#WyrdAndWonder: Top Five Magic Systems or Spells

I’m so excited to participate in Wyrd and Wonder this year because, let’s be honest, I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging since my baby was born. Reading is going fine (thank the heavens and Vienna’s libraries for audiobooks!) but it’s the writing about the reading that is difficult. I’m counting evrery Wyrd and Wonder post as a small win.

Magic portal artwork by Tithi Luadthong

So without further ado, let me tell you about my five favorite magic systems and/or spells from SFF literature:

Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

This one’s kind of predictable, isn’t it? Sanderson is a master of magic systems, after all, and for good reason. The ones he creates are intricate, logical (which seems wrong when talking about magic, but who cares), and they are utterly immersive. The Mistborn series is my favorite when it comes to complex magic systems because although there’s a lot to learn about Allomancy, the learning curve is slow enough to get even fantasy newbies there. And once you’re a few hundred pages in, you are so into the jargon and mechanics of it all that you find yourself predicting which metal will have which effect, which superpower protagonist Vin should use in any given moment, and which of her metal flakes are running low. It’s a nerd’s paradise. Oh, and the story is pretty damn great too!

Heather Fawcett – Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

This is a very recent one (January 2023) but the titular scholar Emily Wilde has worked hear way into my heart with her story. It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that Emily has learned exactly two spells from faeries (that’s special, you don’t just get spells left and right), one of which immediately stuck in my brain because it appears so useless as to be hilarious. It’s a spell that summons buttons. Yes, that’s right. Buttons from shirts or coats or what have you. Maybe I’d prefer a second-sock-finding variant of this spell, but I adore the idea and I adored the book even more.
And just to tease a little bit, the spell is obviously not useless, although I won’t tell you how clever Emily makes use of it.

R. F. Kuang – Babel

Another fairly recent book, this standalone historical fantasy has a unique magic system. It uses language in general – and the parts that get “lost in translation” in particular – as the source of magic. Pieces of silver are engraved with a word in two languages that, at first glance, have the same meaning. But there is always a small difference, as anyone who has learned a foreign language can tell you, a bit of nuance, a connotation or a hint of something that works in only one of the two languages. And that’s what fuels the magic in Kuang’s version of England. Only a fluent speaker of both languages can actually make the magic work, which makes bilingual people extremely valuable.The book has a lot more to offer, especially in terms of exploring colonialism, race, and social class. But the magic is cool, too.

Terry Pratchett – Discworld

Specifically, Granny Weatherwax’s “headology” which, you might argue, is no real magic at all. But it does work wonders when Granny uses it, and all without having to brew any stinky potions or learn complicated spells by heart. I don’t think I need to explain to anyone why the Discworld novels are great and that you should read them. But you know everyone has their favorite sub-series, right? While I’ve grown quite fond of the City Watch, the Witches of Lancre will always be my favorites. I want to be both Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg when I grow up (which is impossible, of course) but I also wouldn’t mind a little Tiffany Aching either. The Witches are just the best.

Nnedi Okorafor – The Nsibidi Scripts

Starting with Akata Witch, this series offers not only great YA stories about why being an outsider can be one’s particular strenght, but also comes with a highly useful magic system, where gaining knowledge – be it a new spell or learning a deep truth about yourself oder the world – gives you magical currency. Whenever new knowledge is attained, these coins (chittim) rain down from the sky. The more important your new skill/information, the bigger and more valuable the chittim will be. This system can’t be cheated, which is why I like it so much. Hard work gets rewards and that’s that.

And with that, I look forward to everyone else’s Wyrd and Wonder posts. May our TBRs grow ever bigger, may we discover new and interesting magic systems, and may our books be only five star reads! 🙂

Magic portal artwork by Tithi Luadthong.

7 thoughts on “#WyrdAndWonder: Top Five Magic Systems or Spells

  1. Lexlingua says:

    I didn’t know that about the magical currency premise in Akata Witch. I’m already imagining the whole economic system too – really want to try out that series now!


    • Dina says:

      Oh, definitely read the books. They are so good. They do have this magical currency, but it’s really only a small part of the magic system, and there’s so much more to discover.


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