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Literature / Magic by the Numbers

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The sole work of narrative media by physicist Lyndon Hardy, these fantasy books revolve around a world that has five magic systems. They are Thaumaturgy (Sympathetic Magic), Alchemy (magic potions), Magic (creation of new ancient artifacts), Sorcery (Mind Manipulation), and Wizardry (Summoning Ritual). The series is only loosely linked, as each book features a different protagonist. The books are as follows:

  1. Master of the Five Magics (1980, modified reissue 2016)
  2. Secret of the Sixth Magic (1984, modified reissue 2016)
  3. Riddle of the Seven Realms (1988, modified reissue 2016)
  4. The Archimage's Fourth Daughter (2017)
  5. Magic Times Three (2020)
  6. Double Magic (2020)

Lyndon Hardy's works provide examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: In Riddle of the Seven Realms, the protagonists fly suspended beneath a balloon made out of lead. Astron, a demon to whom the human world's physics is new and fascinating, had simply improvised a substitute when the conveyance's original balloon was punctured by arrows, unaware that a "lead balloon" was considered preposterous by humans.
  • Anachronism Stew: Secret of the Sixth Magic has an In-Universe example (involving another world's history) — the sorcerer Farnel is said to have lost out in competitions against other illusion-crafters, because his simulations of famous historical events succumbed to Anachronism Stew. Apparently this trope isn't just universal, it's multiversal.
  • Apocalypse How: In Riddle of the Seven Realms the antagonist is aiming for a Class X-5: multiversal destruction. An ancient demon plots to destroy all known worlds by lighting a fire in his home dimension, which will punch a hole into the void and suck in not only the demon realm, but also all other worlds that connect to it via flames. (Presumably, any undiscovered universes that lack the "flame permeates all" rule of wizardry would escape this fate, making it this level and not Class Z.)
  • The Archmage: In Master of the Five Magics, "Archimage"note  is the title given to the one man with the talents required to master all five types of magic.
  • Bishōnen Line: In Master of the Five Magics, the Demons have a hierarchy of power. The least powerful are near human, but they grow larger and more bizarrely monstrous as they become more potent. The Archdemon, however, has the form of a lightly built human male.
  • Born Lucky: In the world of the aleators from Riddle of the Seven Realms, luck is a literal commodity which powerful individuals have managed to hoard for themselves. It's also a finite natural resource, so the hoarding of vast quantities of luck by such people means that everyone else in that world is Born Unlucky by default, and must exercise extreme caution just to make it through a day alive.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Sorcery spells consume some portion of the caster's life-force, permanently shortening their life-span. The bigger or more comprehensive the effect, the more life-force it consumes. Young sorcerers tend to waste their power on extravagant, flashy effects while older, more experienced sorcerers hoard their magic to preserve the time they have left.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: In one world in Riddle of the Seven Realms, when the locals lose their belief in luck (the world's form of magic) after it's defeated by someone who calculates odds, the world begins to disintegrate.
  • Deal with the Devil: Wizardry averts this due to the Law of Dichotomy. You can't deal with a demon, you have to overpower it by force of will or become its slave. There is no middle ground.
  • Disciplines of Magic: A world with five magical systems: Thaumaturgy (Sympathetic Magic), Alchemy (magic potions), Magic (creation of new Ancient Artifacts), Sorcery (Mind Manipulation), and Wizardry (Summoning Ritual). It's initially believed that no one person can become proficient in more than one system, but the protagonist ends up learning all five (and then has to combine them to save the world).
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: This happens to the male heroes of Riddle of the Seven Realms, as a side effect of a time/space-warping magical weapon. Unusual in that it's done neither for social commentary nor comedy; rather, it gives the djinn hero a chance to experience life as a human, and vice versa.
  • Functional Magic: The series has five magic systems: they are Thaumaturgy (Sympathetic Magic), Alchemy (magic potions), Magic (creation of new ancient artifacts), Sorcery (Mind Manipulation), and Wizardry (Summoning Ritual). Given that the author is a physicist, they have a scientific precision and internal consistency, with the books exploring the many implications/uses they all have.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The protagonist of Master of the Five Magics learns the use of his world's five known types of magic over the course of the novel, and needs to use all five in combination to win in the end. The sequel, Secret of the Sixth Magic, inverts this scenario by requiring its protagonist to fail at all five magics, before catching on that a sixth form actually exists.
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: Jemidon gets thrown out of studying all five kinds of magic before he discovers that he's actually a metamagician.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: There are, oddly enough, five different schools of magic which all operate under a strict set of foundational axioms. The sequel adds a new set of higher level rules which govern how the other rules can be manipulated. Though the rules themselves can change, each magical system is itself internally consistent.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Subverted in Secret of the Sixth Magic, in which it seems that the five known forms of magic are ceasing to operate. It turns out that they aren't vanishing; rather, a "metamagician" from another world is shifting the rules under which they operate, forcing magic-users to rediscover how to invoke their powers.
  • Magitek: Palodad, an ancient demon, has constructed a huge mechanical computer from the millions of demons, great or tiny, that have fallen under his control. Arrayed in cages and linked by shackles and rods, they stick out their tongues, stand on one leg, flip upside-down, or otherwise change their poses to indicate 1s or 0s; glowing imps pasted to metal plates serve as "screens" for input and output.
