Book Recs: It’s a Kind of Magic

rec-magic-systems

I owe my love of reading to magic. Not only the kind where we are pulled into imaginative worlds and are capable of experiencing a spectrum of emotion and feeling, but the literal kind. At age eight, I refused to read — until my primary school teacher read a chapter of Harry Potter. Thereafter, I developed an insatiable love for reading, and haven’t looked back since.

Today, I would like to share with you books that celebrate magic. Unlike my previous book recommendation posts, today’s recommendations didn’t have a criteria. Instead, all I was looking for were books that had a magical system that are unique, and also unique to each other – which, in itself, is its own kind of wonder.

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adsom

1. A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC BY V.E. SCHWAB

I think when people think YA Fiction and magic systems, a good number of people will think A Darker Shade of Magic – and with good reason!

Why the magic is awesome:

  • The magic in this book is a great example of magic done right (and well) – simple but nuanced and complex, and also still a mystery in its depth.
  • There is elemental magic – specifically water, fire, air, and earth.
  • Kell, the protagonist, is an Antari – a race of magic users. As well as mastery over the elements, Kell also uses his blood to harness magic.
  • The magic system involves cost and consequence, which plays an important part in the story.
  • How magic is written and portrayed is a feast for the senses; it is more than colour and imagery, but also evokes senses of smell, taste, and touch.

Find A Darker Shade of Magic in:
My review | Goodreads | My review on Goodreads

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impostor-queen

2. THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN BY SARAH FINE

Upon Reg’s recommendation, I finished this book over the weekend and I thought the magic system was so unique and unlike anything I have ever read, so of course I had to share this book with all of you!

Why the magic is awesome:

  • We see a great deal of elemental magic in fantasy stories, but the magic in The Impostor Queen is the balance of ice magic and fire magic.
  • The worldbuilding and mythos is built entirely on the equilibrium of ice magic and fire magic; the Valtia – or ‘queen’ of the Kupari people – is a very powerful wielder of ice and fire magic, who keeps her people warm in the winter with her fire magic and protects the crops from dying in the heat during summer with her ice magic.
  • Magic runs through blood, is amplified by copper, and this is developed well in the story.
  • The magic system accounts for cost and consequence, has distinct limitations, and use of magic can be precarious and dangerous.
  • Without saying what, because spoilers, the story centres on a mystery related to the magic system.

Find The Impostor Queen in:
Goodreads | My review on Goodreads

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fma

3. FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST BY HIROMU ARAKAWA

I’m being biased here, so full disclosure: The Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood anime is probably one of my favourite animes of all time – it has unparalleled storytelling, incredible characters, and has a little bit of everything. If you can watch the anime, I cannot recommend it enough. If would prefer to read it, the anime was faithfully adapted from the manga.

Why the magic is awesome:

  • Magic, or known as ‘alchemy’, is the art of manipulating or altering matter by using natural energy. Alchemy has a strong scientific basis, particularly relating to chemistry.
  • The magic system is one of the most comprehensive and complex (but easy to understand!) I have ever seen; there are a multitude of laws, rules, and limitations to alchemy. Alchemy does not break its own rules.
  • The elements can be manipulated through alchemy, but more interestingly and more focal to the story, human life and the soul can be ‘transmuted’ (or manipulated through alchemy) as well.
  • Rather than cost and consequence, as alchemy involves the manipulation of matter, it functions on the rule of ‘equal exchange’ – which is exactly what it sounds like!

Find Fullmetal Alchemist in:
Goodreads

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carry-on

4. CARRY ON BY RAINBOW ROWELL

Though the story is ‘fanfiction’ of Harry Potter, Rowell’s re-imagining of magic broke the mould and offered something that was creative and so much fun. (And yes, the title of this book recs post was intentional!)

Why the magic is awesome:

  • In Carry On, words are power. Magic spells and their power come from English turn of phrases, cliches, songs and nursery rhymes, proverbs, and truisms. For example, ‘Up, up, and away!‘ is a levitation spell, and ‘And we all fall down!‘ will bring them crashing down.
  • The magic system is a homage to language – its fluidity and how it evolution over time. Truisms are given another layer of meaning and purpose, calling us to rethink the words and sayings we understand and take for granted.
  • The magic system is hardly rigid and is not restrained by clearly defined rules. In fact, wizards can create new spells by utilizing overlooked phrases.
  • Though not a serious magic system (like my other recommendations), the lighthearted and fun nature of the magic in Carry On gives it its charm.

Find Carry On in:
Goodreads | My review on Goodreads

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I seem to say this all the time, but writing this book recommendation post made me realize how much more I’ve yet to read. One of the problems, I realized when looking through books that I had read, is that I need to read more fantasy/magic books that are not influenced by Western civilization, have genderqueer protagonists, and non-white protagonists. I still have a lot of work and reading to do.

