Wow, been a while since I wrote one of these. But Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson has given me no other option.
In his Mistborn series, Sanderson creates the magic system of Allomancy, the magic of using metals to enhance or grant you abilities. This table in the appendix sums it up nicely:
You’ll notice that the powers appear to be paired in opposites, enhancing or allowing contrasting powers. One of the metals is often a pure metal, the other an alloy of it. Even the symbols of the pairs look pretty similar.
Magic isn’t a sort of deus ex machina. Allomancy isn’t the answer to everything—in fact, it is very limited. A practicer of Allomancy must first ingest the metal they plan on using, and then “burn” the metal in order to activate it. Burn too hard for too long and you get sick from overexertion. Keep the metal too long in your body without burning it and you get sick from it poisoning you.
What I like about this system is that it requires balance. It requires intelligence. While some metals appear more useful than others, it always requires practice, skill, and honing of the powers for them to be used to their full advantage.
You have to be smart enough to use magic.
Additionally, Allomancy is bound by scientific laws. Pushing and pulling on metals (steel and iron) considers Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Soothing and rioting (brass and zinc) are used best with a deep understanding of psychology. And tin and pewter require a good understanding of physiology.
I love the idea of magic being any other skill that needs to be practiced and mastered. It requires work. It requires thought. It isn’t just some wand waving that suddenly makes everything okay.
Magic is and should be treated as a tool in fantasy, not just some easy means to an end. And I really appreciate and enjoy Sanderson’s use of magic in his series.
What are some of your favourite magic systems in books? Let me know in the comments!