I’m so excited to have Dragonista, H. L. Burke on my blog today, chatting about magic systems in her works! (Pssst… She JUST released To Court A Queen! CLICK IT! You know you want to!)
Take it away, Heidi.
To me, magic is like 75% of the reason I read fantasy. I know some authors out there tout that they write “magic-free fantasy,” but there are also people selling sugar-free candy and decaf coffee … these people aren’t to be trusted. (Unless they have dragons. Dragons are always magical.)
But anyway, because I write fantasy, I write magic. Also, because I get bored easily, I like to mix up what exactly this means by including different magical systems in different books. Weirdly, the more restrictive and specific a magic system can be (like when magic can only do a short list of things in a few specific ways), the more fun it is to work with. Limitations can often spark creativity, as anyone who’s ever had to play the “Oh no, I forgot to go shopping and now I have to make dinner out of one onion, a can of chicken broth, a box of pasta, and half a leftover rotisserie chicken” game will tell you.
So I try to come up with new ways to write magic every few books.
Magic is a type of sound. Magic is granted via communion with fire salamanders. Magic is a series of tubes with cats running through them … no, wait, that’s the internet.
The magic system in To Court a Queenis “fairy tale,” which is an easier one to do because rather than being a scientific system, it’s based off of tropes that most readers accept as part of the genre (we don’t know why a kiss turns a frog into a prince, but we understand that it does.). However a book series I have without this advantage was my Spellsmith & Carver trilogy. When I came up with the concept of two rival magicians forced into a Steampunk-fantasy version of a buddy cop movie, I realized if it was going to keep my interest, the magic had to be something more complicated and exciting than “magician throws fireballs, go boom.” (Not that there isn’t a place for that. I played a gnome mage for like three years in World of Warcraft. I LOVE throwing fireballs.)
So I went to the most EXCITING things I could think of.
Mathematics and computer programming.
(Please control your excitement.)
Okay, full confession: I don’t know how to program computers, and I was never that good at math … but what is math? It’s symbols arranged into equations. And computer programming, in “simplistic, even Heidi can get that” terminology, is a series of written commands that a computer can execute.
Magic in the world of Spellsmith & Carver works with a series of written symbols that a magician can write in different spells (formulas) and when the spell is activated, magic flows through the symbols and follows the written commands. If you leave a symbol off or write the wrong symbol, it either doesn’t work or does something unexpected (and usually bad … just ask Auric Spellsmith what happens if you miscount the number of sun-symbols needed for a warming spell.). The spells are inscribed on different mediums (which are called quires and different quires have different properties such as how much magic they can contain before being “expended” or how stable the magic will be. Common quires are paper, wood, stone, and wax) with an enchanted metal rod called a stylus.
Skilled magicians must memorize standard spells as well as learn how to adapt magic to create new spell formulas on the fly, and magicians will often have their own “style” they’re good at. Jericho Carver likes common sense, straightforward magic, simple magic that cuts to the heart of any given problem. Auric Spellsmith is more creative, loves theoretical magic, and usually prefers elaborate and complex spells, even when a simpler one will work … but it’s often those with the least in common who complement us best.
Now, To Court a Queendoes not have the magic system of Spellsmith & Carver, but it has the snark. If you like snarky stories with magic and adventure, you’ll probably like either Spellsmith & Carveror and To Court a Queen… or both.
To Court a Queen
He doesn’t want to get married, but he wants to be a frog even less.
Knight errant, Devin, takes a shortcut through the woods, only to be captured by fairy forces. The fairy queen has run out of breathing males to fight for her hand, and Devin, while not ideal fairy stock, is breathing–for now.
Telling a vain fairy queen you’d rather not be her one true love is a ticket to life on a lilypad, so the knight agrees to face three challenges to win Queen Agalea’s hand. When a clever servant girl offers to help him navigate the trials in order to stop the constant bloodshed of the courtship ritual, Devin jumps at the chance. However, as he balances “flirting” with his “beloved” and overcoming tasks specifically designed to kill him, he finds his heart drawn to his new partner in survival.
H. L. Burke is the author of multiple fantasy novels including the Dragon and the Scholar saga and The Nyssa Glass YA Steampunk series and Coiled. She is an admirer of the whimsical, a follower of the Light, and a believer in happily ever after.
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Reader Group (my reader group if you want to be the first to hear about beta and ARC reading opportunities as well as my day to day struggles and weekly live videos.)