The best epic fantasy books with soft magic systems

Louise Blackwick Author Of Vivian Amberville - The Weaver of Odds
By Louise Blackwick

The Books I Picked & Why

The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of the Rings

By J. R. R. Tolkien

The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

Since my very first visit to Middle Earth, I fell in love with J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic and grandiose settings and the intelligent magic systems permeating his work. The Two Towers, the second installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, holds a special place in my heart, chiefly because of its many thematic dichotomies and its unique take on the “consequences of warfare”. The many parallels between the Ringbearer and the creature Gollum offer unique insight into the darkness of the human heart. The Battle of Helm’s Deep was and remains my most beloved fictional battle, and The Last March of the Ents must be my favourite metaphor for excessive industrialization.


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A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five

By George RR Martin

A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five

Why this book?

The reason I fell in love with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire goes hand in hand with why I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. GRRM’s series builds upon the work of his classic contemporary, layering a darker, grittier veil over the genre of epic fantasy. A Dance with Dragons, in my opinion, further builds upon the subject of power and politics as well as duty and honour. The “relativity of evil” is something that particularly stands out in this fifth installment, which is constructed so brilliantly and so effectively, it has completely changed the way I build grey and morally ambiguous characters. Its soft magic system, featuring things such as “greensight”, “shadow-binding” and “face-changing” is one of my favourite magic systems in ages.


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A Hat Full of Sky

By Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky

Why this book?

Terry Pratchett's entire body of work is a masterclass in fantasy writing, yet the novels featuring little shepherdess and witch-in-training Tiffany have influenced my writing the most. A Hat Full of Sky, the 32nd novel in the Discworld series, and the 2nd in Tiffany Aching’s saga, is a compelling story about a young witch who must defeat an hiver (bodiless hive mind). The writing style is charming, weaving elements of comedy and darkness, something I greatly appreciate in an epic fantasy novel. The magic system of Tiffany’s world is unique and quite far removed from “witchcraft” as we have come to understand it. She is a witch whose power doesn’t reside in spells or potions, but in “headology”, a talent for walking the world of Death, and the ability to produce Second Thoughts (the thoughts you think about the way you think). While the novel is a clever satire of young adult fiction, I can see it standing on its own legs quite beautifully.


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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Why this book?

When I first finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the 7th and final book in J. K. Rowling’s epic fantasy franchise), I knew I was holding a most exquisite piece of fiction. As a long-time researcher of superb world-building and soft magic systems, I found myself positively engulfed and enthralled by this novel. Harry Potter’s magical and whimsical world is penciled in both fine lines and broad strokes, building towards an epic and rewarding conclusion that had me on the edge of my seat. Harry’s moral conundrum of “Horcruxes” vs. “Hallows”, which ultimately decides the path to his destiny, is a delightful and multifaceted bit of writing, one that I cannot stop praising.


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A Court of Thorns and Roses

By Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Why this book?

As far as soft magic systems come, none are softer and more adaptable than those crafted by Sarah J. Maas. The first in a series of five fantasy novels, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairytale and a beautiful love story to boot. On my first reading, I found Maas’ writing fast-paced and endearing, as I gently fell in love with the fantastical faerie world of Prythian.


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