Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Magic Systems

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is favourite magic systems.

“Kathy, why do you have like a thousand shelves on your Goodreads?”

Well, readers, I have them for moments like this. Because god knows I can barely remember the names of characters from books I read a week ago, let alone the ins-and-outs of their magic systems. So I had to go through my “interesting magic system” shelf to joggle my memory.

 

1. Unsounded – Pymary

pymary2

There are many reasons why Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is currently my favourite western comic series (and one of my favourite fantasy series–of any media). Aside from complex characters and insanely rich worldbuilding, it also boasts a fascinating, dynamic magic system that’ll have you waving your hands and squinting real hard at some random object on the off chance that maybe–maybe–the magic’s a real thing (no luck yet).

Here’s a quick rundown of how pymary works: the story’s continent, Kasslyn, rests on top of a spectral plane called the “khert” which governs every material and non-material thing that exists in this world. Pymary is the art of “speaking” to the khert to manipulate–condense, reassign, switch, isolate–physical properties of objects which include density, colour, pressure, temperature, contour, and so forth.

So wrights (pymary-users) can take the heat of a campfire and use it to incinerate an enemy. Or condense all the pressure of a waterfall to create the biggest KABOOM. People also use it for cosmetic purposes–like taking the scent of a rose and assigning it to their pet pooch.

It’s super exciting, the possibilities are endless, and I freaking love the balance of it. Do yourself a favour and go check out this webcomic.

 

2. Mistborn – Allomancy

Mistborn - Kelsier vs Inquisitors

While I adore the complexity of the Stormlight Archives magic system, there’s something about Mistborn’s Allomancy that’s incredibly attractive, addictive, and…marketable (kind of like the Maria Sharapova of fantasy). Maybe it’s the idea of using coins to fling yourself through the air. Maybe it’s the romanticism of quaffing down vials of metals to prepare for a big battle. Maybe it’s just my bird-brain seeing the list of Allomantic metals and going, “Ooh shiny!” Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that this is one hell of a magic system.

 

3. Manifest Delusions Series – Geisteskranken

manifest

I love magic systems that reflect and feed off of the characters’ psychological state, and Michael Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series is the prime example of this. In this world, mental disorders shape reality. If you believe there are doubles of you running amok in the world, then there really are doubles out there. If you believe that the figure you see in the mirror is a whole other person with their own personality, then yes, they actually are.

The stronger your delusions, the more powerful your abilities; the more you slip away from reality, the more you can shape it. It’s twisted, dark, and the sheer imagination of it floors me.

 

4. Realm of the Elderlings Series – Skill and Wit

assassin's Apprentice2

The magic in Hobb’s series is predicated on the idea that there’s this massive, powerful life-force that flows through, over, or beneath the world. It allows the living people to use its energy to perform various “magics” using the Skill or the Wit or some bastardized form of both. With the Skill you can do things like heal and communicate over long distances via thought. With the Wit you can communicate and form bonds with animals. It’s much more complicated than this but I’ll avoid spoilers and just say that there’s a lot you can do with these two magics.

This is the least flashy system on the list, but it’s one that feels the most natural to me–like, I can very easily see it existing in real life. It’s also the only magic system on the list that plays such a huge role in character development. And I find that absolutely incredible.

 

5. The Chanters of Tremaris Series – Music Magic

the singer of all songs

This is probably one that none of you have heard of. It doesn’t have the most exciting magic system (at least, not by today’s standards) and I’m not sure how the series holds up as an adult, but it was the first fantasy series I read that introduced the idea of music magic, and I loved that. You never quite forget your firsts.

If you happen to be one of the rare creatures who have read these books, come find me. Close your eyes and turn thrice widdershins under the light of a full moon. And when you find yourself in an unmarked stretch of forest, walk around and lose yourself for a while. Eventually we’ll convene at the roots of the ancient white oak where we’ll spend the night drinking the nectar of gods and singing praises of this series.

Or I can yell-gush about it with you over the internet. I’m good either way!

