Talking Magical Fantasy with Rebekkah Niles and #Win

Today, please join me in welcoming author Rebekkah Niles to Preternatura.  Rebekkah is the author of Into the Tides, which was published on January 5th of this year. She is stopping by today to talk to us about magic. And you know how we love magic!

Rebekkah Niles writes contemporary fantasy. She lives in North Carolina with her two cats, a roommate, and whatever foster animal her roommate currently has stashed away in the other bedroom. Her lair has more wall space devoted to bookshelves than clothes or desk, and several art prints from her favorite fantasy artist, Nene Thomas, fill up what’s left. When not writing her own fiction, she works as an editorial assistant for her day job. Outside work, she can be found reading, playing video games, tabletop roleplaying, and hiking.  You can learn more about Rebekkah by visiting her website, on facebook or by following her on twitter.

coverABOUT INTO THE TIDES:  Music magic would be more useful if Kelly weren’t tone-deaf. As it is, she barely qualifies as having magic at all. But she’s learned to make some use of her magic: she can hear the rhythms of things. Footsteps, heartbeats–the in-and-out rush of the tides. Ocean tides, that is, not the Tides that drowned the South. That magical disaster wiped out most everything east of Texas and south of Virginia. The world lost millions of people; Kelly lost nearly her entire family. But it’s three years over, and now it’s time to try to move on. Or so she thinks. But something’s wrong with the rhythms of local lake. Something magically wrong. And while environmentalists are hailing the return of otters to the lake as a victory, she can’t shake the feeling those aren’t normal otters. Her brother and her handsome neighbor Derik, another Carolina orphan, refuse to let her investigate alone. Derik, from a family with a military legacy, swears he’ll keep her brother—her only surviving relative–out of danger. Only, Derik’s got this thing about letting people make their own choices, and with everyone else he loves lost to the Tides, Kelly doesn’t think her brother will choose to stay safe. Not even when the investigation leads into the heart of magic itself. Trying to save everyone who was lost? It may just cost her everyone she has left.

And now, let’s hear from Rebekkah…

Many Worlds, Many Magics

If you’re a fan of fantasy, you know magic works by different rules in almost every world. Fantasy’s the genre I grew up in, as a young geek girl, and one of my own favorite things, be it in a novel, movie, or video game, was discovering how the magic of that universe worked.

Today I’m going to explain the unique magic systems of four classic worlds, and give you a sneak peek at the magic in my own book, Into the Tides.

blueswordThe Blue Sword (book by Robin McKinley)

The magic in this world isn’t for everyone. Harry (short for “Angharad”) is a woman from a turn-of-the-century British-like country that, frankly, doesn’t even believe it exists. The imperialistic near-Britain has, after a couple of decades of encroaching into the territory but being unable to conquer it, decided a small country inhabited by the “hill folk” is almost more effort than it’s worth, and turned most of its attention elsewhere. But magical and monstrous invaders begin looking to conquer both lands, and the hill folk must convince the disbelieving imperialists to ally against the invaders, or both nations will be destroyed.

Kidnapping Harry isn’t the king’s plan when he rides to forge an alliance with the imperialists, but visions of her flash through his mind until he gives in and walks through her walls to whisk her away in the middle of the night. And he’s grateful that his magic cooperates enough to let him do so, because it often doesn’t help him out at all.

What I love about this world is that it becomes clear the magic has an agenda. And that agenda is not convenient to those afflicted with magic. Harry’s terrified by the strange force that has invaded her life, giving her strange new abilities and threatening her sanity with terrifying visions at inconvenient times.

While the magic has seemingly no limits, having in the past melted entire mountains into plains, it can’t be commanded. It makes advanced weaponry useless (much to the annoyance of the local garrison, who must explain to their superiors why their guns can’t win battles against swords and arrows), but isn’t a reliable weapon on its own. As often as not, Harry and the king of the hill folk end up pleading or arguing with it. At least it usually seems to be on their side!

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (video game)zelda

In the Ocarina of Time, the hero (Link) has grown up in a world filled with magic, the only boy who ages in a race of childlike forest elves. Magic species are part of his daily environment, from fairies who can heal to trees that talk, yet he himself has none. So when he’s given a mission by the tree that rules the forest to save it from an encroaching evil, he grabs a slingshot and a sword and kills a lot of spiders—setting off a quest that leads to traveling through time, saving the princess, and saving the world.

Over the course of the story, Link collects new items and begs help from the (rather terrifying) Great Fairies, who grant him spells of his own. Magic items, such as bows and boomerangs, he finds in dungeons, guarded by monsters that must be defeated. The major items are part of the storyline, and among the most important spells Link learns are songs. It’s music that allows him to summon his horse from across the land, and music that teleports him around the world, and music that makes him travel through time.

