It’s been a little while since I did one of my stops in my Five Books With… series, and I really wanted to spend some time talking about magic this time around. Fantasy books, both young adult and adult, have taken on a whole new wave of popularity in recent years, and there’s now so many utterly unique books with creative magic systems that authors have blown us away with. I could write about so many books, but there’s a reason I limit myself to five in the rules; none of us need a whole essay.
It’s only in the last year or so I started reading fantasy, and it’s been amazing to be discovering it while it’s becoming so popular. The amount of books I’ve been reading with magic in them to some degree has really shifted since that first book, and it’s been brilliant for a whole host of reasons.
Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood
This book had to be mentioned because it was not just the first SJM book I read, but the first fantasy book I read as an adult. It utterly captiavated me how easy it was to get lost in the wonder of a magic system. It had werewolves and angels and demons and all things that blew my mind because I guess I’d forgotten the wonder of really having magic surround you in a book. The system is detailed, elaborate and has terms and coniditions – legally! – for all the different groups that were co-existing. It’s still one of my favourite books. You can read my review here.
We can’t talk about detailed magical systems without mentioning Shadowhunters. I know this is is two big authors in a row, but they’ve become well known because of the magical systems – and amount of books – they create. What I particularly like about the Shadowhunters books is that there’s so many of them, and how they might all be in different sets, but they overlap, with characters reappearing in different books or being mentioned further down the line. Part of what allows that to happen is the magic, with characters such as warlocks being immortal. My reviews for the books I’ve read in the series so far are here, and in the recommended reading order:
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass
The Red Scrolls of Magic
City of Fallen Angels
City of Lost Souls
Witches Steeped In Gold
This first part in a duology takes inspiration from Jamaican folklore and myths to create a dark and detailed system. Here’s the synopsis:
Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.
Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.
Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.
This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes.
I love the magical system that takes place within this book. With its roots in the myths of King Arthur taken with a twist, and the system itself a secret society, Legndborn feels like one of those books where you could accidentally stumble into it all really happening, and that takes a huge amount of skill. Making magic feel realistic, and making you look around your room just in case there’s any secrets to be found when you look up from the pages of the book… This is the kind of comfort-but-terrifying magic we all want.
In Malice, we follow Alyce, known as the Dark Grace, as she tries to get her magic to work to the traditional Grace system. It doesn’t work properly for her, because she’s not a Grace. But the magic system itself is carefully constructed and full of terms and conditions that all Graces must follow – even Alyce. A Grace only has a certain lifespan of magic, and so has to watch how much magic she is using each time, should it be used up too quickly, for example. It’s all much more detailed than that, and I loved it for not being so happily ever after, even for those with magic! Find my review of this sapphic Sleeping Beauty retelling here.
So there we are. If you’re looking for magical systems that will keep you utterly enchanted, here’s a few to get you started. I promise that wasn’t a magic spell. Or was it?