No! If he can do that now, why didn't he do it thirty pages ago!?
March 6, 2011 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Fiction like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series?

I just finished Jim Butcher's most recent Dresden Files novel. What the heck should I read now?

I've already hit up What Should I Read Next?, and tried out Simon Green. But it picked up on really the wrong part of Dresden Files for me. I mean, detective stories are neat and all...

But, basically, I'd like to read more fiction where magic has rules. Where it's clear that the author has sat down and worked through a coherent theory of magic and then is playing within that framework for the rest of the story, as opposed to magic simply being a legitimate vehicle for deus ex machina and arbitrary plotting. Sort of the, well, science-fiction approach to magic.

If it's written in a smart-assed first-person perspective, I'll award extra points.
posted by Netzapper to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Steven Brusts' Dragaera books may suit your needs. I certainly love both.
posted by contrarian at 2:10 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Still reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, but I'm loving it so far. He does a good job of describing how magic works and the main character attends a university of magic that is very fleshed out with laws and rules.
posted by meta87 at 2:10 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been enjoying Charles Stross' Laundry books. The Atrocity Archives is the first in the series. They are quite similar in style to the Dresden Files (there's even what seems to be a direct shout-out to Butcher in the third book), and do a lot of clever stuff with the "mathematics as magic" premise.
posted by fearthehat at 2:12 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might check out Night Watch and its sequels.
posted by Jawn at 2:15 PM on March 6, 2011

But, basically, I'd like to read more fiction where magic has rules. Where it's clear that the author has sat down and worked through a coherent theory of magic and then is playing within that framework for the rest of the story, as opposed to magic simply being a legitimate vehicle for deus ex machina and arbitrary plotting. Sort of the, well, science-fiction approach to magic.

You would really dig Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.
posted by dfan at 2:18 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Inheritance 3-Book Hardcover Boxed Set (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr)
Bartimaeus 3-book boxed set (Bartimaeus Trilogy)
Wheel Of Time (Warning: long and as of yet unfinished, though it should be by the time you get towards the end =c)

I'll write in more as I think of it.
posted by pyro979 at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2011

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar books (start with The Misenchanted Sword) are each just this sort of thing -- the author takes a relatively common fantasy trope and runs it through a logical wringer.
posted by Etrigan at 2:23 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Related AskMe.
posted by zanni at 2:26 PM on March 6, 2011

Lev Grossman's The Magicians.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:28 PM on March 6, 2011

Margaret Ronald's books and Seanan McGuire's books might work for you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:45 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Butcher's fantasy series, the Codex Alera.
posted by KathrynT at 2:54 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Richard Kadrey!

I have only read the first Sandman Slim book (LOVED IT) and Butcher Bird (also loved it).

His photography is very NSFW, in case you go exploring on his site.
posted by bibliogrrl at 2:57 PM on March 6, 2011

Tim Powers has several standalone fantasy stories that are very rigorous in their use of magic. I recommend The Anubis Gates (time-travel in and around London, Egyptian mages, urban legends being real); Last Call (playing cards and gambling as the mechanisms of magic, set around Las Vegas); and On Stranger Tides (voodoo, pirates and zombies). I stress that the magic in each one of these is different; it's only consistent within each book. They're great reads but you may be looking for series, in which case they aren't for you.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:20 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please, please avoid the steaming pile of dreck that is the Eragon trilogy. I have a pretty high tolerance for clunky writing and cardboard characters and I couldn't finish it. You'd be better off going with the Harry Potter series instead, if your tastes run towards children's literature.
posted by Tamanna at 3:26 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels.
posted by TorontoSandy at 3:36 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I was hesitating recommending Kadrey, but I'll second it if others agree. I just finished the second Sandman Slim book. He's not quite rule-bound but he's gritty urban (the main character is just as likely to punch someone as hex them) and sarcastic first-person, like Butcher. There are different schools/classes of people who do magic or magic-like stuff, and there do seem to be some requirements, although there's some 'born with it' sense as well.

My partner seconds Rothfuss and suggests Erikson's Malazan series, which is dense fantasy with a 'very well thought out and detailed' magic system.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:36 PM on March 6, 2011

Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy.

I'll second the recommendations for Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind and Mike Carey's Felix Castor books.

Also, just about anything by Brandon Sanderson, not just his Mistborn series.
posted by tdismukes at 3:57 PM on March 6, 2011

Well, it's not much like Butcher's books in tone at all, but Sarah Monette's Melusine and The Virtue have one of the realest seeming magic systems I have come across -- magic is somewhere between engineering and philosophy, with different schools having radically different conceptions of how things work (and it's not "these people do water magic while these people do moon magic" -- "it's more like "this philosophy allows for the existence of the spirit, while this one denies it."

Now, the trick is that she explains very little of this to the reader. No one says "well, Chet, magic works like this," they just talk about it, and you have to work the details out. The plot is also occasionally overwrought, and some people find one of the leads monstrously annoying, so it may not be for you. There is a lot more Peake in the book that Butcher.

Richard Garfinkles's Celestial Matters is a hard SF novel where the science is Aristotelian, and the climax is an effort to kluge together a Daoist and Greek "Unified Physics Theory" to get our heroes home. It's not magic, exactly, but it is immense fun.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:01 PM on March 6, 2011

Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces series. First chapter of Child of Fire and Game of Cages available at that link. Similar to Butcher in that the protagonist is working for a secret society in a modern setting. A little grittier and darker than Butcher. The magic system is coherent, but Connolly has that trick of showing you only one card at a time. You will constantly be wondering if there was another book in the series that you missed which explains everything.
posted by kovacs at 4:10 PM on March 6, 2011

Connolly's stuff is great; like someone sprinkled some real detective noir on Butcher. The quantity about the world that the protagonist DOESN'T know is a little maddening but in a wonderful way.

