It’s probably one of the most over-quoted phrases in history: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a fair statement, of course, but you and I both know that sometimes, the cover is what seals the deal, and there’s something to be said for a gorgeous use of color or surreal piece of artwork on the front of a book. While it’s unlikely to be the only thing on which you base your book purchasing decisions, for this month’s Top 5, we’re going to take a look at some of my favorite book covers.
If you read a lot of fantasy, you’ve inevitably come across your fair share of magical abilities, powers, and artifacts that make these fantasy worlds tick. From dangerously powerful rings to shape-shifting mechanics, I’ve seen a bit of everything, but sometimes you stumble across a magical power or system that completely blows you away. Focusing on the unforgettable powers that have crossed my path and left their mark, let’s take a look at my top 5 favorite magical systems or abilities in fantasy.
5. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archives) – drawing Stormlight, Szeth and [REDACTED]
The redacted is for spoilers sake, but if you’ve read even halfway through Way of Kings (as I have) I bet you can guess who I’m referring to. What strikes me about Stormlight’s magic system (so far, at least), is that it comes from a pretty specific source. Once the so-called “mage” is out of this source of stormlight, that’s it for the gravity-bending, energy-restoring powers they can typically wield. To that point, it’s the gravity-bending that I absolutely love about this magic. There’s just something amazing and kinetic about the assassin in the prologue lashing himself across ceilings and walls to fight his way through the castle. While this magic presumably spans the whole series, the prologue of Way of Kings displays it extremely well.
4. The Raven King – Ronan and Kavinsky’s dream magic
There’s maybe a bit of character bias here, since Ronan and Kavinsky are easily my favorites in The Raven King, but I can’t help but talk about the dream-to-reality powers of these two Dream Thieves. Ronan and Kavinsky have a unique power: the ability to bring objects, people, or creatures out of their dreams. These dream objects then thrive in the real world – so long as the dreamer is alive to power their existence. Its fun and strange in the way dreams can be, with Kavinsky dreaming up a field full of impossibly functioning cars and Ronan bringing to life his own pet raven, but everything comes at an unforeseen cost. This give and take relationship is part of what makes the dream thieving powers of Ronan and Kavinsky so great, and its easily the highlight of the series. For the best of Ronan and Kav, read The Raven King, then The Dream Thieves. The rest of the series has these powers, too, with some interesting consequences from a lifetime of dream thievery, but the finale is a bit of a letdown.
3. Uprooted – Agnieszka and The Dragon’s intertwined spellcasting
Magic in the world of Uprooted comes in two primary forms: the structured, precise power of The Dragon and the court’s wizards, and the fluid, natural magic of the witch Baba Yaga (and Agnieszka). When paired together, these two approaches intertwine to create the most enchanting scenes of the entire novel. Expertly pairing The Dragon’s precise chanting and Agnieszka’s sing-song spell-weaving, Novik drags you along with the characters as they are swept up in the magic of the moment, their interpersonal relationship made apparent through their spell-casting. Pair that with the personal flair each character brings to their magic, seen in the Falcon and the blacksmith, who weaves her spells into the iron she forges, and Uprooted presents a world deeply entrenched in a personal kind of power. This book is a standalone and I HIGHLY recommend it.
2. The Invisible Library – the Language
Picture this: You are a librarian working for a super-secret, magical organization that travels through alternate universes to collect rare and unique books. Oh, and speaking words really firmly and with conviction will make reality itself bend to your commands. What isn’t to love about the linguistic magic of the Invisible Library series? With an emphasis on pronunciation and specificity, the Language is a linguistic nerd’s magical dream. Need to get into a locked room? Just tell the door to open. But be specific, because every door in earshot will obey unless you narrow down your command. I love this about the Language so much that I think its what sells it for me. The Language is a core component of the entire series, so start off with The Invisible Library and go from there.
1. Discworld – “Headology”
Real magic or not, Granny’s “headology” approach is easily my favorite. Powered by the beliefs of the witches who practice it and made real by the will of those who receive it, “headology” is a magical system that thrives on the power of personal convictions. If that washbasin needs to function as a cauldron, so be it – as long as you believe it to be a cauldron, it’ll work like a cauldron. Need to fly on a broom? Gotcha, just hop on any old cleaning device and believe its a flying broom and off you go. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg embody the idea that believing in yourself and what you’re doing will make it real. Confidence, for the witches, is key. Toss a good heaping dose of realism dumped on top for when things get a bit too magical for Granny’s practical tastes and Discworld’s witches easily take the top spot for favorite magic system. To see Granny’s “headology” in action, check out some of the witches novels: Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Equal Rites, to name a few.
It’s hard to name just 5 favorites of anything, but there’s always those that stand out more than others. What are your favorite magic systems? Got any suggestions I should check out? Let me know, and until next time, ~believe in the magic~