Unlike in The Blue Sword, magic comes when commanded and does the same thing every time it’s cast or used. It’s very consistent, and more obtainable. But it’s not for everyone—most people Link encounters may have one or two magic objects, but few use magic regularly. It’s adventurers, scholars, merchants, and royals who make frequent use of it, largely because going around to get it is more effort than most people are willing to invest. Getting your hands on a magic item and discovering what it can do, however, is one of the great pleasures of the game! Who can resist, for example, racing a ghost for the infamous hookshot, and then using it to sneak into a thieves’ palace?

Ffvii_usboxFinal Fantasy VII (video game)

One thing the Final Fantasy series does well is its beautiful integration of technology and magic. Magic is designed to work alongside technology—or rather, technology is designed to use magic. In FFVII, magic takes the form of collectible materia, which are crystals where the planet’s lifeforce has bubbled up to the surface of the world. Characters take these materia and use them to cast spells, summon monsters, or do special abilities. The materia is used, the stronger the magic the crystals are capable of casting.

Materia are pretty common and can be bought cheaply at shops. Most people have access to one or two, such as basic ice or lightning materia, that can cast weak magic. To get more powerful spells, characters have to either level up their materia through fighting lots and lots of monsters, or else find special, rare materia that can cast unique spells. Like in Legend of Zelda, part of the fun of the game is collecting rare materia. But unlike Zelda, players can blend magic with arms to create customizable weapons and armor, and change things up as needed.

The characters’ equipment is designed around this—most weapons and armor have slots for inserting materia, making ordinary attacks magic-charged. As characters progress through the game, they encounter monsters with different abilities and weaknesses, and can change their materia out to match. While the gameplay is turn-based and the player has less control over the fighting, as compared to Zelda, the ability personalize magic makes sure the player feels fully immersed in the game.

Dungeons and Dragons (3.5) (tabletop Roleplaying game)3-5-players-handbook

If Final Fantasy VII stands out for the personalization, Dungeons and Dragons takes home the trophy. In classic D&D, the world teems with not one but several types of magic, from a variety of sources, and players get to choose which they’d like. Some magic is granted by deities; some of it comes from studying spells; some of it is just naturally occurring in people.

Magic is divided into two classes, divine and arcane, and characters who cast one cannot (usually) cast the other. Healing magic is divine magic, while arcane magic covers attack spells, illusion, enhancements, and more. Those who don’t have magic of their own can purchase it, but that tends to be expensive. Since magic has a high cost, and spellcasters have limits on the number of spells they use each day, the players have to choose carefully. Even for characters that don’t cast spells, magic is integral to gameplay, since many monsters can only be slain with magic weapons. And of course, every good adventurer knows not to leave the village without a few healing potions tucked away.

Players get to be anything they want, and by gaining experience through battle (or making the dungeon master laugh), they can level up and gain even more abilities. It’s a game all about writing a story of your own, with your friends.

While pre-made adventures can be bought, many groups prefer to write their own stories. With a handful of magic, clever teamwork, and a strong sword, players can save the world. Or maybe just become the world’s most well-traveled singing troupe. Whichever. Just like the choice of magic is up to the personal tastes of the players, so too is the story!

Into the Tides (book)

Tone-deaf Kelly has long considered her inborn music magic to be useless. But after a disaster drowns the American South in magic, including her coverwhole family except her twin brother, she discovers her “useless” magic lets her hear the voices of those lost. Now, with the help of her twin and her handsome, green-eyed neighbor Derik, she’ll face magic itself to save them—only the attempt may cost her everyone she has left.

In this book, magic’s a natural psychoactive substance that forms in pockets under the planet’s surface. Some of it trickles up to the surface and interacts with the living things on the surface, responding to will. In dilute forms it has little effect, but humans who have the correct genes can pull it in and manipulate it in certain ways. Their abilities, called Powers, are based on which genes they have—some people can fly, some people gain muscle really fast, some people heal, some people talk in others’ dreams. Kelly, a music Power, should be able hear every nuance in people’s voices, influence their emotions, and soothe their pain. Being tone deaf, all she can manage is calming them down a little and hearing rhythms.

When a company decides to try harvesting magic directly from deep within the Earth, vast amounts of magic enter the atmosphere, too much for the human body to handle. People who have no magic are absorbed, while those with magic are twisted into either animals or monsters to drive off would-be rescuers, in the thrall of the magic.

Like in The Blue Sword, magic has a will—but unlike The Blue Sword, the will is based off the subconscious of those within it. In large doses, magic is dangerous and inimical, building off the fears and expectations of those trapped within. It’s stolen millions of lives, including Kelly’s family, and left the world reeling in its wake.