 

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And that’s it from me! What are some of your favourite magic systems?

Top 5 Wednesday – Books You Want to Read Before the End of the Year

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: Books you want to read before the end of the year, which I’m interpreting as,already-released books I want to read before the end of the year.”

 

1. Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive 3) by Brandon Sanderson

Oathbringer

I’ve been debating whether or not I should reread the first two Stormlight books before starting this one, and this debate has been raging in my brain for roughly…oh, eight months? So I figure I should just swat myself over the head at some point and make a decision. Plus my friend’s been wailing at me every other week, “I just I found this Oathbringer thing I need to show you but I can’t because you haven’t read it yet,” and I should probably put him out of his misery.

2. Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious

I wasn’t a fan of Schwab’s Shades of Magic books, so I’ve been somewhat avoiding this one. But then the other day I read Meghan‘s awesome review where she breaks down the anti-hero qualities of the characters and now I’m thoroughly intrigued. Despicable characters that make you love them despite and because of their despicable ways? Hell yes.

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

I’ve been living under a rock for the last year and a half apparently, because I still have yet to pick this one up. I’ll read it before the movie drops. Maybe.

4. The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

The Last of the Wine

Renault’s Alexander the Great trilogy serves as one of the best examples of what historical fiction can and should be–well-researched and informative, but still brimming with imagination. I’m fairly sure she was a time traveler of some sort, because no modern person be able to describe an ancient culture with that much confidence and intimate detail.

The Last of the Wine is another very Greek, very queer Renault classic and I’m very excited.

5. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

The Book of Dust

When I was in middle school, The Dark Materials series rocked the foundation of my world. I wrote Pullman a long gushing (possibly incoherent) letter on how much I loved the books and received a written version of “Mr. Pullman can’t come to the phone right now as he’s busy with movie deals and being a superstar author. But he sure does appreciate all your calls!” And I didn’t even care because, holy shit, the letter had his signature on it.

So why oh why have I not read The Book of Dust yet? It’s hard feeling to describe but the phrase “paralyzed with anticipation” comes to mind. This book was a long time coming and I both dread and crave what lies inside (if that makes any kind of sense). Basically, it’s another case of me needing to kick myself into making a decision.

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And that’s it for me! Have you read any of these? And what books are you looking to get to before the end of the year?

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Mentors/Teachers in Books

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: favourite mentors/teachers.

I had a lot going on this past week, so this was compiled kind of at the last minute. Which means it’s slightly less wordy than usual (yay!) Also, my first version of the list got scrapped because I wrote it and then promptly realized what a sausage fest it was. So I replaced a couple of dudes with women (sorry, Gandalf). Maybe my memory is just wacked, but why are there so few notable female mentor figures in fiction? For every eight men, I could think of maybe one woman.

Anyhow, here are the five!

1. Elodin (The Kingkiller Chronicle)

Name of the Wind2
Ah, Elodin. He’s just slightly ahead of Auri as my favourite character in the series. Genius. Kinda crazy. Mysterious. Tragic. The Master Namer is one of those profs that you constantly complain about at the beginning of the semester, because the lectures are so weird and unorthodox and there’s no sense to the grading system, but by the end you’re calling their lessons the most transcendent experience you’ve ever had in your academic life. Plus, he’s also one of the few people who’s able to ground Kvothe in humility.

“Re’lar Kvoteh, he said seriously. “I am trying to wake your sleeping mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to teach you.” He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. “Quit grabbing at my tits.”

2. Jasnah Kholin (The Stormlight Archive)

The way of kings
One thing that is most definitely, sorely, lacking in fantasy is master-apprentice relationships between two female characters. But Brandon Sanderson does his best to remedy that with Jasnah and her ward, Shallan. Jasnah is a scholar and a self-proclaimed atheist. She doesn’t doesn’t suffer fools but is patient with her teachings. Serious, but possesses a wry sense of humour. Her discussions of philosophy with Shallan are some of the best scenes in the first book.

