The Magical Worlds of Gail Z. Martin

Hi, Everybody! Bandita Jeanne and I are cohosting today’s guest, author Gail Z. Martin. Gail writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and steampunk, both novels and action-packed short stories. Her work has appeared in over 30 US/UK anthologies. She and Jeanne are both in a new urban fantasy box set, Modern Magic, and Gail has a new short story collection, The Shadowed Path, starring one of my favorite ever characters, smuggler and swordsman Jonmarc Vahanian (see the yummy cover below!).

Today, Gail’s going to talk to us about magic in epic fantasy and urban fantasy. Welcome, Gail! So what makes magic work in different fantasy worlds? 

gailEpic fantasy is medieval, full of sweeping battles, world-altering conspiracies, and the rise and fall of kingdoms and civilizations, reminiscent of real history and yet altered. Urban fantasy brings the supernatural into something akin to our own world, recognizable and familiar but with key–dangerous–differences.

Magic is the most important of those differences and alterations. But while magic is present in both urban and epic fantasy, the magical systems, its invocation and use are often handled differently, and its practitioners treated differently between the two types of fantasy. Those differences are a key part of the world building, and the treatment of magic helps to define both the world and the characters.

the-sworn11-220x362Think about magic in an epic fantasy setting, and most people picture a wizard like Gandalf–robed, larger than life, with wild hair and a staff, casting lightning bolts and working spells. Part of that draws on the medieval setting. Lots of people wore what we would now call ‘robes’, especially if they held a priestly or expert role–like a wizard, who was scholar, alchemist and mage, perhaps even a conduit for divine power.

Magic in epic fantasy is heavily liturgical, couched in elaborate spells and rituals with powerful relics and arcane materials. Grounded in a time when science was alchemy and superstition rivaled rationality, epic fantasy magic feels grand and elaborate. Magic might have been frowned upon by religious authorities, feared by kings, or sought by devotees, but it was not alien to the understanding of how the world functioned, was not antithetical to the foundations of the wide-spread belief systems.

Magic in epic fantasy might be rare or common, hidden or openly practiced, but its existence was not unbelievable, nor did the possibility of it seem counterintuitive to the people of the time. For medieval thinkers, it wasn’t a stretch to believe magic was possible; they questioned whether it ran counter to morality and divine decree.

978-1-939704-60-3Magic in urban fantasy still has aspects of mystery, ritual and lore. After all, magic and the supernatural are all about the boundary with the unknown and the hidden. Yet in urban fantasy, the people wielding the power are our contemporaries, products of the modern world, as much a product of science and culture as the reader and the author. Using magic for a modern practitioner requires being able to set aside contemporary presuppositions about what is and isn’t ‘real’ or possible.

It’s less of a religious objection than a scientific one, the sense that it shouldn’t be possible to set aside or alter the laws of physics. Invoking magic in urban fantasy may draw on ritual, relics and lore but those elements are handled through the lens of modern rationality, not superstition.

And for the record, magic in a steampunk world draws on the Victorian sensibility that everything was ultimately knowable, and that science could conquer everything–even the supernatural, or at least explain it and reduce it to a knowable system.

I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. The magic is different among the genres in important ways, and yet much about the power and its use and costs remains similar.

the-summoner1-140x228In my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle epic fantasy series, necromancy and blood magic are two ends of a spectrum separated by the ethics and intentions of the practitioner. The magic of the nomadic Sworn is shamanistic, while the Nargi priests attribute their magic to their dedication to the Crone aspect of the Sacred Lady and are sure all other magic is infernal.

Magic is a force of nature that some people can tap into and control. It is known and accepted, but most people do not have any ability, and necromancy is the rarest magic of all.

Ice-Forged-cover-21-140x227In the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga epic fantasy series, a devastating war destroys two kingdoms and knocks out the artificially-imposed control over magic, leading to massive destruction as wild magic causes deadly storms and opens portals for monsters to come through from other realms. The loss of the ability to control magic in a magic-dependent culture where most people have at least a little talent wrecks havoc on an everyday scale as well.

Hero Blaine McFadden must not only gain military control to regain order, but also reimpose the binding on magic to save his people.


Switch to my dark urban fantasy series, Deadly Curiosities, and modern-day Charleston, South Carolina is a hot spot for supernatural perils. I draw on a variety of magical traditions including Voodoo, Hoodoo, Native American, old Norse and European magic, with a main character who can read objects by touch and supporting characters with a variety of supernatural abilities.

It’s our world, with a twist, and the characters believe in the supernatural because they have seen and experienced its reality. Ritual and lore are often part of focusing concentration and harnessing power, but magic is not superstitious or necessarily an issue of religious faith; it is grounded in its own rules and systems.