On the other hand, in small doses magic is tame and behaves by certain rules, and with plenty of practice people can improve their skills up with whatever amount they have. It’s part of society, and people with magic use it every day in their jobs, hand in hand with normal technology. And it’s also the key to saving the people who were lost… if Kelly can unravel the secret of how.

Building Worlds—the role of magic

Magic influences the society of any world in which it exists. How the Authorpiccharacters adapt and respond to magic tell the reader about the world—do the characters hate it? Are they surprised by it? Does it belong to everyone, or is it in the hands of a select few? Is there a cost, material or emotional, for using it? And if so, who pays?

Studying the role it plays on a plot can reveal whether magic is a driving force in the plot, just a part of the setting, or an allegory for a real issue. Whatever the magic of the world does, it’s sure to be fascinating. After all, it is magic!

In addition to being author of Into the Tides, a contemporary fantasy with just a touch of geek, Rebekkah Niles blogs at The Walk of Words, where she may be talking about writing, magic, video games, or tea.

You can win a copy of Into the Tides for yourself—just leave a comment below (standard rules for Suzanne’s book giveaways apply!)

Thanks, Rebekka!

The book giveaway rules are the same as they always are.  You must leave a comment to be entered for your chance to win a copy of Into the Tides.  So let’s talk some magic…What’s a magical world or a magical feature you like reading about?



21 thoughts on “Talking Magical Fantasy with Rebekkah Niles and #Win

  1. I haven’t read them in a long time but the first magical world I ever read about was Andre Norton’s Witch World.

  2. The Blue Sword is one of my favorite books! It is one I bought for the cover (I was and still am horse-crazy) and boy, did I get lucky that the story was so very good! Also love The Hero and the Crown, a prequel to The Blue Sword.
    I think Witch World was my first magical world, also.

  3. i never read “the blue sword” but i was tempted now i really want to. I love reading about magic ( and in dungeons and dragon roleplaying game group i was a magician) it’s really interesting to see magic with a will, an agenda i also love how your created your universe.

    a book with magic that i like? i even love kate daniels series by ilona andrews, it the first time i remember seeing magic so unpredicatable come and then disappearing without any idea of for how long or anything it had disaster result but after a moment people learned to adapat and i really enjoy to see that each time i jump back in teh series.

  4. Kate Daniels series, Harry Potter series, Libriomancer, Dirty Magic, Enchanted Inc series are all different worlds that use magic. In the Enchanted Inc series, the heroine is a null and can see through glamour, but can’t actually perform magic. In Libriomancer, the hero is able to use magic to pull anything out of a book to use in his reality. It really is a great story.

  5. Thanks f\or having me, Suzanne!

    Wow, you guys have listed some more of my favorite books already! I’ve always wished I could reach into the pages of a book and bring it to life…

  6. My first magical world is The Chronicles of Narnia. Magic and talking animals. How cool is that.

  7. Some of my favorite magical worlds are found in the Harry Potter series, Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden series, and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series.

  8. I loved the Blue Sword! The Hero & the Crown is another good one from her.
    The Pern series is a firm favourite of mine. I tend to like anything that has dragons. Or healing magic.

  9. D&D high-five (though I played 3rd edition)!

    I love the magical system in the Black Jewels series, it’s so intricate without being inaccessibly complex.

    • D&D high-five! We had one GM who always used 3.0 books because she didn’t want to go in for a whole new set… mostly compatible, believe it or not, and we just house-ruled anything that wasn’t.

  10. I have not read any of those books, or played the games, but I do love magic in my books. As a fantasy reader, you should know from which series/heroine I picked my internet name 🙂
    I love everything Raymond Feist, and Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind as well, but recently I discovered the books by Lisa Shearin and I fell in love with them as well.
    I love Nene Thomas, I do have almost all of her statues and 8 calendars. I have been collecting her for a long time now.

    • I’m a Lisa Shearin fan, too! Love her books. Oh, if only I had more wall space… but of course, I’d be torn between getting more bookshelves or more art prints. 😉

  11. When I saw Harimad-sol riding here in your post, I had to stop and read. 🙂 The Blue Sword is one of my favorite fantasy novels, hands down. I find it interesting that most of your magic system in your post come from gaming systems. I’ve been noticing that these resources are often used by authors today to develop their own magic systems. One of the reasons I loved The Blue Sword is that the magic was more organic and mysterious. Still, I enjoyed reading your post and hope to stop by again.

  12. I have begun the telling of Magical Fantasy works. I have the first five books of an eight book series published. If any would find interest, you can find them at; I think that many find a simple pleasure in my stories. Please check out the site, and let me know what you think. Thank you; M. W. Kohler.