As I mentioned in a previous post, I just recently finished reading a great book – “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch. I really enjoyed his writing and I have already purchased the next two books in the series. There is just tons to love in them, and I definitely recommend them to fans of fantasy and witty scoundrels alike.
That said, I do have a tendency, once I’ve read a book, to go back and reflect on what I liked and what I didn’t like. Usually, the things I didn’t like are things that came off as logical inconsistencies – that is, actions or events that don’t seem to make sense given the world they are set in. And while I definitely liked the book I read, there was one inconsistency that stood out to me, and bothered me just a bit through my reading it, and that one thing was the magic system. Beware, minor spoilers follow – if you like to read as an absolute “virgin” to the material, stop here and skip the next two paragraphs.
Still with me? Great! Here is basically what I found puzzling with the book: in the world that Lynch has created, magic is pretty rare. It is, in fact, practiced only by a very elite group of magi, a group that is fiercely protective of one another, insanely powerful, and in general, not to be crossed. One of the most powerful aspects of their magic is their ability to use a person’s name to manipulate them. This, of course, becomes a problem when a plot pivotal character (or two. Or three. Minor spoilers, remember? ;) ) has their name used in just this manner. While that seems to be a logical step in the story, it bugged me.
The thing is, these magi are well known throughout the world. Their powers are known, their fierceness is known, their unrelenting nature is known. It is no secret that a magi with your true name could do very bad things to you. And this is where the problem of logical consistency comes in. When you have a world where this is the truth, where it is known that true names have power and that magi of incredible strength can and will use that against you…why would anyone ever give out their true name? It just doesn’t make sense to me that *any* one would. True names would be a matter of great secrecy, something whispered in the ear of a baby at the time of their birth, in the presence of no one but their parents (or perhaps a priest). They would be something strange and long and unpronounceable. They would be guarded with more care than a king’s treasure room. They would then be given a “day name”, something that they go by and identify with, though it is not their true name. Who in their right minds would take the risk of using their actual name if they knew that it could be used to not just control their thoughts, but their very actions? The logical thing to do is to hide that name and let no one know it who doesn’t have to!
Spoilers over, you can read now! My point from above, without spoilers, is that fantastical powers and abilities need to have a logical effect within the world they exist in. This all comes back to world-building, really. It is perfectly fine and acceptable to have magic in a fantasy setting. It is perfectly fine and acceptable to have that magic take a certain form. It is also fine and admirable to give that form limitations. When you do so, though, make sure that you follow a form of logic that allows those powers and limitations to have an impact on the rest of your world.
For a not-as-yet published example of what I’m talking about, I am going to use the magic system in my current fantasy endeavor as an example. In my fantasy setting, magic is powered by darkness. Light is the bane of all things magical, and thus, practitioners of magic do so in as little light as possible. They are quite literally the Dark Arts. When I first started writing up the ideas behind my setting, I really didn’t think about the impact of that. I just thought it was a neat idea, and a fun play on the words “dark arts”. As I write, though, I found that certain scenes in my story just don’t make sense because of the rules I established for my magic system. When I wrote a scene where a magic user uses his abilities to manipulate a room full of people, I had him do so in a dark warehouse, where his powers were strong. It seemed like a good idea, because the people he was dealing with were outlaws and thieves, and what image fits them more than a shadowy warehouse filled with shady characters?
The problem, though, is that these outlaws and thieves live in a world where it is known that shadows have power, and that people can manipulate that power. In such a world, important business deals, no matter how criminal, are going to take place someplace light and sunny, with as few shadows as possible to influence them. Even the shadiest (pun intended) of thieves is going to know that you DON’T trust anyone in the dark. Even if their meetings have to take place at night, they are going to take place in a warehouse with blacked out windows but full of lanterns, so that they can remain concealed but protected from the wiles of a wicked magi. That would be logically consistent with the world they live in. That would make sense.
That said, you *can* write loopholes into such a system. In my case, there are certain casters who are “shadowbound” – that is, a being of shadow (for brevity’s sake, a demon) is bound to their inner soul. They can cast in full daylight where no other shadowcaster can, but at the cost of increasing the power of the shadow within them, a being that is both enslaved and enraged by its servitude to a mere mortal. Too much daylight casting, and a shadowbound will lose themselves to their shadow forever. And the process to become one is both insanely painful and typically deadly – less than one human in a hundred survives the process. This means shadowbound are incredibly rare, and restricted by countless laws throughout the kingdoms of the world.
That still doesn’t change the fact that my warehouse scene needs to have light, and lots of it. I’ve rewritten it so that it does. But I made the caster into a shadowbound, so that he can still manipulate the denizens of said warehouse without suspicion. This small change allows me to keep the intent of the scene without sacrificing logical consistency with the rules of the world.
So, there it is. What do you think? Does that all make sense? Do you agree with the need for logical consistency? Let me know!