Stories/settings where magic is toxic?


The Dragaeran books by Steven Brus have magic as raw chaos unless channeled through an artifact, like the Emperor’s crown, which gives access to all it’s citizens.

And, there is the Saga of Recluse series in which magic comes in either Chaos or Order and attracts each other. Chaos magic is short lived and can lead to violence and decay, while Order Magic leads to Stagnation. Each book is setting in a different era in the same land.
L. E. Modesitt is a great author, but I prefer his Sci Find honestly.


I remember reading one fantasy series where casting a spell would involve giving up something, usually a token/reagent but if you didnt have any you would pay in your own blood and the protagonist having a major nosebleed when training. Cant for the life of me remember what it was though.


Not sure if serious?

Fullmetal Alchemist.


Currently reading Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series, where using too much magic (total over your lifetime rather than at once) sends you insane.


Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz


I want to say that there was corrupting magic in The Covenant Chronicles but I haven’t read them in so long.


I forgot that magic is bad for your health in the Broken Earth Trilogy too:


I’m so old I don’t have a lawn. I have an area of Precambrian fungus. Get off it.


In Robin Hobbs’s soldier trilogy magic makes you obesely fat and the more you use it the more magic you become, until I assume, you become a tree or something. I haven’t finished it.


I worked on and wrote a lot of material for a grimdark fantasy setting where this was essentially the case; arcane magic was more or less the process of warping the natural “background radiation” magic of the world to your own purposes, but to achieve that control, you needed to channel it through some kind of focus, and it turned out that due to Backstory Reasons, the best possible focus was basically human flesh. But said focus didn’t necessarily enjoy the “filtration” process of creating purified, easily controlled magic.

You could certainly craft magical staves from rare, magic-channeling materials, or brew alchemical potions with naturally quasi-magical plants, or even just wildly cast unfocused magic, if you really wanted to, but in the end, for the average wizard, filtering the wild magic through their own body was the best way to ensure good and predictable results that they could actually afford and use reliably, and doing so would slowly warp and wither them, leading most to an early death. . . and usually a closed-casket funeral.

Alas, I’m not published, and the last draft of the actual novel set there is hot garbage, so you’ll need to just content yourself with the above description for now :)

edit: there were lots of little tricks the wizards in the universe worked out, to the point of more or less carrying tanned leather waterskins full of, erm. . . extracted. . . blood on their person to use in a pinch, slowly boiling away the blood and dry-rotting the leather, necessitating an additional harvest eventually. The lead character was one of a handful of individuals who’d begun to master bardic magic, using song and sound to shape magic. While rarely as direct and potent as so-called blood magic, it could be surprisingly complex and multifaceted.


Did anyone mention Michael Moorcock’s Elric/Stormbringer series? All magic is essentially sacrificing bits of your soul/essence to demons which produce magical effects.


I read this modern urban-fantasy type book last year, ‘An Unkindness of Magicians’ that fits the bill. Not a particularly good book, but it was a fun and fast read. It’s about modern day wizards in New York and their internal political power struggles. The way the wizards power their magic is definitely in the realm of what you’re talking about, and learning about that is the central plot of the book, really.


I’m not convinced “magic fueled by blood” is exactly the same as “magic is toxic”, but if we’re bringing it up, Jeff Somers’ We Are Not Good People

posits magic as fueled by bloodletting, with the protagonist being constantly weakened both magically and physically by his insistence on only using his own blood, unlike all the other magicians in the setting.


If that’s a reply to me, it wasn’t really ‘magic fuelled by blood’, but I could vaguely see someone boiling it down that way in a blurb or something. Trying not to spoil it since, like I said, how it unfolds it part of the plot.


Probably more a reply to me :)


Yeah, I could see that, too.