12 Fantasy Books With Interesting Magic Systems to Read


Whether based on music, geology, natural abilities or something else, supernatural ‘magic systems’ are a favorite feature in fantasy.

Are you a reader on the lookout for fantasy books with unique and fascinating magic systems? If so, this post has a story for you.

Here are 12 great fantasy books with interesting magic systems to read:

I’ve included book descriptions, readers’ ratings and summaries of positive and negative comments for each one of these fantasy novels. 

On the other hand, here’s a comparison chart if you’d prefer a quick summary.


The Naming by Alison Croggon

Description

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor.

It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold.

Now she and her new teacher must survive a journey through a time and place where the forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.01

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

First on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is The Naming. This fantasy novel captivated readers with its refreshing magic system, immersive world, and its classic fantasy tale.

Fans remarked on how similar it was to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in terms of its plot, characters and in its descriptive writing style. While it was similar, the similarities were done very well. In addition, many said that it reminded them of the warm and familiar experience of reading Tolkien’s work, and that it had a similar magic.

Others mentioned that Maerad, The Naming‘s protagonist, was a enjoyable character to read about. Accompanying her on her journey to discover her potential and growing abilities was a delight.

Negative Comments

If critics didn’t enjoy The Naming, they tended to focus on its slow pace. These readers felt that the frequent descriptions of landscapes, cultures and characters felt excessive.

Others mentioned that at one point, the book details Maerad having her first period. Critics said that the story dwells on this for long enough that it was off-putting.


The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Description

I long for the days before the Last Desolation. Before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. When there was still magic in Roshar and honor in the hearts of men.

In the end, not war but victory proved the greater test. Did our foes see that the harder they fought, the fiercer our resistance? Fire and hammer forge a sword; time and neglect rust it away. So we won the world, yet lost it.

Now there are four whom we watch: the surgeon, forced to forsake healing and fight in the most brutal war of our time; the assassin, who weeps as he kills; the liar, who wears her scholar’s mantle over a thief’s heart; and the prince, whose eyes open to the ancient past as his thirst for battle wanes.

One of them may redeem us. One of them will destroy us. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.65

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

A second story on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is The Way of Kings. If readers enjoyed this novel, they often enthused over the story’s grand scope – both in terms of the world-building and the stakes – and its intriguing cast of characters.

Fans remarked that The Way of Kings world-building was phenomenal, sweeping them into the story’s world with intricate and fascinating details. Whether it was the magic system, politics, history or more, the book brought its setting to life.

Along a similar vein to that, fans enjoyed the book’s vibrant and varied character cast. Since these characters came from all walks and stages of life, their different perspectives brought a sense of grandeur to the tale that these readers had rarely seen in other fantasy books.

Negative Comments

in terms of criticisms, readers who didn’t enjoy The Way of Kings generally cited its strengths as also its weaknesses.

For instance, these readers agreed that its world-building and rules for how supernatural powers worked were excellent. However, they said the explanations and overall focus on these were too much. Because of this, they said that the book became sluggish.

Others, though, said that the story in general had a slow pace. The book is long and much of the beginning and middle sets up a faster second half. As such, critics thought that not much happened for long periods of time.


Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Description

Where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. Criminal mastermind Kelsier teaches Allomancy, the magic of metals, to another Mistborn, urchin Vin 16.

The unlikely heroine is distracted by rich Venture heir Elend. Can Kelsier’s thieving crew take on the tyrant Lord Ruler and bring back color to their world?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.45

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is Mistborn: The Final Empire. Readers described this novel as having elements of and an air of mystery to it that they found delightful.

Moreover, Brandon Sanderson has a reputation for unique magic systems, and this story features just that. The refreshing Allomancy magic system delighted fans, many of whom praised how thoroughly it was developed.

Other readers raved about Vin’s exciting journey from distrusting and quiet street urchin to confident and ferocious assassin. They described her growth as authentic and compelling, while also praising her well fleshed-out character along the way.

