Magical systems in a fantasy novel take as much thought as the settings and characters do. A magical structure will affect the characters just like the world’s history, religion, or government will. It will likely have an even greater effect on the plot of a novel. And the myriad ways a character’s talents can manifest is fascinating.
A character might be able to shape shift (Patricia Briggs‘ Mercy Thompson), speak to or raise the dead (Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake), cast spells (J.K. Rowling‘s Hermione Granger), create elaborate illusions (Erin Morgenstern‘s Celia Bowen), manipulate matter (Lois McMaster Bujold‘s Dag Redwing Hickory), or read people’s minds (Charlaine Harris‘ Sookie Stackhouse). They might have telekinetic (J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Gandalf) or pyrokinetic abilities (the original firestarter, Stephen King‘s Charlie McGee). Or they may be able to travel through time (Diana Gabaldon‘s Claire Randall) or control space travel (Ann Aguirre‘s Sirantha Jax).
I realize some of my examples aren’t magic, but rather a special ability, and some of the novels are science fiction, not fantasy, but the concept is the same: SF/F authors spend a lot of time carefully considering their main characters’ special powers and how those powers work within the fictional world they’ve created.
So what about Noon Onyx from DARK LIGHT OF DAY, my debut urban fantasy novel? What’s so special about her? What can she do? And how does her magic work within her world?
Noon has waning magic, which is the dark, destructive, fiery power that’s used to control demons, set fires, and destroy things. In Noon’s world, magic and gender are closely related. The male descendants of Lucifer’s warlords are usually born with waning magic while the female descendants are usually born with waxing magic, the soft, nurturing, life-affirming magic that’s used to grow gardens and heal people.
But due to a mysterious birth mix-up, Noon was born with waning magic and her twin brother was born with waxing — which may have been perfectly acceptable except for one thing. Noon hates to kill. She doesn’t want to have the power to start fires with a thought or be able to touch something and instantly kill it. The very idea of having such destructive, deadly power is anathema to her. Instead, she’s always wanted what she believes she should have had in the first place: waxing magic. She wants the power to give life, not take it away. And, unfortunately for Noon, a waning magic user’s magic can sometimes kill indiscriminately and involuntarily.
Where did I come up with the concept for waning and waxing magic?
From the natural world around us. I love gardens and flowers and sunshine. But I also love bonfires and fall and darkness. I thought about the duality of nature’s forces (forest fires versus spring blooms; the life and death cycle of the four seasons, the ebb and flow of the moon’s phases) and I thought it would be neat to design a magical system that mirrored them. I tied waning and waxing magic to gender because I’ve always been fascinated with how gender-neutral things somehow become associated with gender.
Why is the moon considered feminine and the sun masculine? Why is Leo a masculine astrology sign while Pisces is considered a feminine one? Why are Yin and darkness and water associated with the female while Yang and light and dryness are associated with the male? These questions can be answered but thinking about those answers, articulating them, and then exploring those concepts further was a large part of what motivated me to design Haljan magic the way I did.
So how about you? I barely scratched the surface with my examples of characters with magic and special abilities. Who are some of your favorite characters with magic or special abilities? What types of cool things can they do? Are there any authors or series which have used magic in a particularly inventive way? If you had the power to set fires and control demons — would you want it? What if it meant your touch was potentially harmful to all growing things? Do you think it’s interesting when inanimate things, natural forces, or abstract concepts take on gender associations?
Thank you to everyone here at Fresh Fiction for hosting me!
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