  • Mind Manipulation: Sorcery, the fourth magic, involves mind manipulation in its many forms and applications.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic:
    • In Master of the Five Magics, no one in the world believes that anyone can learn more than one type of magic, but Alodar not only learns the basics of all five, he manages to combine them.
    • In Secret of the Sixth Magic one can be a magician or a metamagician but not both.
  • N+1 Sequel Title: The first two sequels have 6 and 7 in the title.
  • Noodle Implements: Both the ingredients required for alchemical formulas and the bizarre objects and actions that comprise the rituals of True Magic are like this. Even when a ritual is shown in full, just how such a weird sequence of events can contribute to creating a magical item is a mystery to the reader.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Inverted in Secret of the Sixth Magic, in which Jemidon is the one person who can't handle an enchanted sword or pull it out of the ground. This is a clue Jemidon is a metamagician: someone who can't personally use magic, but can enhance magical abilities in others and manipulate the rules governing magical effects.
  • Our Mages Are Different: The series has five types of magic. All of them are primarily Chemist type with leanings toward Scholar, with the only requirements being knowledge of what elements to combine and how. Thaumaturgy (sympathetic magic, e.g. using a splinter of wood to cause a crate of goods to fly) and Alchemy are those two almost exclusively. True Magic (rather confusingly, one of the five magics is called magic) uses elaborate rituals to create magic items, enabling Gadgeteers. Sorcery (mind control) and Wizardry (summoning demons) are accessible to anyone via Chemist principles, but require hefty amounts of Monk and Athlete to actually produce useful results. In the latter case, a useful result means not being eaten by a demon — wizards are by far the rarest type of magic user.
  • Picky People Eater: The skyskirr from Secret of the Sixth Magic subsist on bone marrow, which they can somehow drain from living creatures' limbs without necessarily killing them.
  • Portal Crossroad World: In Secret of the Sixth Magic, the demon's realm acts as a one-way version as fires in any realm all lead to it. In Riddle of the Seven Realms, the titular question is if all fires lead to the demon's realm, where would a fire in the demon's realm lead? To the Void Between the Worlds, which would destroy all the realms.
  • Random Number God: In-Universe example. Alchemical formulae only work when "the random factors align," so alchemists often try hundreds of times to make a single working formula. Alodar's cunning allowed him to weed out a lot of these random factors and produce his heat-resistance cream reliably.
  • Sealed Evil in a Duel: In Riddle of the Seven Realms, Astron can only stop Palodad from destroying the multiverse by pushing the Big Bad into the flame that's tearing a hole in the daemonrealm, then jumping through himself and pulling the source of flame in after him. It's subverted, as Nimbia is able to create a new pocket-world within the Void to encase Astron, then retrieve him.
  • Shout-Out: In Riddle of the Seven Realms, Nimbia creates a dimension that operates under cellular automata rules, calling it "the realm of the conways."
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: One of the characters in Riddle of the Seven Realms. She ends up in a relationship with Astron, a demon (albeit a nice one), because he's the only one who she believes can love her for herself.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: In Master of the Five Magics, the "sorcerer's eye" is a mysterious magical item in the form of a crystal sphere, in which a single closed eye is seen to float unsupported. When in use, the eye within the sphere opens, revealing its golden iris.
  • Sympathetic Magic: The two Principles of Thaumaturgy (the first magic) are:
    1. The Principle of Sympathy: Like produces like.
    2. The Principle of Contagion: Once together, always together.
  • Taken for Granite: In Master of the Five Magics, a minor antagonist steals a heat-resistance ointment from the hero's mentor, slathers himself with an extra-thick coating, then taunts the hero for not having enough as they both venture into the heart of a volcano. He's Hoist by His Own Petard when the extra-thick coating fails to burn off properly as its protective power is expended... and then solidifies, trapping him in an unbreakable, suffocating shell.
  • Unequal Rites: In the first book, Master of the Five Magics, the five crafts are treated differently. Thaumaturgy is a profession, alchemy is an industry, true magic is controlled by The Order, sorcerers are feared but valued independent agents, and wizards are carnival tricksters... but old-school wizards were on a level with kings, if not above them.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Sorcery can be used to incite this, as it's Mind Manipulation.
  • Void Between the Worlds: The answer to the titular riddle of the third book, Riddle of the Seven Realms, is that lighting a fire in the demon's realm would open a portal to the void, which would then consume all the realms.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: In Secret of the Sixth Magic, debtors in the city of Pluton are condemned to death if no one will pay off their creditors to buy them as slaves. This being a fantasy world, the method of execution is also magic-powered: they're sealed inside an unbreakable cube, which then magically gets smaller... and smaller... and smaller.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: In Riddle of the Seven Realms, it is revealed that demons adopt various hobbies to avoid succumbing to this trope. Palodad the Reckoner, under its influence, turns into a Chessmaster Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: This happens repeatedly to the protagonist of Master of the Five Magics. Each time he risks it all to learn of a new kind of magic, a rival swoops in and gloms all the profits, leaving him with nothing but a clue to the next style of magic-use.

Alternative Title(s): Master Of The Five Magics, Secret Of The Sixth Magic, Riddle Of The Seven Realms, Lyndon Hardy