Please welcome Mark Tompkins to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Last Days of Magic was published by Viking on March 1st.
Creating Rules of Enchantment
For The Last Days of Magic
Magical worlds are wonderful places for readers to inhabit; however, they can be devilishly tricky places for writers to create. A delicate touch is required to strike an effective balance among competing factors. The magic must be powerful enough to be instrumental to the characters and storyline, and yet not so potent that the characters who wield it become indomitable and their stories therefore boring. I believe that flawed, vulnerable, and unpredictable characters are essential elements of a good novel. As I wrote The Last Days of Magic, I also wanted each aspect of the magical system to refer back to historical president or established mythology.
Consistency is key. What magic can and cannot do in the first chapter must be the same in the last. The reader cannot be expected to suspend disbelief and go with the narrative if the rules are not coherent and do not follow each other logically. When I read the final page of a fantasy novel, I want to be able to look back and think that having taken a couple of things on faith, the rest could have happened.
In The Last Days of Magic, all enchantments require energy to function. Magical practitioners can use their own life energy to power minor or mid-level spells. However, doing so exhausts them much like vigorous exercise, and excessive use can cause physical disfiguration and wasting of the body. There are only a few sources for additional energy.
Dark magic workers use stolen life energy extracted while killing humans and/or magical beings. According to existing precedents, including records of witch trials, the victim must be burned, boiled, or their fat harvested.
The Roman Church’s sorcerers, aka exorcists, use relics that were created by God or angels (e.g. the Ring of Solomon) or in intimate contact with them (e.g. the True Cross of Jesus). They can also use words and symbols of power that were once uttered or written by God or angels and recorded in grimoires – magical books. These provide a thread of connection to divine energy; however, they are too powerful for humans to wield safely and frequently end up corrupting their users.
Magical beings and noble human witches and sorcerers use natural magic. These enchantments are powered by Ardor, the original energy of conception. God used it to create the universe, angels, and humans. God allowed Ardor to linger on earth so that angels could create and populate the earth with lower life forms and terrestrial features, an effect intended to last a short time. However, some angels exerted their free will, abandoned heaven for earth, and propagated magic-wielding, half-human offspring called Nephilim, which resulted in Ardor remaining on earth. Ardor lingers for as long as Nephilim remain in a land. When Nephilim leave or are driven out, Ardor fades and thins, and becomes like wisps of mist that come and go as if carried on a breeze.
Runes were developed in ancient times to assist with working magic. These symbols can bend, shape, and block enchantments, but bestow no power of their own. For example, a witch can make a divination spell more accurate by inscribing runes on sticks before she tosses them. A witch hunter can paint runes on the skin of a witch to block her from using spells.
By the 14th century, when The Last Days of Magic is set, the Nephilim have been driven out of much of Europe. Ardor remains dense only in Ireland, but powerful forces from within and outside of the country’s borders threaten it, and a world that can still foster natural magic hangs in the balance.
The Last Days of Magic
Viking, March 1, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.
Aisling, a goddess in human form, was born to rule both domains and—with her twin, Anya—unite the Celts with the powerful faeries of the Middle Kingdom. But within medieval Ireland interests are divided, and far from its shores greater forces are mustering. Both England and Rome have a stake in driving magic from the Emerald Isle. Jordan, the Vatican commander tasked with vanquishing the remnants of otherworldly creatures from a disenchanted Europe, has built a career on such plots. But increasingly he finds himself torn between duty and his desire to understand the magic that has been forbidden.
As kings prepare, exorcists gather, and divisions widen between the warring clans of Ireland, Aisling and Jordan must come to terms with powers given and withheld, while a world that can still foster magic hangs in the balance. Loyalties are tested, betrayals sown, and the coming war will have repercussions that ripple centuries later, in today’s world—and in particular for a young graduate student named Sara Hill.
The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale—a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.
The Last days of Magic, published by Viking, is Mark Tompkins’s debut novel. He founded the Aspen Writers' Network and serves on the board of Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute. He is a published poet and international award-winning photographer whose work is held in the permanent collections of museums in the United States and abroad. Born in Texas of Irish ancestry, Tompkins divides his time between Aspen, Boston, and Houston.