great name.)  


When I built my own world in the Warriors of the Mist, I had to develop my own rules. The Warriors themselves mistrust magic of all kinds. Merewen, the heroine in My Lady Mage, can mindspeak with horses. The heroine in Her Knight’s Quest is a powerful earth mage.  Again, the magic plays into the conflict of the story because the Warriors need allies, but they are reluctant to trust someone who wields such powerful magic. On the other hand, the villain has no compunction about sacrificing his people for the power magic gives him.  myladymage

 So do you have favorite stories and favorite authors who are especially adept at making you believe in their worlds? Because, you know, that’s a special magic of its own. 



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17 Responses to It’s All in the Magic

  1. KJ says:

    I have always loved Ann MacCaffrey’s PERN series and Andre Norton’s Witch World series. After decades I think their novels still rank high as some of my favourites in fiction. They have a blend of magic or fantasy with a dash of scifi that is fun to read.

  2. Amy Raby says:

    I always liked the magic system in some of Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novels. In some of her worlds, magical talent is inborn. Most people have no magical ability at all, some have modest abilities, and a few are extraordinarily gifted. However, all mages must work very hard, for decades, to learn how to use their abilities. So even if you’re born with talent, if you’re not willing to develop that talent, it never amounts to anything.

    This system creates a lot of interesting character situations that reflect the realities of our own non-magical world. Some characters who work very hard but have only modest talents feel cheated and resentful that others were born with greater gifts. Some characters struggle with the desire to develop their talents but also the desire to do other things with their life, like raise children. And sometimes somebody discovers a shortcut to magic, a way to gain magic quickly without all the years of study. And that always has some really nasty side effects.

    • That’s what I like to see–a logical progression in the magic, but penalties when the characters bend/break the rules. Barbara Hambly created one of my all time favorite characters– Don Ysidro, the vampire in THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT. I worried about what happened to him after the book ended–and it was 5 years before she did a sequel! Just now, I went to check that I had that book title right and discovered she’d done another one. WHOOT!

  3. raonaidluckwell says:

    You already mentioned my top favorite — Mercedes Lackey. Especially like how Valdemar and the heralds truly do not know what their Companions are, and the Companions are being tight lipped about it. The Verondi eyes that cause outside mages to go nuts when they try to do their magic. Something about her Valdemar books that really makes you connect to the hero. Still to this day I am a HUGE Vanyel fan, then there is Tamra. And the Hawkbrothers and Shin’a’in.

    Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli and Sword series comes to mind too. David Eddings’ Belgariad and Molleran series

  4. raonaidluckwell says:

    This gives me something to think about and chew on since my WIP has strong ties to fantasy and is also a romance.
    I should mention that Forgotten Realms has their own rules about magic. Maybe that’s why I like RA Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, Elaine Cunningham and Lisa Smeldman’s books.

    • The Cheysuli stories were also among the first fantasies I ever read. Those guys about broke my heart! I love Jennifer Roberson’s writing. Hmmm. Might have to dig out my copies.

      • raonaidluckwell says:

        The seventh book made me bawl like a baby! I “heard” more like read on facebook that she is considering writing book or two more on the Cheysuli. And her Sword (Del and Tiger) books. I need to catch up on her other series.

  5. xaurianx says:

    Thanks Alexis, for the link to this place. I do love fantasy romance a lot, and the 80’s epic fantasy as well. From this website I only know your books, and I have recently ordered Kylie Griffin’s books, but am still waiting for the first one to arrive. Of course book 2 and 3 have been here for over a week, but I have to read a series in order. I love Anne McCaffrey, Robin D. Owens, Jayne Castle, C.L. Wilson, Jean Johnson.

    • KJ says:

      I’m packing up my books to move and finding all sorts of books that I haven’t read in years! There was an AWESOME series edited by Robert Aspirin and Lynn Abbey called Thieves World. The series was actually various collections of shorter stories written by a wide variety of authors including CJ Cherryh and Marion Zimmer Bradley, who are more of my long-time favourites. The thing that I love about this series is that while the stories are written by several authors, they setting and ‘world’ is the same throughout all of the stories — talk about world-building! The world, the religion, the government, the rules of magic, all of these were ‘shared’ so the stories all fit together. A secondary character in one story might be a main character in another, and events in one may fuel events in another, so the cohesiveness and continuity of the series is unbelievable. I’m going to have to reread these when I get around to unpacking after we move!!

      • I also love Robert Aspirin’s Myth books! They’re funny, but have a really great world–or actually, dimensions. I love the one where the men are Trolls and the women Trollops!

      • KJ says:

        OH, I had forgotten about those! Those were fun! And Piers Anthony’s Xanth books which were full of puns! I remember an ogre gained intelligence by accidentally getting an ‘eye queue’ vine wrapped around his head! And people not from Xanth were called Mundanes.

  6. And the guy from the dimension of Perv kept insisting he was a Pervect, not a Pervert!

  7. Lynn Viehl. Her Darkyn (one of my absolute favs) and StarDoc series are great. Now, she has a new one out called Disenchanted & Co. about a Victorian America that did NOT win the war of independence and the Hn’s constant need to disprove magic. Great fun and her worlds are always very well constructed and consistent.

    And I’m with you guys. I can’t stand it when the author changes her ‘absolute’ world rules just to make something happen in a story. There is an author who was on auto buy for me until she changed her rules to suit her story. And that was the end of that!


    • alexismorganwriter says:

      I enjoyed the StarDoc books, too. Haven’t tried the Darkyn series, though. I’ll have to check them out.

  8. Pingback: On the use of magic in my stories | The Write Stuff

  9. Pingback: Bookworm -Vow and Honor Series – Mercedes Lackey | Read, Watch, Geek

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