So friends, tell me:

  • What are some of your favourite books that had complex/unique magic systems?
  • What do you think makes a well-written/constructed magic system?
  • Is the complexity or ‘rules’ of magic in a book important to you when reading fantasy?

Thank you for stopping by again, friends. Next month, I’ll be sharing some books that have incredible female friendships! Until then, thank you for reading and have a stellar week!

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23 thoughts on “Book Recs: It’s a Kind of Magic

  1. omg I LOVE Fullmetal Alchemist!!! so so so great! I have all 27 volumes, but I def should rewatch the anime sometimes!
    I love Carry On, but not really for the magic system that I found a little bit too easy! But it is fun, still better than some more serious fantasy books x’)
    My favourite magic systems might be those of Brandon Sanderson, I believe he even wrote about the way to create a good magic system. The fact that there are rules is important. The one in Mistborn is so amazing!

    • Hi Lucille! (I’m sorry it took me forever to reply! I missed a whole chunk of comments!)

      RIGHT?! Oh gosh, I’m so jealous of your FMA collection. I want to buy all the episodes on Bluray but that’s going to cost me my whole soul. XD Isn’t the anime amazing? I’m thinking of rewatching it this summer!

      Ooh I’ve heard so many good things about Brandon Sanderson! I really have to read his books now. Thanks for recommending it to me! ❤

  2. ADSOM definitely has one of the best magic system I’ve ever read in a book. It’s so well explained and bound by rules, it’s easiy to believe and ease into. The Grisha trilogy also has a really unique magic system for me. I think most of my favorite books about magic have one similarity: the magic has to have some kind of rules. Rules are important, they make the system more believeable and create some boundaries that the must be followed by the magic user. It signifies that no matter how big your power is, there’s still rule you have to follow.

    • Hi Tasya!

      Right?! There’s something so compelling and elegant about ADSOM’s magic system.
      I haven’t read the Grisha trilogy! Only Six of Crows, which I really loved.

      I agree! Rules in a magic system are so important, but it also kinda shows the writer’s skill and imagination as well! :D

  3. I love that you recommended ADSOM, one of my favorite books and series of all time. Though I have to let you know that it’s actually an Adult fantasy series. When books are published under V.E Schwab instead of Victoria, it usually means that it’s adult.
    I feel like I need to read the Impostor Queen now since both you and Reg are recommending it. It wasn’t a book I was interested in when it came out, but I trust you guys’ opinion so I’m gonna try it 😊

  4. I love these recommendation posts :) ADSOM is such an awesome book, I agree, and I’m forever in awe of the world the author created. How complex and beautiful and ALIVE it feels. I love it so much :) Thank you for recommending The Impostor Queen, I might have to add it to my TBR, I’m curious now :)

  5. Ah, wonderful post, Chooi! These are some great recommendations. I can’t wait for The Conjuring of Light; I’m so looking forward to seeing how this trilogy ends. And for some reason I’ve never picked up Fullmetal Alchemist despite everyone raving about it?? I want to though. Also, The Imposter Queen is right my alley so I’m going to check it out the next time in the bookstore. A fantasy that I really enjoyed was Graceling. To be honest, I don’t remember much aside it from being really good. I also like that some fantasies can be simpler yet lush (like The Winner’s trilogy), too. :)

  6. Ahhh I love this list of recs, and I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the magic system in The Impostor Queen! Like, that book isn’t without flaws, but the magic system I thought was truly interesting and almost sciencey. The rules are very clearly define and quite well-expressed, and you don’t always see that in fantasy books.

    The only thing I haven’t read here is Carry On, which I happen to have a copy of! I’ll get on that soon since you recommend also the magic system.

    Also I’ll recommend Brandon Sanderson if you haven’t read any of his works yet. He writes such great magic systems and he’s definitely one of my favourite fantasy authors. My BF loves him too and actually has read more of his books than me, so you know they just have a bit of a crossover appeal. 💕

  7. Love this list! I remember reading a few editions of FMA manga a long time ago. Need to get back to that. As for Impostor Queen, well, now I just have to read it since both you and Reg recommended it and I trust you two. :)
    Thank you for mentioning Carry On! I don’t think it gets enough credit for having a magic that continue to evolve. The most amazing thing about its magic is that it ‘forces’ the wielder to keep up with the culture and what’s trending, instead of isolating them from non-magic users like what happened in many books.
    I’d also sing my praises to ADSOM, but then I wouldn’t stop. :P

    As for my favorite magic systems, I’m seconding Reg and Lucille’s recommendation of Brandon Sanderson’s books. I believe Mistborn has 3 magic systems, but they’re interwoven and interconnected so seamlessly. My favorite magic system of his is Rithmatics, found in the book the Rithmatist, which reads like chalk-based turn-based strategy game. It is so fun! Oh and also Forgery in The Emperor’s Soul. The concept is very interesting. Aside from Sanderson, Rothfuss’ Sympathy in the Kingkiller Chronicle is also highly complex and logical.
    Besides those two well-known fantasy authors, I also love Sarah Rees Brennan’s the Demon’s Lexicon and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy. These two have similar magic system (but very different characters) where the humans have little to no magic, and they have to summon demon or djinn and bind it to do what they wish. Last but not least, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, for its beautifully written magic.