On a similar note, readers also thoroughly enjoyed Vin and Kelsier’s mentor/mentee relationship. He and Vin’s interactions, fans said, were one of the highlights of the story.

Negative Comments

Not everyone enjoyed Mistborn: The Final Empire. These readers said that while the world-building impressed them, they thought the story was slow. The crew’s plans proceed in a rather straightforward manner, while critics hoped for more conflict or complications.

Others expressed disappointment that more female characters didn’t feature in the crew or take part in the revolution overall. While these readers appreciated Vin as the main character, it struck them as unrealistic.


Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon

Description

Rhapsody, a young woman trained as a Namer, can attune herself to the vibrations of all things, tap the power of true names, and rename people, changing their basic identities.

Her magic lies in music: “Music is nothing more than the maps through the vibrations that make up all the world. If you have the right map, it will take you wherever you want to go,” she tells her adoptive brothers. 

They are “the Brother,” a professional assassin able to sense and track the heartbeats of all natives of the doomed Island of Seren, their homeland, and his giant sidekick Grunthor, a green-skinned Sergeant Major who enjoys making jokes, using edged weapons, and honing his cannibalistic palate.

Inadvertently, Rhapsody has renamed the Brother Achmed the Snake, breaking his enslavement to Tsoltan the F’dor (a fire-born demon). Tsoltan sends minions in pursuit to rebind Achmed. The three escape into the roots of a World Tree, Sagia, emerging transformed into another country and century.

But have they truly escaped the F’dor’s evil? And how does all this relate to the prologue’s story of Gwydion and Emily, two young lovers brought together across history and then separated by the mysterious Meridion?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.95

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Our next book is Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon. Fans praised the story for its unique, music-centered magic system. In addition, these readers Rhapsody often remarked on the vivid world-building, as well as the varied and developed cast of characters.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t rate the novel highly, they typically mentioned that the main character seemed too idealized and that the middle of the story was slow-paced.


Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist

Description

To the forest on the shore of the Kingdom of the Isles, the orphan Pug came to study with the master magician Kulgan. But though his courage won him a place at court and the heart of a lovely Princess, he was ill at ease with the normal ways of wizardry.

Yet Pug’s strange sort of magic would one day change forever the fates of two worlds. For dark beings from another world had opened a rift in the fabric of spacetime to being again the age-old battle between the forces of Order and Chaos. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.17

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is Magician: Apprentice, novel that includes classic fantasy creatures, settings and quests.

Fans mentioned that this book had everything they loved about traditional fantasy while exploring those elements more deeply. However, it also had enough twists to the overall tale that the book didn’t feel over-familiar.

In addition, fans praised the book for its excellent characters and the different fantasy cultures. They immediately connected to all the characters in the cast, whether they be elves, dwarves, or dragons. Experiencing the characters’ coming-of-age stories was a treat, as was walking with them as they explored their world and weathered its turbulent politics.

Overall, fans said that Magician: Apprentice was an highly enjoyable classic fantasy, with many feel- good moments. A few commented that, given how many grimdark fantasy books there are, it was refreshing to immerse themselves in this uplifting story and spend time with its upstanding characters.

Negative Comments

What did critics dislike about Magician: Apprentice?

Mostly, these readers’ remarks focused on the book’s The Lord of the Rings influence or overall use of standard fantasy tropes. Whether it was the characterization of the main characters, the personalities of the fantasy creatures, or the locations in the story, the similarities came across too strongly to them.

Other critics focused on the characters themselves. Several of them mentioned that they either didn’t seem developed or that they were developed by narration rather than through character-defining actions or dialogue.


Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Description

Book Cover of The Gardens of the Moon

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers.

Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead.

But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.88

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

What did fans of Gardens of the Moon say? Overall, these readers frequently praised the author, Steve Erickson, for taking this fantasy story in a different direction than a more Tolkien-like fantasy. While the book has a similar epic feel and scope, it also has a mystery, violence and tragedy to it that appeal to them.

They also mentioned how imaginative they found the story, particularly the world-building, and appreciated how instantly the story threw them into the story of a gigantic war.

