The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Okay, you might quibble with the best magic system label. Hard to make that claim when I've barely made a dent in the available fantasy fiction. A quick search for fantasy on Amazon returned 62,806 results. Still. My blog, my space to use superlatives. Next time it'll be exclamation points.
First the basics…
How it starts Fifteen year-old Kip is breaking the rules to scavenge on a battlefield when he stumbles over a dead soldier chained to a still-living prisoner. Before he dies, the prisoner warns Kip about a coming attack.
Page 6 quote“Have you ever wondered why you were stuck in such a small life? Have you ever gotten the feeling, Kip, that you’re special?”
Kip said nothing. Yes, and yes.
“Do you know why you feel destined for something greater?”“Why?” Kip asked, quiet, hopeful.
“Because you’re an arrogant little shit.”
General premise Kip’s village is attacked, and just before his mother dies, she gives him an exquisite dagger and tells him to avenge her. On the other side of the world, Gavin Guile, the most powerful drafter (or color magician) in the world, learns he has a son, and swoops in to save Kip from certain death. Now Gavin has to protect his new-found son from political enemies, placate his irate fiancé, keep his other secret from coming out, and stop the lands from falling back into a world war. Kip has his own decision to make: obey his mother’s wishes and kill the father who abandoned them, or help his father save the lands from destruction.
I could spend all day listing the things this book does well. Political and familial intrigue. Multiple points of view with well-defined voices and opposing goals. Fantasy world-building not of the typical pseudo-medieval-European bent (um, not that there’s anything wrong with that). Female characters who actually read like individuals and live in a world where their biggest problem is something other than fighting a male-dominated system. Characters you can sympathize with (or at least understand), whether or not you like them personally.
But the magic system's intricacy and its seamlessness with the world Brent Weeks created is just stunning. I read somewhere that he spent months coming up with his magic system and trying it out on his blog. I can certainly believe it. Weeks explains it best:
It makes sense to us that colors also bring along with them some emotional content. You simply feel different in a sterile white hospital room than you do in a red and yellow McDonald’s or in a totally pitch-black alley. Those things – instantly appealing to senses and categories that readers understand – drew me to the color magic.
When discussing how much magic in the fantasy genre has changed, Weeks had this to say about the magic system in The Lord of the Rings:
Consider J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings was about one super powerful ring whose power was to… make one person invisible. And with this power, Sauron was going to take over all of Middle Earth! Wait, what? But opposing him, there were elves and wizards who also had rings that gave them the ability to… light up their staves in dark places. Wait, what? We were told constantly that these characters were really, really powerful. And almost never saw it. However, Gandalf did have the power of falling really far.
Of course, he followed this up with a disclaimer about how much he loved LoTR so he wouldn’t get flamed, but I digress. Brent Weeks is funny and does brilliant world-building, and now I’m off to read his other books.
Before I go, two more books with great magic systems:
Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier
Genre: magical realism? MG? no idea
Charlie (short for Charlotte) goes to a sports high school, and has a personal fairy, like most people she knows. Unlike Freedom's good-skin fairy, or Rochelle's clothes-shopping fairy (the perfect outfit's always on sale), fourteen-year-old Charlie has a parking fairy.
I'm always being borrowed by Mom, or one of her sisters, or her best friend, or Jan, or Nana and Papa, or just about everyone in our neighborhood, whenever they're going to the doctor's, or grocery shopping, or anywhere that parking might be a problem. Every single day of my life someone asks me to get in their doxhead car. I hate cars. I hate drivers. I hate their little squeals of joy when they find a parking spot. But mostly I hate my benighted parking fairy.Each chapter begins with stats: how many days since she's been in a car, the number of demerits she's racked up for being late now that she's trying to walk everywhere, the public service hours she's done to work off her demerits, how many times she's spoken to Steffan (the hot new guy with a get-away-with-anything fairy). But when Charlie teams up with Fiorenze (every-boy-will-like-you fairy) who is also on a quest to get rid of her fairy, she finds herself in far more trouble than before.
Other books with brilliant magic systems?