Fantasy where magic exists but is rare

Give me some examples of fantasy that has just enough magic to be interesting but aren’t magic or supernatural saturated. IOW, fantasy which does not have magic so common that it’s a substitute for technology, or where thieves and warriors have to routinely allow for the existence of magic. More like worlds where in an area equivalent to continental Europe or China you might have one person powerful enough to be called a sorcerer, ten worthy of the title magician and a few hundred hedge wizards or hearth witches.

*magic or the the functional equivalent, “psionics”, etc.

“A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin. So far there’s 4 books, the first is “A Game of Thrones.”

in Star Wars there’s only like 5 people who can use The Force

I think the Marvel and DC universes almost qualify depending on the writer/editorial team. Of course the difference between super powers and magic is debateable.

The Lord of the Rings is the obvious example, of course.

The Darwath books by Barbara Hambly; in large part because they’ve been slaughtered before the protagonists show up, true.

The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy, arguably. There’s actually a fair amount of magic in the setting but it’s mostly environmental or (at the start of the series) bound/hidden. Things like ghosts, speaking pigs, etc. The rulers of each land do have a magical ability called “land law”, but one magical person per land does seem to qualify as rare. More does show up as the series progresses, though.

*The Time Lord *trilogy by Louise Cooper. There’s one or possibly two places on the entire planet where magic is practiced at all.

The main characters don’t personally use a lot of magic but the world is a very supernatural place. You have a ring that just for starters can turn you invisible, there’s at least one place (Lothlorien) where Elven high magic still holds sway, the ability of the Elves to take the Straight Road, the supernatural horrors of the Ringwraiths and the Barrow-Downs, the Balrog, an evil wizard who by magic or quasi-science created orc-human hybrids, the Palantirs, the Dead Men of Dunharrow, and of course an all but immortal demonic being ruling a vast empire. The Hobbit had a supernaturally powerful dragon, a were-bear, and trolls turning into stone in the daylight. Middle Earth is as magical as an average Grimm fairy tale.

Doesn’t that list comprise about 90% of the magic active in the world at the time? I’m not super-familiar with Middle Earth, but I was under the impression that if anything it has a lower concentration of spellcasters than what you described in the OP.

It seems to me there are two categories here; settings with low numbers of spellcasters, and settings with low amounts of magic period.

Robin Hobb’s Farseer (and other) books are not magic saturated.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic is very magic scarce. WONDERFUL books, too.

2 series by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Wide Green World series. Closes thing to magic is ‘groundsense’ and ‘groundwork’ upshot is one group of people [lakewalkers] have a very small ability to use an ability to essentially perceive the life force in stuff or other people. They can also use the groundsense to do small stuff like help the body heal itself, or to convince items to perform better [one example is a rope to not want to break, or another is a leather jerkin that will turn arrows.]

5 Gods universe - the gods are real, but they are very subtle in how they work. No magic other than that. They work through ‘saints’, people that can channel their power. The ones we meet are a judge that can occasionally tell lies from truth, a midwife that has a bit of a healing touch, an animal handler that helps keep a king alive despite a curse, and a few others along the way. No great earth shattering magics happen.

There’s plenty of magic in the Darwath books, and plenty of mages of different sorts. There’s a college of magic, too.

Now, in the Untaught Mage books with Sun Wolf and Star Hawk, there’s one magician who has acquired some very powerful magic by a very unconventional method, and he’s been systematically slaying other magicians for quite a while. This series starts out in The Ladies of Mandrygin, and has at least two sequels.

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams. It is a trilogy.

The magic in the books is very sparse. It is there and it matters but it is hard to use and used sparingly by the good guys,

Great series.


Blue Adept series by Piers Anthony: only 5 people total can use magic.

In the Marvel Universe, magic users are relatively rare. Outside of Dr. Strange and a handful of mutants, magic is relatively unheard of, as there is a clear preference for science-based powers. In the DC universe, they seem much more common.

In the Fafnir and the Grey Mouser series, there are people who call themselves magicians, but actually are very plain, like the Wizard of Oz. More show than substance, or they use ordinary means (e.g. poison) to achieve “magic” effects.

Larry Niven wrote a whole series of stories set in the ancient past where magic is a finite resource and is gradually being expended. When the level of magic in an area gets too low, magic spells will stop working and creatures whose metabolism requires magic, like dragons, have to move away or die.

Perhaps neither here nor there, but I remember that one of the elves (maybe Galadriel) said they had a hard time understanding what mortals meant by “magic” in the first place. They were immortal, could walk on top of snow, made cloaks that could blend in with the foliage and tack that could sustain you for days with a single mouthful simply because that was what they were, not because of any spells that they cast.

Which as I recall is destroyed and its people slaughtered before they even have a chance to show up in the story. I only recall one or two magicians in the story actually showing up.

You might be thinking of her Windrose Chronicles books?

Robert Holdstock wrote some books in a series, the first called Mythgo Wood. Very good, I highly recommend it.

David Eddings’ *Elenium *has magic and living gods, but the plot mostly revolves around beefcake knights who solve problems the simple way. The world at large is pretty much 12th century Europe (complete with Papacy troubles), had the Knights Templar been able to cast cantrips.

There are still handfuls of supernatural creatures like trolls around, but civilization has pushed them really far out in the fringes and for the most part they’re a non-factor.

How about the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett? There is plenty of magic around, but no one uses it. No, not even the wizards . At least, not much, and not in the later books in the series.