Magic Must Have Consequences: A Smol Rant

Posted June 2, 2021 by Amber in Bookish Things / 2 Comments

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I read a lot of fantasy books.  Admittedly, these are mostly YA fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless.  And every once in a while, I come across one that should be a really good book, but completely fails to world building properly.

I’ve spoken about world building in fantasy before and touched upon how integral it is to a good fantasy novel.  There are a lot of reason why a really solid world is important to fantasy, but there’s one aspect of world building that is particularly important me, and one that somehow gets missed … too often?  And that’s the thorough creation of a magic system.

Magic systems are something that epic fantasy does extraordinarily well.  In The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss shows the what is required to learn different magics, the dangers of some of the physical magics, and the costs of poor use.  Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings also has a strong magic system even though the readers are just learning about it inbox one. There’s clear methods of learning and wielding magic in all the epic fantasy I’ve read, and there are strong consequences for misuse.

On the other hand, YA books are hit or miss when it comes to a well-developed magical system.  There’s really no reason for this – there are only a few basic principles that need to be developed and demonstrated.  YA books do an excellent job showing how magic is cast, but there is rarely an education arc, and consequences are far more uncommon.

The lack of consequences, in particular, bothers me.

Anything in life has some give and take.  It’s like staying healthy – you don’t just have one workout session and suddenly you’re fit.  You have to work at it, day after day.  If you over-exert yourself, there are consequences.  In the same vein, if you perform magic, there should be some sort of consequence.  Everything we physically do as humans has some sort of consequence.  Fantasy or not, the lack of consequences makes it a lot more difficult to believe the story.

“But what about inherent magic ability?” you may ask.  I still feel the same about this.  I think the Chosen One trope has been abused, particularly when the protagonist is born with incredible magical ability.  They ride this ability through the book and accomplish all their goals.  This is particularly frustrating when it’s been a dormant ability that suddenly appears for the first time when the protagonist needs it at age eighteen.  We aren’t born with the knowledge of how to walk or speak – we have to learn it.  Magic should be the same in fantasy book.  Regardless of the intended audience.

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Do you agree that magic should be learned and needs consequences for misuse?  Is this something you don’t usually pick up on in books?  Am I being extra?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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2 responses to “Magic Must Have Consequences: A Smol Rant

  1. Monica Laurette

    It might be because I have not read enough high fantasy that holds those consequences for magic use that I’ve never noticed this before. But I’ve seen some shows/movies that did showcase this sort of thing.

    I feel that the magic-building is just as important as the world-building though, because it the magic just doesn’t make sense – the rest of the book will fall a little bit for me.

    • Amber

      Movies and shows take it to the next level, for sure. 🙂 I’m glad to hear it’s not something that that has affected your reading. <3