Today we have a blog post by the wonderfully talented Cassandra Rose Clarke, about Magical Systems, as part of The Wizard's Promise Book Tour!
When it comes to magical systems, for me, less is more. Although I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone with the patience to sit down and work out what is essentially imaginary physics, I do not possess that patience myself. Moreover, I’ve always been fondest of magical systems which feel less like science and more like magic—something eerie, otherworldly, and only partially explainable. In short, I like my magic the way I like my endings: with a bunch of raised questions.
In fact, many of the magic systems which have captured my imagination aren’t even from traditional fantasy novels. One of the first systems of magic that I ever really remember being entranced by was the magic/science in A Wrinkle of Time, particularly the idea of a tesseract, which Google and Carl Sagan tell me is a real thing (albeit not in the same way as it was described in the book). Although the tesseract was explained in the story—as a wrinkle in time, in fact—it was explained through a metaphor, and the nitty gritty details were never explored, leaving me to fill in the blanks. I’ve loved vague magic ever since.
My ideas about magic were also heavily influenced by two authors, one of whom influenced the other: Francesca Lia Block and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read Block first, and I was utterly enchanted by her descriptions of Los Angeles as a sort of fairy land. Her books are infused with magic, but it’s never laid out according to rules and dictums, and the result is that even the ordinary can feel strange. The magic system of her books, such as it is, is fueled by Golden Age Hollywood starlets, jacaranda trees, and vintage clothing. Ordinary things that, when combined, transform into something utterly spellbinding.
Later, when I was in college, I read Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude (which Block has said is her favorite book of all time). It does something similar: in the book, science and technology—things like ice, movie theaters, phonographs—are treated as magic, and magic, myth, superstition, and Biblical history are treated as run-of-the-mill and expected. There are many thematic reasons why Garcia Marquez does this, but for me, reading it as an aspiring SFF novelist, this conflation of reality and magical realism was one of my biggest influences. I even tried to convince the DM of the Dungeons and Dragons game I was playing at the time to incorporate magical realist elements into his campaigns. He refused, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it in my own writing.
Which brings us the magic systems in The Assassin’s Curse and the Hanna Duology. When I first started writing The Assassin’s Curse, I’d never written a proper adventure fantasy before. I knew I wanted magic to be a big part of the world—as opposed to books and series like A Song of Ice and Fire, where magic is fairly limited—and I knew I wanted the magic to be uncanny. I also knew, from previous experience, that if I took a lot of worldbuilding notes I’d never get anything done. So armed with all of that information, I started writing.
The magic system largely grew out of the story and the characters. Naji was the stronger magic-user of the two, and I wanted his magic to reflect his personality: dark and misunderstood, with an unexpected softness. That was how I came up with the idea of different sorts of elemental magic. Blood magic is a terrifying concept, because it’s so closely tied to violence—but Naji’s blood magic can work just as well with his own blood, and he doesn’t have to kill someone to make it work, either. I also gave Naji an affinity with plant magic, which to me seems the opposite of blood magic: a magic that focuses around life and growing things, rather than violence and the loss of our life force (that is, blood).
Writing the magic in The Wizard’s Promise was a different experience. Because of the previous duology, I already had a magic system worked out, and anything I came up with in TWP had to fit within its boundaries. To top it all of, the main character, Hanna, wants to be a witch! So instead of creating a magic system from scratch, this time I was building on it. In TAC, there is a lot of focus on magic as transformation, which was one of my big concepts for how I wanted the magic to work. Another concept, one which I didn’t explore as much in the previous books, is the idea that magic is a natural resource which must be “milled,” or processed, through a human being in order to be controlled. And so I decided to look more closely at that aspect in the Hanna duology.
With Hanna, I introduced a type of magic that I hadn’t explored in the first duology: wind-magic. Hanna draws her powers from the south wind. Because the story is told from her point of view, we get a much stronger insight into how magic works, and what it feels like to control magic. In the second book of the duology, The Nobleman’s Revenge, we’ll even get to see how magic relates to the Mists. But I did take care not to explain too much—at its core, the magic in these books is wild and unpredictable. And we’ll see plenty of that unpredictability in The Wizard’s Promise.
Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a local college. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a B.A. in English, and two years later she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. In 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle, where she was a recipient of the Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.Cassandra’s first adult novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, was a finalist for the 2013 Philip K. Dick Award, and her YA novel, The Assassin’s Curse, was nominated for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction.Cassandra is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.Author photo by Brittany at Flashbox Shop.
And don't forget to buy and read The Wizard’s Promise (The Hanna Duology #1) by Cassandra Rose Clarke, coming out May 6th!
All Hanna Euli wants is to become a proper witch – but unfortunately, she’s stuck as an apprentice to a grumpy fisherman. When their boat gets caught up in a mysterious storm and blown wildly off course, Hanna finds herself further away from home than she’s ever been before.
As she tries to get back, she learns there may be more to her apprentice master than she realized, especially when a mysterious, beautiful, and very non-human boy begins following her through the ocean, claiming that he needs Hanna’s help.
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