  8. I love this post! Magic systems are one of my favourite things about the fantasy genre and a great one can truly make a book for me. I so agree about ADSOM, such a good system. Victoria Schwab’s books in general are so well done in terms of magic. I can’t wait to watch FMA Brotherhood, I’ve heard SO many great things. I’ve never read The Imposter Queen but you’ve made me want to read it :) My favourite magic systems are definitely those by Brandon Sanderson, especially Mistborn, they’re just so original and amazing. Also, The Name of the Wind has very interesting magic.

    • Hi Chantal!

      I completely agree! Hehe, so many people have recommended Mistborn – it must be amazing! I definitely have to give it a go. <3

      I agree – Schwab's books are so, so fun and wonderfully written. I've yet to read her Archived(?) series though, which I'd love to read if I can find myself a library copy!

      FMA Brotherhood is AMAZING. It kinda has everything in it – politics, war, grief, love, family, friendship, justice, action! It's so so good. I can't recommend it enough!! <3

  9. This post is awesome!

    Okay first of all, FMA HOW COULD YOU. I absolutely ADORE everything about FMA, from the manga to the original anime series to brotherhood. If it were a book, I would have built a shrine for it. :P

    VE Schwab’s books are also super creative and out of the norm! Another magic system I really enjoy is Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy which is SOOOO GOOD. Sanderson is just amazing in creating magic systems and making them make sense. I really recommend it if you haven’t picked it up!

    I still have to pick up The Imposter Queen! I also love the fact that the mc is bi, and seeing the awesome magic makes me even more excited for it :D

    • Hi Aila!

      HEHE THANKS. I *had* to include FMA! X’D I haven’t actually watched the original anime series – is it any good? I’ve heard Brotherhood is much, much better? (I’d be right there with you building that shrine tbh.)

      Ahhh so many people have recommended me Mistborn! It must be super good then – I’ve favourited the book at my library’s eBook collection, so shall pick it up when I get through all of these books.

      Impostor Queen is great! I hope you enjoy it when you read it. Defs one of the more unique magic systems I have read! :D

  10. Oh gosh I LOVE this recs, CW! Aside from sharing the love for Dystopian, we also share the love for books with unique/complex magic system! ISN’T IT CUTE? 😍😍 I really want to read all of the books you recommended. I already read Carry On, and that’s also one of my faves! 😍😍 Tho that book hurt my feelings a lot at the same time. Simon Snow’s life for me is so tragic because of the thing about his parents 😞

    Thanks again for this recs! ❤❤❤

    • Hi Karina!
      Oh gosh, thank you so much! YES, I LOOOOVE magic systems! I wish there were more books with awesome magic systems. I have to read more!

      Aw, yeah I see what you mean! I really loved the magic in Carry On. I thought it was so creative and funny. <3

      It was my pleasure! I hope you get to read them. If you read any of my recs, please let me know! <3

  11. Thanks for these recommendations! I’ve been looking for more books with elemental magic on it so I’ll be trying out The Impostor Queen. Also, I absolutely loved FMA. I only saw the anime of it and not the manga but it’s really good!

    • Hi Alyssa!
      You’re very welcome! Impostor Queen is VERY fascinating, and very unique too. I hope you enjoy it when you read it!

      I’ve completed the anime (which I love to bits) but I haven’t finished the manga yet. Both are very similar – I feel like I’m watching the show when I’m reading the manga! ^_^

  12. I’ve read shamefully few books with magic in them, but my faves (other than Harry Potter) would probably have to be the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Magicians by Lev Grossman and Among Others by Jo Walton. I really need to read Schwab though!! Ooh, and I enjoyed Carry On too!

    • Ooh I’ve never read any of those you liked (apart from HP, of course)! I think I read the first His Dark Materials when I was young — but that was probably when I was in high school!

      Schwab is wonderful. If A Darker Shade of Magic ends up not being your thing, definitely give Vicious a go – I liked the latter way more!

  13. Pingback: October Recap: Being real; my journey with health & learning from my failures | Read, Think, Ponder

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