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Literature / Impractical Magic

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Impractical Magic is a Web Serial Novel published in 2020 by three authors using the pseudonyms SBB, Oberon, and Nalta. Each writes a main character in the Wizarding School Istima (a.k.a. the Six Court Academy). The three viewpoint characters, Yam Hist of the Ken Seekers, Fen Calton, and Lyssana Terasu, each join a different court with a different magic system and its own culture. Godhood is considered a reasonable career path, corporate espionage between students and teachers is encouraged, and students trying to become healers are prone to causing serious accidents so they can get extra practice.

Cal is a Lovable Rogue impersonating a young, wealthy noblewoman she found dead when attempting to burglarize a room. She only hopes to rob the rich mages and maybe pick up a trick or two before she inevitably has to skip town. Lyssana was born with the wrong kind of abilities and was exiled to a faraway island of Elemental Powers users. She has been called back by her wealthy family and placed in Istima for a purpose she has yet to learn. Yam is a minority species of nomads whose culture values truth and community above all else. He has decided that the only way to restore his family's honor is to become indistinguishable from a god and retroactively make his father a prophet instead of a lying cult leader. But they need to find out what can set them apart from the competition in the world of Apaernore's most famous school of magic.

The banner of the website says, "Welcome to Istima, the Six Court Academy, where reality is a suggestion, magic is king, and knowledge is currency. Study, survive, and hold your secrets close."