 

Shallan: You killed four men.
Jasnah: Four men who were planning to beat, rob, kill and possibly rape us.
Shallan: You tempted them into coming for us!
Jasnah: DId I force them to commit any crimes?
Shallan: You showed off your gemstones.
Jasnah: Can a woman not walk with her possessions down the street of a city?
Shallan: At night? Through a rough area? Displaying wealth? You all but asked for what happened!
Jasnah: Does that make it right? […] Am I a monster or am I a hero? Did I just slaughter four men, or did I stop four murderers from walking the streets? Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her? Did I have a right to defend myself? Or was I just looking for an excuse to end lives?

3. Chade Fallstar (Realm of the Elderlings)

Assassin's Apprentice
As the series progresses, we see Chade in many roles–assassin, spymaster, a secret relative, chief diplomat–but he was, and always will be, our protagonist’s first teacher. Chade enters Fitz’s life and imparts all sorts of higher learning–history, language, politics, comprehension and observational skills, herbery– alongside, of course, ways with which to kill. He teaches Fitz not to be a mindless killer but a scholar with a penchant for the deadly arts. His first and most valuable lesson, though? Your thoughts and opinions are valuable and it’s okay to express them.

“Learning is never wrong. Even learning to kill isn’t wrong.”

 

4. Helen Justineau (The Girl with All the Gifts)

The Girl with all the gifts
I don’t want to say too much about this one because spoilers, but Miss Justineau is our protagonist’s most favourite teacher. And for good reason. She truly cares about her students and exhibits compassion and understanding in a world where such things are deemed weaknesses. The relationship between Justineau and Melanie is one of the most heartwarming things I’ve encountered in recent memory.

 

 

5. John Keating (Dead Poets Society)

Dead Poet's Society
Is this cheating? Probably. But, then again, there is actually a book adaptation of the movie, so it totally counts. When I was in middleschool/highschool I always felt that this was the one movie they should show to all teachers at the beginning of each year. Mr. Keating shows that being a teacher isn’t just about teaching a subject. It’s about nurturing talents, broadening worldviews, encouraging students to carve out their own path in life, no matter how ludicrous others may view it.

 

He (and Robin Williams) will forever be “Oh Captain, My Captain.”

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

And there you have it! Feel free to tell me some of your favourite mentors/teachers in books!

 

Moving from YA to Adult Fantasy – Because Not All Adult Fantasy is BDSM Elves

When you’re a small child and you happen to be a frequent visitor of libraries, there’s a certain sense of ritual in moving up from one range of grade-level shelves to the next. It’s the bookish version of being elevated from squire to knight. Except you’re the one holding the sword and tapping your own shoulders. Dub dub. Rise up, Sir Katherine, Explorer of Magic Treehouses, Rescuer of Princesses in Paper Bags. Rise up in the name of our Lord Dewey.

The first time I moved from the children’s section to the YA–out from the forest of rotating pillars of chapter books to the towering skyscrapers of hardbacks and paperbacks, some even thicker than the width of my hand–I felt so damn proud and mature. I strolled over, chin-high, all four-feet of swagger and the dumb little-kid cockiness that comes with knowing that you read way above your grade-level–that you’re a “mature reader,” whatever that means. I browsed over those shelves like I’d always belonged there and knew exactly what I was looking for.

Well, when I was thirteen or so, I decided to take the same stroll over to the Adult Fantasy section. My shoulders were set. I did my casual, totally-mature-enough-for-this perusal. And my eyes caught on a particular name: R.A. Salvatore. Wow, I thought. Now that is a fantasy author name. So I snagged one of the copies and took it to the check-out counter feeling pretty good about myself.

Hours later I was staring at the pages in horror. See, up to that point I had only been exposed to one type of elves in fantasy: the pretty, regal ones from Tolkien’s world. The ones that look like they’ve been airbrushed to hell (or heaven) and back in the movies. Then I discovered Salvatore’s female drows, who were apparently very mean, casually-whip-carrying elves with a penchant for dealing out physical punishments.

