A few years back I read the Mistborn trilogy. In this the “magicians” must carry little vials of ground up metal particles they swig before using their talent. Most talented people in this world only have 1 ability – like super-strength for example. And after ‘burning’ the metal in their bodies – they run out of power. Metals are like a super-serum temporary dose in a comic book story.
But don’t let that put you off! The main challenge is the world building. It’s very dark. It’s no spoiler to say it’s a world where the Dark Lord won a thousand years ago – and the whole place looks like Mordor! In reading fantasy I usually like a balance of light and dark, of fantastic and beautiful as well as the ash and horror. Reading Mistborn helped me get used to the taste of ash in my mouth instead!
But why? What did the Dark Lord want? What motivated him? What are the rules of the place? What is this world about?
Here’s where Sanderson blew my mind. I’ve never read something where the laws of magic and the motivations of characters blended so perfectly into the plot and resolution of the whole thing. Sometimes in fantasy there’s some surprise new law that feels a bit like Marvin the Martian suddenly declaring “Now I’m going to use my Secret Weapon!” There’s no clever setup of clues that it then pays off in the reveal. It just comes out of nowhere and feels Deus Ex Machina. But not Sanderson. He accomplished an amazing surprise resolution – but – like a good Agatha Christie murder mystery – the clues were there the whole time. But it wasn’t about the Butler holding the butterknife in the laundry – it was about the very rules of the worldbuilding and magic hinted at during the novel.
Now that’s writing!