"Impractical Magic" contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Divided School : Istima is referred to as the 'Six Court Academy'. There are stereotypes based on each court's unique hierarchy structure, public reputation, and how their different magics impact their world view. For instance, the rigid magic of the Autumn Court means the students are taught to follow rules and protocols strictly. They tend to be bureaucrats and lawyers. However, the Night Court's magic is based on individual will power and obstinance. They tend to have stubborn and personally charismatic leaders with little consistency between regimes. The story has a great deal of mingling between courts and lets characters be informed by learning to thrive in their specific court without being completely defined by it.
  • Adoring the Pests: Yam is obsessed with finding himself a familiar, or many many familiars, and has a running joke of wanting to steal and make friends with every eldritch terror and bloodthirsty beast he sees.
  • Alchemy Is Magic: Potions created by the Summer Court are often mundane in nature, but truly magical potions are rare and extremely powerful.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Hotspur Row (AKA Blood Ally) is where students training to be healers let injured customers come to them for practice.
  • Big Labyrinthine Building : Istima is a floating city where the Wizarding School built upwards and downwards until the entire island is riddled with buried city blocks, strange rooms, natural canals, and other microcosms. Most buildings are in an of themselves hidden labyrinths. For instance, the Understacks.
  • Chemistry Can Do Anything: Most potions aren't magical. Depending on price, a stamina potion in a shop can be anything from concentrated caffeine pills to amphetamines.
  • Cultural Posturing: Yam is a victim of Fantastic Racism. As such he overcompensates by being too proud of the Len's concept of a 'Virtue'. He frequently dismisses humans as being unaware bigots while simultaneously calling all humans uncultured savages.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Jaxton's reaction to Rathana refusing his request. Yam also has a temper issue that led to him steal from a racist ferryman who refused him service and said a Len would pee in his barge (in an act of superior spite Yam sneaks in and does just that after grabbing enough money to hire a better ferryman).
  • Elemental Powers: The Winter Court teaches the use of elemental magic.
  • Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems: Istima is a Wizarding School, but the students struggle with overwork, Fantastic Racism, the cost of books, sleep deprivation, the addictive properties of cheap stamina potions (amphetamines), and magically horrible public restrooms in college dormitories. It's also noted that species with different body plans are great for books until you have to imagine how an institution would bulk order desks.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Len being discriminated against is a reoccurring theme in Yam's chapters. Yam also discriminated against non-Len by calling them barbaric and assume they do not have "Virtue" when, in reality, they just don't follow his cultural ideals. See here.
  • Fantastic Science: Istima's coursework includes studies of magical resonance, magic reserve recovery, energy calculations, and various other aspects of applied magic.
  • Grouped for Your Convenience: Each court teaches a different kind of magic. Because students must train their minds and worldviews to enhance their particular magic usage, they tend to develop similar traits. For instance, the rule-bound, very technical magic of the Autumn Court leads to more by-the-book bureaucrats. The Spring Court's collaborative magic produces a collectivist meritocracy and the Summer Court tends to make devious thieves because they have to keep up with everyone else without being able to throw fireballs at will. Also, you can steal other people's magic formula and get rich if you file for a patent before them.
  • Hive Mind: The Spring Court does "complex systems magic", often by using their trademark mind magic called the Collective. Dependent on the skill of the spell caster and what version of the spell they use, The Collective creates various temporary hive minds. The lowest level is described as creating a shared mental room where all participants can choose to put/share thoughts, knowledge, plans, and even their senses. This is how the many complexities of surgery are handled by a teams of specialized healers-in-training.
  • Instant Runes: The Spring Court's magic summons floating runes and Geometric Diagrams.
  • Language of Magic: The Autumn and Summer Courts each use a language of magic. The Summer Court uses a strict written language that causes whatever is written/drawn to happen exactly as the runes describe, much like a programming language. The Autumn Court uses spoken languages and dialects that have more complex rules and room for interpretation.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The main characters all notice odd and seemingly illogical things about Istima and call them out, particularly Yam, who is compulsively honest (though some might describe him as compulsively rude).
  • Lovable Rogue: Cal is a thief who starts showing her heart of gold as she makes friends with her fellow classmates.
  • Mage Tower: Istima, the Six Court Academy, is a Wizarding School. Part of scholarships, status, and work studies include lodging on the school grounds. One of the many subtle status/power indicators at Istima is to be given lodgings in the towers, the higher the better.
  • The Magocracy: Istima, the Six Court Academy, is both a wildly powerful Wizarding School and a city-state unto itself. Though all the leaders are mages, and powerful, the trope is subverted. At some point, wizards become so powerful that having a job, needing to afford food, and the approval of regular mortals means nothing to them. As such, they stop teaching and abandon their important influential jobs to take the best parts of the Big Labyrinthine Building and slowly fade into history as they do incomprehensible things. No one is sure if they died, become gods, teleported away, are on multi-millennia astral projection trips, or if there are higher levels of the school. They just know that it's dangerous, booby-trapped, and anytime orders comes down from a high tower that it must be obeyed.
  • Magic Is Mental: Though each court has its own magic the Spring Court and Night Court in particular use magic that is based on their minds and focus.
  • Magic Librarian: the bookkeeper is a ghost and a librarian who uses magic to do his job despite. It is mentioned that he is not technically a librarian, just a bookkeeper, due to Fantastic Racism but he's definately a librarian.
  • Magic Potion: Each court at the Wizarding School has its own magic system, and the Summer Court includes potion-making. On one occasion, a student asks a professor about a partially filled glass bottle that they didn't learn about in her lesson. She answers that it's alcohol.
    "What, this?" Professor Mach lifted the bottle. "It's perhaps my favorite potion, known for both causing and relieving headaches." She uncorked it and took a swig. "It is commonly known as brandy, child." She set the bottle down. "Dismissed."
  • Mundane Utility: From lights, to elevators, to stoves, most modern conveniences in the city are created and powered by the magic of artificing.
  • Naïve Animal Lover: Yam is an animal lover obsessed with getting many many familiars. He loves all animals. Particularly monsters. Particularly dangerous monsters. Particularly horrifying, disgusting, dangerous monsters that he doesn't actually know how to make friends with. Those he wants to steal and raise as his own by default.
  • Noble Bigot: Jaxton is a noble bigot seen engaging in Fantastic Racism against the Len.
  • Punished for Sympathy: Yam tries to help Jasten, who is a Noble Bigot, and becomes the victim of Fantastic Racism
  • Training the Gift of Magic: In the world of Apaernore you are born with a magical reserve that can be increased by various means. Some are also born with natural abilities bordering on superpowers.
  • Wizarding School: Istima is a magic academy.
  • Worldbuilding: The world is built out very rationally and expands slowly from the central school setting outwards. Authors have created maps, economic systems, population dynamic calculations, partial languages, and even run the numbers behind the physics/chemistry of magical interventions. Much of this happens off-camera and is only hinted at in story or in Q&As.