I was reeling.

Was this what all modern fantasy was like? Dominatrix elves?

I stopped about two chapters in, wiser of the depraved ways of adult fantasy lovers, then reread Artemis Fowl in an attempt to cleanse my brain.

I eventually discovered books that were much more appealing for a middle school girl, and realized that, no, not all adult fantasy is BDSM elves (though nowadays I wouldn’t exactly complain if it were).

So if you are a teen, or an adult who wants to take a first dip into adult fantasy, here are some recommendations for books–new and old, popular and less-known–that blur the line between YA and adult, and may help make your transition a little less…traumatic.

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1. First Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn-collage

Most of Sanderson’s work is accessible for younger audiences, in my opinion, but I think the first Mistborn trilogy serves as the best jumping-off point to the Cosmere universe. The series is chock full of great worldbuilding and one of the most dynamic magic systems out there, but the characters are what really sells the story. Vin’s struggles to find acceptance and love, amidst revolutions and wars and political turmoils, is one that anyone can easily empathize with. Her journey from unknown street urchin to hero will leave you fist-pumping and clinging to the edge of your seat.

2. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest
The first in a series that is one of my all-time favourites, Daughter of the Forest is a take on a classic fairy tale, The Six Swans, in which a sorceress turns her stepchildren into swans. Well, all except for one–Sorcha, the sole daughter of the Sevenwaters family. The curse on her brothers will only be broken if she can make six shirts out of nettle plants (starwort, in this version) and remain silent through the duration of the task. It’s a story that is at once otherworldly and so utterly human–one of old magics, families, and sacrifice. Sorcha’s selflessness and courage and love in the face of unrelenting evil was nothing short of inspiring to me as a teenager. I think it was one of the first books I read where a “strong female protagonist” didn’t simply equate to a genderbent version of a male fantasy protagonist–physically strong, snarky, and hating “traditionally female” tasks. Though there are many retellings of the original story, Marillier’s version is one that all young women (and men) should read.

3. The Silvered by Tanya Huff

The Silvered
The Silvered is a shapeshifter story done to perfection. Aydori is a kingdom in which werewolves and mages coexist and rule together via marriage. One day, the neighbouring Empire decides to swoop in and kidnap five Mage-Pack women and everything is thrown to chaos. Now it’s up to Mirian Maylin, a mage with very little magical ability, and Tomas Hagen, brother of the Wolf Pack leader, to rescue them.

This may seem like a typical paranormal romance at a glance, but it’s not. Mirian is no heroine falling head-over-heels for the mysterious wolf boy, and Tomas is no brooding alpha douche. She’s a no-nonsense young woman with a practical approach to everything, and he’s a confused young man recovering from a recent tragedy. They’re complex characters and to see their relationship develop from wary trust to friendship (and more…?) is an absolute delight.

4. Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker

Age of Assassins
If any (softcore) grimdark deserves to be displayed on the YA table at the local bookstore without leaving me shaking my head in bafflement, it’s Age of Assassins. Fifteen-year old Girton Clubfoot is an assassin-in-training with a master who is, arguably, the best in the land. But he’s also a sheltered teenager. And when he and his master become tasked with preventing the assassination of the kingdom’s crown prince, he finds himself flung into a whirlwind of court politics. Girton is an utterly likeable character and his struggles to navigate the social cliques within the castle, fend of bullies, and deal with first-time crushes are things that all young readers can relate to.


5. A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A Green and Ancient Light
A Green and Ancient Light is one of those stories that feel timeless, perfect for anyone–child, teen, or adult. It’s old riddles and magical creatures and discovery of worlds that exist just beyond our own. It juxtaposes the beauty of childhood and fairy tales with the harshness of human conflict.

I would compare my experience with it to sitting on a porch on an early summer evening with my eyes closed, basking in the the caress of the waning sunlight.

A soft, gentle story for fans of The Book of Lost Things and Over the Garden Wall.