You might also like Duane's "so you want to be a wizard" series. The emphasis is more on the fact that magic has COSTS than rules, but thats how I'd characterize Dresden so it's probably up your alley. It's youth fiction but in some ways it's less fantastical than Dresden.
posted by phearlez at 4:34 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Seconding books by Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant).

The October Daye books are on the same urban fantasy line, slightly detective-y, and the cover art might look familiar to Dresden fans. Nothing twee, just amazing worldbuilding (which fits in with your wanting magic to have rules) and awesome characters. The fourth book just came out last week, the fifth is due in September and I think they're going to be yearly after that, so plenty to sink your teeth into.

The other thing I love about Seanan is the fact that she frequently takes questions and gives answers about her characters and the world they live in on her blog (link goes to a few examples of such).
posted by miratime at 4:37 PM on March 6, 2011

And Toby (October) definitely likes to mouth off. Usually to beings who are in a position to put her in lots of pain. And who often do.
posted by miratime at 4:39 PM on March 6, 2011

Either Last Call or Declare by Tim Powers.

Anything by Neil Gaiman.

Charles Stross's Laundry books, as mentioned above.
posted by Artw at 5:20 PM on March 6, 2011

C. E. Murphy's stuff has rules.

Seconding Tim Powers' stuff. (Not just Last Call and Declare, either. Expiration Date and Three Days to Never are the other two of his that I've read, and they have the same tight rules-driven sort of magic.)
posted by rmd1023 at 5:37 PM on March 6, 2011

Oh, right. One candy rec-- you might try Anton Strout's Simon Canderous series-- and one big rec for Among Others by Jo Walton, in which a snarky young woman handles her magical issues in unexpectedly logical fashion.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:05 PM on March 6, 2011

Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series might have what you're looking for.

They're a bit dated, and more than a little hard to find, but they seem to be what's 'up your alley' so to speak.

They take a very esoteric angle to the occult, and the alternate history is first-rate in my opinion.
posted by Sphinx at 9:32 PM on March 6, 2011

Try L. Sprague de Camp's Unbeheaded King trilogy. What looks at first glance like renaissance society has working magic as a "tecnological" background with all the social changes that implies, such as conjoured demons who complain about their civil rights being violated.
posted by monotreme at 11:14 PM on March 6, 2011

Mistborn has the most well defined magic system I've ever encountered outside of a tabletop RPG.
posted by valadil at 8:05 AM on March 7, 2011

nthing Seanan McGuire! I actually ended up loving her October Daye books more than the Dresden Files, even though they're pretty similar in concept/feel. Toby is probably one of my favorite protagonists ever. I didn't realize the newest book was out, though; I've definitely gotta go pick that up. Also, her zombie apocalypse/social media commentary novel, Feed (written under the name Mira Grant), is just as well thought out. I highly recommend it as well, even though it's not fantasy, because it's clear that she really thought about how a zombie plague could work and what kind of far-reaching effects it might have on modern society.

>>You would really dig Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.
>>Mistborn has the most well defined magic system I've ever encountered outside of a tabletop RPG.
Just adding to these: you would probably enjoy any of Sanderson's books, because I'm pretty sure he comes up with the rules for his magic systems and only then does he come up with the story. I always end up recommending Warbreaker though, since it's available for free as an ebook from his website. It's newer than Mistborn, so the writing is a bit more polished, and the magic system is quite unique. If you find yourself enjoying that, then do check out the Mistborn trilogy, because it's quite good, with another kickass female protagonist.

And finally, Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss are fantastic. You will love them, and you should read them as soon as humanly possible. Not only is he a kickass writer, but Pat Rothfuss is a stand-up guy. Hey, he's even a Browncoat who wants to help Nathan Fillion buy out the rights to Firefly so they can resurrect it. This guy is amazing. Go read his books, for real. Oh yeah, and the magic system is quite well defined and thought out too.
posted by ashirys at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2011

While it's very different tonally from Dresden Files, Rick Cook's "Wizardry" series is about a programmer taken to a magic-using world and essentially building an operating system for the previously unreliable and ritual-bound magic system. Generally (though not always) more comedic in tone than Dresden, but definitely rules-based.
posted by rhymeswithaj at 10:42 AM on March 8, 2011

Almost all of Dave Duncan's fantasy works have well defined, consistent, rules of magic. Usually, someone in the novels starts exploiting a loophole or feedback loop in the system and mayhem ensues. They don't have the same sarcastic/wry tone of the dresden books, but he's built quite a number of totally different universes. And his writing is always solid, if not as inspired as some of the other artists in this thread. His most recent "alchemist" books deviate from this structure. I would recommend Cursed as a good standalone work of his.

Also, the recent Black Prism by Brent Weeks has a nice, reasonable, color/light based magic system and one of the viewpoint characters has a lot of funny self deprecating asides.
posted by jefftang at 12:58 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Everything I best-answered has been exactly what I wanted.

I also read Mistborn, and the rigidity of the rules was actually quite distracting. Somebody upthread mentioned it being like an RPG... and it's true. I just kept picturing all the characters with a little mana HUD burned into their vision. The plot was cool, but the magic system was just too well-defined.
posted by Netzapper at 7:15 PM on May 22, 2011

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