Tough Travels with . . . Awesome Displays of Magic
Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.
This week’s tour topic is: AWESOME DISPLAYS OF MAGIC
Sometimes magic can be subtle. Who wants that? Big explosions or acts of creation, death and destruction or acts of awe inspiring wonder. If your world has magic then why not show it off?
For starters, let's take a look at The Runelords by David Farland. This is a series that's all about awesome displays of magic. Unfortunately, it's also a series that struggles to keep topping itself with those displays, often at the expense of character building or plot, but the first 2 or 3 books are well worth reading. Basically, this is a world where attributes such as strength and charisma can be magically transferred from one person to another. Runelords who gorge themselves on these endowments become superhuman - and when one becomes too superhuman, the other just gets another endowment, becoming more superhuman, so the other gets another endowment . . . and the cycle continues.
As much as I felt his Mistborn Trilogy lost steam after the first book, suffering from the absence of my favorite character, there's no question Brandon Sanderson knows how to establish kick-ass magical systems. There are actually 3 kinds of magic in the series, but it's allomancy that really provides the awesome. Basically, allomancers eat small bits of metal and 'burn' them internally, providing them with different abilities, based on the metal (strength from pewter, enhanced vision from tin, etc.). Kelsier and Vin are not only able to burn metals, but flare them as well, providing them with even more (temporary) awesome. Their metals of choice are iron and steel, which allow them to either pull or push on other metals, giving them the power to magically race across the rooftops like the bastard child of Spider-Man and a mutant mistress of parkour.
Robert Jordan put a lot of thought into the magic of The Wheel of Time, and it goes far beyond the awesome of the One Power and the taint on saidin. For starters, there's traveling, the art of opening magical portal that allow armies to basically teleport across the world - except these portals are razor edged, removing limbs that don't make it cleanly through, and slicing travelers in two if they don't make it through before the doorway slams shut. Far more awesome than that, though, is the magic of balefire - think a magical laser beam that not only obliterates everything in its path, but actually erases those targets from history so that they're not just dead, they never existed . . . and nothing they've accomplished ever happened.
Before it got all preachy and philosophical, the Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind was actually a solid epic fantasy trilogy with two awesome displays of magic. First of all we have the Confessor's touch, a magical touch through which a Confessor breaks the mind and will of her target, making him or her completely, unconditionally, and helplessly in her thrall. It ensures loyalty and answers, but at the cost of one's sense of self. Next we have the Sword of Truth itself, a weapon wielded by Richard Rahl, that allows him to cut through lies, falsehoods, and deceptions, cutting through anything (no matter how strong or well-protected) that the wielder thinks of as an enemy, but refusing to touch anyone Richard considers a friend or ally.
The Night's Edge series from Julie E. Czerneda has one of the most awesome displays of magic in recent memory. Jenn Nalynn is turnborn, cursed to never leave the valley of Marrowdell, but possessed of an incredible magical power that's basically wishes made real. The first time she uses it, she transforms the dragon's spirit that's been watching over her into a crippled young man. The second time she uses it, she changes the personality of another young man, forcing him to obey her simple command. It gets to the point, as she comes into her power, that very moods are able to subconsciously reshape the world around her, changing behaviors and even the weather to suit her whims.
Finally, simply because I can't resist the temptation to dabble in the dark side, I have to wrap things up with The Rage of Kings from Andy Remic. Orlana the Changer is a cold, cruel, stunningly beautiful sorceress with absolutely no regard for anything but her own motivations who clawed her way back up from the underworld to take a second crack at power. Where does the awesome come in? Well, she is the mistress of the splice, allowing her to create monstrous creatures by magically twisting horses, lions, bears, orcs, and men into terrible, tortured, twisted creatures. She could do it neatly and cleanly, but she is deliberately imperfect, using the tortured nature of her armies to fuel their rage and hunger, and to instill even more fear in their enemies.