(Some of) The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction!

Posted 9th May 2020 by Sia in Blogathons, Lists / 1 Comment

Wyrd 6 Wonder banner

Last post, I talked about some of my favourite magic systems; this time around, I want to showcase some of my favourite magical/supernatural abilities. The difference? A magic system is a magic system; a magical ability is more like a superpower. The latter is a lot more limited in scope; a character with a magical ability can do one thing, rather than casting spells that could potentially do just about anything.

I guess it’s a fairly thin line separating the two, but that line’s enough to justify two separate posts, and that’s all I need!

(Although now I wish I’d saved the Water Giver trilogy for this post, where it probably fits a little better. Oh well!)

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, YA

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Introduced in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle and featured in the sequel Dreamer trilogy are Dreamers – people who can take things out of their dreams and bring them into the real world. As you might imagine, some of those things are incredibly strange – some beautiful, some terrible, some both – but without question, it makes for one of the most incredible, and potentially dangerous, abilities on this list. After all, would you want to manifest your nightmares?

The Hanged Man (The Tarot Sequence, #2) by K.D. Edwards
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

The last member of a murdered House tries to protect his ward from forced marriage to a monster while uncovering clues to his own tortured past.

The Tarot Sequence imagines a modern-day Atlantis off the coast of Massachusetts, governed by powerful Courts based on the traditional Tarot deck.

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Throne, is backed into a fight of high court magic and political appetites in a desperate bid to protect his ward, Max, from a forced marital alliance with the Hanged Man.

Rune's resistance will take him to the island's dankest corners, including a red light district made of moored ghost ships; a surreal skyscraper farm; and the floor of the ruling Convocation, where a gathering of Arcana will change Rune's life forever.

A secondary character who spends almost no time on the page, and yet is central to the second book of KD Edward’s Tarot Sequence, is Layne – a teenage necromancer. This isn’t your typical necromancy, though; Layne isn’t messing about with corpses or raising the dead, and though he* does draw power from death, he’s not sacrificing babies or neighbourhood cats. His form of necromancy is more properly called immolation magic – practitioners keep themselves infected with different illnesses, and when they need power, they kill the bacteria and harvest power from the deaths of those illnesses. It’s a really unique and clever twist on necromancy, and I for one absolutely adore it!

*Layne is referred to using he/him in Hanged Man, but it’s been revealed that Layne’s pronouns going forward in the series will be they/them.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this "intricate and extraordinary" Hugo Award winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. (The New York Times)

This is the way the world ends. . .for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Read the first book in the critically acclaimed, three-time Hugo award-winning trilogy by NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

Orogeny is an ability some people in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy are blessed – or cursed – with; the power to sense, manipulate, and trigger energy – especially or primarily seismic energy. Because individuals who can create earthquakes even as infants are obviously very dangerous individuals, most people hate them; orogenes are victims of terrible prejudice and abuse, with people even suspected of having orogeny being beaten to death, especially in more rural areas. Whereas the Fulcrum, a kind of government body, raises, trains, and even breeds orogenes – because of course, although they might be dangerous, orogenes are also incredibly useful, especially in the world of the Stillness, where climatic cataclysms are a constant threat.

The full scope of orogeny is explored in fantastic detail over the course of the trilogy, and I don’t want to ruin it for new readers by going into spoiler territory. So I’ll just say that it’s ridiculously cool, and very definitely one of my favourite superpowers!

The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love, in this extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman.

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

File Fantasy [ Love Squared | Stuck in the Margins | Emotional Injection | Fight the Power ]

Heart of the Circle is special not so much for the magical ability possessed by the main character – empathy – so much as how it’s utilised. Landsman delves into the potential uses of being able to not just read, but manipulate the emotions of others – and it’s pretty damn incredible. Empaths work in marketing and publishing to infuse images and stories with real emotion, walk on the outside of protest marches to keep a look-out for violence before it starts – and are absolutely terrifying in combat. At one point in the book, the main character (an empath himself) reminisces about his time in the military, and one particular training exercise – when twenty or so other magic-users complained of being outnumbered when pit against a single empath and seer. That’s how scary empaths are. It’s really cool to me, because usually empathy is presented as a soft, gentle superpower, and here in Heart of the Circle, it’s the complete opposite.

Written in Red (The Others, #1) by Anne Bishop
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy

Enter the world of the Others in the first novel in New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop’s thrilling fantasy series: a place where unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—rule the Earth and prey on the human race.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

The cassandra sangue of the Others series are not-quite-human, but aren’t Others (supernatural creatures like animal shapeshifters, vampires, and elementals) either. Their in-between state is explored later in the Others series, when it’s speculated that they might have evolved as mediators between humans and others (a concept I absolutely adore), but their primary power is in their skin. When a blood prophet’s skin is cut, she (cassandra sangue are always female) sees visions. Between that and their naive, naturally sweet natures (a generalisation, but a valid one) they’re inevitably taken advantage of and misused by those who want to profit from their prophecies. The series starts when one blood prophet escapes the compound she was born and raised in, and she and the found-family that forms around her explore the full extent – and danger – of her ability, step by step and book by book. The ramifications are enormous, and make for really interesting reading.

The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

Imprisoned for 'inflammatory writings' by the totalitarian Theocracy, shy intellectual Ashleigh Trine figures his story's over. But when he meets Kieran Trevarde, a hard-hearted gunslinger with a dark magic lurking in his blood, Ash finds that necessity makes strange heroes... and love can change the world.