Negative Comments

What did readers who didn’t enjoy the novel say?

It turns out that while they agreed that the story was epic in scope, they often felt like that the sheer amount of information they were told meant that they had little idea of what was happening or why it mattered.

In addition, these readers said it was difficult to get emotionally invested in the characters – there were just too many to cover for them to have much development.

Along a similar vein, others mentioned that the dialogue between the characters felt like standard fantasy book talk rather than individualized speaking styles.


The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Description

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life.

I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature — the story of a hero told in his own voice.

It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.54

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is The Name of the Wind. This novel has legions of raving fans. In fact, as of this writing, 69% of Goodreads reviewers rated this story a 5.

Why did this story captivate so many people? Readers suggested that its power came from a convergence of several great strengths. First off, fans praised the nuance and believably of the main character’s, Kvothe’s, point of view.

Kvothe felt real and so very human to these readers, who immediately bonded with him. They described The Name of the Wind‘s character portrayal and development as incredible.

Other readers pointed to the story’s simultaneously intricate and expansive world-building, as well as the poetic prose used to describe it. The Name of the Wind details legends, religions, magic systems and more in a vivid and engaging manner. All of this happened without ‘info-dumping’ on or confusing readers.

Negative Comments

If so many readers adored The Name of the Wind, what made readers who didn’t feel this way?

Those who didn’t enjoy the book had two main reasons. The first was that they came into the story expecting a fast-paced, thrilling ride with clear direction and purpose. Instead, The Name of the Wind is a character-driven story that focuses on immersing the reader in its characters and world. Because of this, critics described the story as slow and found themselves asking, ‘Where is this story going?’

The second main reason had to do with the main character, Kvothe. Unlike fans, critics simply didn’t like him.

Some attributed this to his extraordinary skills across multiple disciplines. At some point, they thought that this wasn’t just unrealistic, but irritating. Kvothe stopped seeming like character to them and started seeming like a wish-fulfillment tool.

Along the same lines, another reason these critics cited was Kvothe’s character flaws. It wasn’t that he had flaws that bothered them; instead, these readers were frustrated because they didn’t feel that Kvothe’s arrogance was portrayed negatively. Instead, they saw it as another instance of the story unduly favoring him.


Smoke and Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg

Description

Book cover of Smoke and Summons

As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon – a raging monster summoned to do his bidding.

Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.

A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day – a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom.

But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down….

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.86

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is Smoke and Summons.

In general, it sounded like what determined whether readers loved this book or didn’t was based on whether they connected with Sandis, the protagonist.

Readers who enjoyed the novel said that they adored her – while naïve, she was also intelligent and full of personal strength. She was determined to do what was right, often felt understandably upset at herself when she was helpless and had a great deal of empathy for others.

But Sandis aside, readers also found the magic system and world fascinating.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy Smoke and Summons, it was generally that they couldn’t connect with Sandis.

Some said it was because she made foolish decisions, while others cited the romance between her and Rone (naïve, innocent and selfless girl with jaded, arrogant and selfish boy). To them, Sandis came across as a damsel in distress.


The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Description

An epic battle between good and evil…

Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high schoolers.

Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great – until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts.

Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: he is Weirlind, part of an underground society of magical people who live among us.

At their helm sits the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game – a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir.

As if his bizarre heritage isn’t enough, Jack finds out that he’s not just another member of Weirlind – he’s one of the last of the warriors – at a time when both houses are scouting for a player.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.94

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

And next on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is The Warrior Heir. This fantasy novel tantalized fans with its blend of a likable protagonist, action, and a world similar to our own but with intriguing twists. 

In particular, readers were fascinated by the magic system and world-building in The Warrior Heir, saying that the powers the various guilds had and how they vied for power was refreshingly different.

Aside from that many praised the story for its overall epic feel, along with non-stop suspense and adventure.  

Negative Comments

So what did critics say about The Warrior Heir?

Overall, these readers said that the book had several noticeable character types and common plot tropes. Because of this, they thought the story came across as bland and couldn’t get invested in it.


Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Description

Book cover of Assassin's Apprentice

In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely.

Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship.

But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.

So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.16

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.

Readers who loved this book enjoyed the slow burn nature of the story, which focused heavily on character growth and world-building. Although a fantasy book about assassins, Assassin’s Apprentice is primarily the story of a boy growing into adulthood without the love of a family.

As such, Fitz’s journey provoked deep feelings from these readers, who found themselves strongly invested in the characters and sharing their hopes and fears.

In addition, they also remarked that there wasn’t a single character they felt apathetic about. Even though Fitz is the main character, fans said that – whether it was love or hate – they felt something for all the characters in the cast.

Negative Comments

If you’re a reader looking for an action-packed, adrenaline-charged adventure, readers confirmed that Assassin’s Apprentice won’t be your cup of tea.

Expecting action and suspense, readers who didn’t enjoy the novel found its pacing slow. Plenty of tragic events happen in Fitz’ life, but they seemed more like meanderings than building blocks serving a larger narrative purpose.

Others mentioned that Fitz, despite aging around ten years, doesn’t seem to change much character-wise. Readers get to know him, but not see him change or to grow based on what happens. This made it difficult for some of these readers to connect to him.


The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Description

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one. 

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will. 

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king — a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.80

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Another fantasy books with interesting magic systems is The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a novel nominated for the prestigious Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Fans fell in love with Elisa, the story’s protagonist and raved about her  portrayal. Many of them were intrigued by how different she is from the typical ‘Chosen One’ character. While most ‘Chosen Ones’ start off as unlikely heroes due to their socioeconomic background, Elisa battles a powerful sense of worthlessness and a sheltered upbringing.

Readers often said that this made her easy to empathize with, especially given how much she has to fight to grow past her weaknesses. Several readers who had battled eating disorders or a negative self-image said they felt a particular connection to her. By the end of the novel, readers of all stripes said Elisa’s growth into a confident and heroic leader inspired them and warmed their hearts. 

Other fans mentioned how much they loved the world-building. In particular, readers praised the book’s multifaceted and respectful inclusion of religion into its setting. Often missing in fantasy world-building, it added a new dimension to Elisa and other characters.

In addition, readers said that seeing characters of different cultural and religious convictions interact was refreshing and made the world come to life.

Negative Comments

Not every reader enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns. So, what did critics say?

For the most part, they had two main reasons. Some were upset that Elisa started off overweight but became thinner over the course of her trials. For instance, she trekked through a desert and had far less food available to consume than usual. Critics interpreted this as linking heroism and thinness.

The second criticism is more ambiguous, having to do with the portrayal of religion. Some readers disliked the fact that Elisa was religious or that religion was included as part of the story’s world. However, their distaste didn’t come across as a criticism against The Girl of Fire and Thorns, so much as a dislike of religion in general.

Ironically, others seemed to think that the religious aspect wasn’t delved into deeply enough. For instance, these critics were intrigued by the philosophical questions Elisa ponders. They said, though, that the book only offered surface-level answers.


The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Description

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril has returned to the noble household he once served as page. To his great surprise, he’s named as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.

It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions.

In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle.

Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge — an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation and death.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.17

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Last on our list of fantasy books with interesting magic systems is The Curse of Chalion.

Readers who rated this fantasy book highly enjoyed how thoughtful the novel was and its focus on the nuances of Cazaril’s internal journey.

Cazaril isn’t a typical fantasy main character – he’s neither a valiant warrior nor mighty mage – but this is what made him more relatable to positive reviewers.

They also remarked that the story had an enjoyable political intrigue plot and a fleshed-out religious system. 

Negative Comments

What did critics say? Generally, these readers found the novel’s strengths to be its weaknesses.

Most of these readers found the lack of action in the story disappointing. Without more action, these reviewers found that it made the story slow: The Curse of Chalion centers around relationship development, character growth and court intrigue.


12 Fantasy Books With Interesting Magic Systems to Read

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12 Fantasy Books With Interesting Magic Systems to Read


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