On the other hand, last year I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And after I got over being blown away by the way Laini Taylor uses language, I was promptly blown away by her world building. (Spoiler alert—and if you haven’t read this book already you really should!) In the world of the chimaera and the seraphim the price of magic is pain. This is about as far from free as you can get! And if she’d just left it there, magic probably wouldn’t be common enough to matter very much, because hardly anyone would use it. However, she went that one fantastic step further and made it so it didn’t have to be your pain that fueled the magic. That one simple twist made the seraphims’ use of the chimaera as pain slaves almost inevitable, and the chimaera rebellion equally inevitable. In fact, the entire war that has utterly shaped both those societies, and forms the core of the story in the way it divides the hero and heroine, springs completely from the horrifically high price placed on magic.
Although Laini Taylor blew me away with the system she created, I have to admit, in my own books I’m usually closer to the J.K. Rowling model. It’s not always exactly the same, but in my stories magic is usually some kind of natural force, that a person with a gift for it is somehow able to channel and shape to their will, though it usually requires study and practice.
So how do you handle magic in your world? Charge a high price, or give it away for free? And what kind of system do you prefer in the novels you read?