The God Eaters is one of my favourite books of all time, and one so few people seem to have heard of. Happily, it was just featured on Tor.com in a post by TJ Klune just this past week. It’s an incredible queer fantasy, not least because of its fantastic characters. One of which is Kieran, a Native American with a magical gift I’ve never seen before (or since) – he can will people to die. It’s a power that wouldn’t work in the hands of a lesser writer – Kieran would either be too strong to be interesting (how much fun do you have with super-superpowered characters, who are never in danger and can brush off any obstacle?) or for hand-wavey reasons wouldn’t be using his gift when it might interfere with the plot. But Hajicek makes it work, and work brilliantly, and I love, love, love the secret behind the source of that power, when it’s eventually revealed. It’s a unique magical power utilised expertly by a master storyteller, and you absolutely need to check it out.

(You can grab an e-copy over at Lulu.com – no affiliate link, I just want everyone to be able to read this book!)

Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia, #1) by Heather Rose Jones
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

Margerit Sovitre did not expect to inherit the Baron Saveze’s fortunes—and even less his bodyguard. The formidable Barbara, of unknown parentage and tied to the barony for secretive reasons, is a feared duelist, capable of defending her charges with efficient, deadly force.

Equally perplexing is that while she is now a highly eligible heiress, Margerit did not also inherit the Saveze title, and the new baron eyes the fortunes he lost with open envy. Barbara, bitter that her servitude is to continue, may be the only force that stands between Margerit and the new Baron’s greed—and the ever deeper layers of intrigue that surround the ill-health of Alpennia’s prince and the divine power from rituals known only as The Mysteries of the Saints.

At first Margerit protests the need for Barbara’s services, but soon she cannot imagine sending Barbara away—for reasons of state and reasons of the heart.

Heather Rose Jone debuts with a sweeping story rich in intrigue and the clash of loyalties and love.

Margerit, a young woman who receives an unexpected inheritance that will alter the course of her life, is special even before she becomes an heiress – she can see magic.

Of course, that’s not what she, or anyone else calls it – in Jones’ regency setting, what I call magic is considered the manifestations of saints and angels, something that’s only lightly questioned later in the series by less religious characters. But the point remains that Margerit sees beautiful colours and glowing lights during rituals – and can use that sight to tell when a ritual has gone wrong. She even utilises her ability to build entirely new rituals, ones with real and powerful effects. It’s a wonderful power, and it’s just as wonderful to read about as Margerit goes from considering it a small and unimportant thing, to embracing her power and making it the focus of her life.

Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, YA

Inception meets The Magicians, except with better wigs and a maniacal drag queen sorceress attempting to unravel the reality of Connecticut (yes, the state) and replace it with something…well something better than Connecticut.

Ryan La Sala’s debut fantasy is an #OwnVoices story following Kane Montgomery, a gay teenager piecing his life back together after an attack robs him of his memories. As Kane searches for who he was, he uncovers a war for the creative rights to reality itself, each battle played out in an imagined world turned real: a reverie.

Reveries are worlds born from a person’s private fantasies, and once they manifest they can only be unraveled by bringing their conflicts to resolution. Reveries have rules and plots, magic and monsters, and one wrong step could twist the entire thing into a lethal, labyrinthine nightmare. Unraveling them is dangerous work, but it’s what Kane and The Others do.

Or did, until one of The Others purged Kane of his memories. But now Kane is back, and solving the mystery of his betrayal is the only way to unite his team and defeat reality’s latest threat: Poesy, a sorceress bent on harvesting the reveries for their pure, imaginative power.

But what use might a drag queen sorceress have with a menagerie of stolen reveries? And should Kane, a boy with no love for a team that betrayed him, fight to stop her, or defect to aid her?

Reverie is about the seduction of escaping inwards, about the worlds we hide within ourselves, and the danger of dreams that come true.

In Reverie, people’s dreams and fantasies keep manifesting into reality – sweeping up everyone nearby into the dreamer’s story. A rare few are immune, able to remember who they are even when caught in someone else’s ‘reverie’ – said dreams – and who can help the plot of the dream reach its conclusion without anyone getting hurt. This is made easier by the fact that everyone who can stay awake through a reverie seems to get superpowers – like super-strength – but it’s the staying-awake-and-aware ability that earns Reverie a spot on this list.

The reveries themselves are a really cool concept, as is the idea of people whose magic is being immune to magic – at least this one specific kind of magic, anyway!

Ink in the Blood (Ink in The Blood, #1) by Kim Smejkal
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, YA, Queer Protagonists

A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

The clue’s in the name: inklings, as they’re known, are people who can manipulate holy ink. The most common way they do this is by drawing on themselves – or someone else – and making the message or picture transfer from their skin to someone else’s. The church ’employs’ (a better word might be ‘enslaves’) inklings to pass on divine messages to parishioners – the inkling considers the message, draws an image that embodies that message, and then sends it from their own skin to the intended recipient, who will bear it as a permanent tattoo for the rest of their lives.

The main characters, Celia and Anya, find a new way to utilise their power – one that gives them a way out of the church’s oppression and a way in to a new and brilliant new life. I’m not going to tell you what it is, because spoilers, but it’s fabulously clever. And the inklings’ power definitely counts as a unique one!

So those are some of my faves – what about yours? What are some of the coolest magical abilities you’ve read about? And what power, if you could pick, would you choose for yourself?

And don’t forget to check out my sequel posts!

(Some More Of) The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction
(Even More Of) The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction
(Yet More Of) The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction
(Still More Of) The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction

Or begin my series on magic systems here!

Tags: ,

One response to “(Some of) The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.