Why it doesn’t matter that there are no new ideas.
I just finished reading Brent Week’s new book The Black Prism.
I picked this up on a whim after hearing a lot of good things about Brent Weeks. Holy cow. What an amazing ride. He is cruel and vicious to his characters and continually kicks them when they are down. That’s part of what makes it so good. The other part is that he does all of this action while continuing to build believable characters and a world that is original. It all holds together so beautifully.
Have I mentioned that I love the magic system?
Okay… so you know that glamour, my magic system, is light based but entirely illusionary. Brent’s system is also light based but not even a little bit illusionary. This is what people talk about when they say that there are no unique ideas. Writing isn’t about the ideas so much as what you do with those ideas.
I mean, basically our magic systems both start from a point of “the magic is a manipulation of light” and then diverge wildly from there. With Brent’s a drafter — his magicians — can convert light into solids. His form of light magic has different physical properties and affects the person who drafts in specific ways. It is a consistent and coherent system.
In other places I’ve talked about how the hardest thing with the magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey was to avoid breaking history. That if I let it do too much, the Regency wouldn’t be the Regency. If you want to see an entire world that is shaped by the use and existence of a light-based magic that has practical effects, check out The Black Prism.
Oh, there are other reasons to read it. I very, sincerely enjoyed the book. I love flawed characters and this story is chock full of them. Flawed people who are trying to do the right thing and it just gets them into deeper trouble.
But, from a purely theoretical standpoint, what you have here are two books that are very different in type. Giant Swashbuckling Epic Fantasy vs. Very Quiet Romantic Historical Fantasy and yet both have magic systems that appear to start with the same basic idea: What if you could manipulate light?
Storytelling isn’t the idea, it’s what you do with it.