Sunday, August 1, 2021

More Magic In Fantasy: Lighting The Spark



Away back in January, I resolved to make 2021 my year of magic, and magic systems in Fantasy fiction, because from "...magic realism to the highest of high epic fantasy, the magic – and by extension the magic system – is the leaven in the ... [Fantasy]...mix.” 

Magic in the mix...

Currently, I'm focusing on books where the magic or magic system have really wowed me, aiming to try and include an range of subgenres but also of older and more recent works.

In case you're wondering what "wow" looks and feels like for me, it's that flare of excitement when I start reading, usually because what I'm reading feels really authentic and (sometimes) "new-to-me."

Here are three more books that ticked that box when it comes to their treatment of magic and/or magic systems, i.e. I do think it's possible to have magic without it being systematic and /or codified.

Magic In Fantasy: Lighting The Spark

The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula Le Guin 

Since I started my themed series in 2019 with Romance In Fantasy, I have tried not to replicate an author, but I'm going to have to give in today, because unquestionably, Ursula Le Guin was one of the first authors to wow me with the magic of her first Earthsea trilogy. 

Although I believe adults can read it just as readily, officially the first Earthsea trilogy is children's fiction, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea.

The wow factor lay in the magic of Earthsea's strong environmental sensibility, but also the idea of limitations, both in the mage's interaction with natural and magical forces, and within themself. In the magic of Earthsea, this is conveyed through an emphasis on balance and patterning, with consequences arising out of every action and use of power -- an aspect of magic that is sometimes overlooked or glossed over in Fantasy.


Yet despite being wowed by the simplicity and power of Earthsea's magic, I was also taken aback (yes, even as a young reader) because the magic system is inherently sexist. "Weak as women's magic", the reader is told from the outset, and also "wicked as women's magic." Certainly, women do not become mages, and the association of women's magic with weakness or wickedness, is sustained through the first trilogy. Le Guin is said to have endeavored to correct this aspect of Earthsea's magic system in Tehanu (1990), although I note its a substantively different story and also pitched more to adult readers.

For me, the wow of Le Guin's overall achievement, in terms of creating a magic system, is greater than its sexism, but I do feel the latter undermines what would otherwise be an outstanding achievement, comparable with that of her (adult) science fiction novels, The Left Hand Of Darkness and The Dispossessed

Shadows Of The Apt Series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky's is epic fantasy with a steampunk sensibility. The first novel, Empire In Black and Gold was published in 2008 and from the outset I was very taken with the series' magic, which is centered upon "insect" kingdoms where the denizens ("kinden") are either technologically "apt" (e.g. wasps, beetles, ants) or "inapt." The Inapt, such as moths, spiders, and dragonflies, tend to be strong in magic, but both Apt and Inapt kingdoms are in danger of being overrun by the expanding Wasp empire. 

I should add that the various kinden are basically human form, but strongly connected in social, cultural, and organisational terms with their insect "avatars" (for want of a more -- er -- apt term.)

With ten titles in the series there is plenty to read and explore in terms of the science/tech versus magic divide, as expressed by the various kinden.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Anna Smaill's debut novel, The Chimes, was published in 2015 and won the World Fantasy Award in 2016.


The Chimes postulates a dystopian future UK where the written word is forbidden and music informs every aspect of life, including language, and profoundly affects memory and social structure. In The Chimes society there is only the present and to even contemplate the past is "blasphony." 

I still recall the shock of excitement I felt on beginning reading and experiencing the way in which music was embedded in the characters' thought and speech, in a way that I subsequently described as both "fascinating" and "original."

The overall story is a complex one, including the evolving relationship of the protagonists Simon and Lucien, but imbued with music throughout.

For greater insight into the book and world, you can read my 2015 interview with the author here:

An Interview with Anna Smaill


And that's it for this month -- but I hope you'll find a spark of magic in one of these works, if you have not done so already!


Previous Posts In The "Magic In Fantasy" Series: 

January 1: Happy New Year – Ushering In A Year of Friends, Fellow Authors, & Magic Systems

January 5: 
An Interview with AK Wilder – Talking Magic In Her New-Out Crown Of Bones (AMASSIA #1) 

February 1: An Interview with T Frohock 
– Talking Magic In A Song With Teeth & The LOS NEFILIM Series

March 1:  An Interview with Courtney Schafer – Talking Magic In The "Shattered Sigil" Series

April 1:  An Interview with Kristin Cashore –Talking Magic In Winterkeep & The "Graceling Realm" Series


May 1: An Interview With Lee Murray – Talking Magic, the Supernatural & Horror

June 1: An Interview With Amanda Arista  Talking Magic In the MERCI LANARD & DIARIES OF AN URBAN PANTHER Series


July 1: The Magic of Magic In Fantasy -- & A Solstice Shift


About The Author:

Helen Lowe's first  novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we

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