IronBlood-cover-design-140x217And then there’s the Steampunk series, Iron & Blood, with the ever-optimistic Victorians who relish exploring the unexplained. Science and magic are at odds as the old ways and the new sensibilities vie for dominance, but beneath it all is Victorian rationality, the belief that the truth is out there.

Inventors like Edison create machines to record the voices of the dead, while Nikola Tesla harnesses energy in ways that put wizard lightning to shame. It’s a brave new world, but it straddles both old and new ways of thinking, and the tension between those realities is part of the fun.

Thanks, Gail! You have some giveaways and other fun things coming up.  How can people find those?

From June 21-June 30 I’ll be doing my annual Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event blog tour, and I hope readers will stop over to my website, find out what all is going on and where to find the posts, giveaways, contests and fun events. And of course, please look for The Shadowed Path at your favorite bookseller!

The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 22 awesome partner sites around the globe. I’ll also be hosting many of my Modern Magic co-authors guest posting on my blog during the tour.  For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit

There’s a Deadly Curiosities story excerpt here:

Shadow Garden

And a Jonmarc Vahanian one from a story in The Shadowed Path here:

Caves of the Dead

 Gail is the author of The Shadowed Path (Solaris Books), Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame, the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities.  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

You can connect with Gail on social media:

At her website,, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and, on Goodreads and  free excerpts on Wattpad

Since the theme of the day is magic, what’s your favorite story involving it?

Posted in , , , , , , , , ,



  • Gail, what gave you inspired you to put together the Modern Magic box set?

    • Hi Nancy

      I was talking with John Hartness from Falstaff Books, and we realized that we knew a lot of cool urban fantasy writers, and decided we should come up with a project that let us work with a bunch of them, and one thing begat another and then there was Modern Magic!

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Hi Gail! I’m a big fan of all your worlds. Of course, I’m a big fan of magic in general, magic in fiction and magic all around. Grins. :> Jon Marc and Blaine are outstanding characters and I love all the Deadly Curiosities crew. :> I’m looking forward to diving into your Steampunk as well, even tho I’m not a huge Steampunk reader. With your twists, though, I’m willing to go for it. Ha!

    I love how you differentiated the way magic is handled in fiction. What’s another aspect of magic that you’ve not tackled yet that you’d like to?

    • Hey, Duchesse! I loved Iron & Blood and am looking forward to the short stories when I get this book out.

    • Thanks, Jeanne! Glad you like the books! As for magics I haven’t tackled–nothing with love spells, or time travel, or spell-induced shapeshifting, and not as much with curses as you’d think given how much dark magic I write. So there are new horizons to explore!

  • What a fascinating post ! I had never really considered the differences between magic used in epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and steampunk. What great explanations. And good Lord, Gail, when do you sleep? You spend all of your time slipping in and out of magical worlds! Way cool !

    Any sort of paranormal romance is my guilty pleasure. I write historical romance, so paranormal romance – in all of the genres you mentioned – are what I read when I am writing. Of course, I LOVE Nancy Northcott’s books, and I also enjoy Kim Harrison’s urban fantasies. And I have been a big fan of Sherilynn Kenyon’s work for ages. And Kristin Callihan’s steampunks are on my auto buy list.

    • Louisa, thank you! I’m so glad you like my books. I enjoy Kim Harrison, too.

      One thing I like about Gail’s Deadly Curiosities series is the way she uses Charleston’s history. The city plays a strong role in the books. I haven’t read all of the the short stories in that series, but some of them are set in other times and places, so I also sometimes wonder when she sleeps. *g*

    • Hi Everyone! Thanks so much! Yes, I love Nancy’s stuff too! And I’m glad you like Deadly Curiosities–I really enjoy writing that series.

      As for sleeping, I actually get about 7 hours/night, believe it or not! I just don’t do much else in life aside from write and sleep.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Gail, I need to tell you how much I enjoyed the Fallen Kings Cycle. You did an excellent job of handling a very complicated magic system, and I was really invested in all the characters. I am always interested in the way magic needs to be adapted not only from series to series but from subgenre to subgenre. After all, every culture will use magic for different purposes, whether economically, politically, for defense, or for simple everyday convenience, and the magic system needs to adapt to their needs. I’m looking forward to checking out more of your books! Deadly Curiosities sounds especially interesting to me.

    I’m a fan of so many fantasy series that it’s hard to pick a favorite! But one of my comfort reads is Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley. It’s not only a great fairy tale retelling, but also shows how tough it is to be the village fairy whom everyone depends upon – especially when the magic gets hijacked!

    • Hi, EC–

      I loved the Fallen Kings cycle, too. I recently finished up the Ascendant Kingdoms series, which has a different take on magic.

      Spindle’s End sounds great. I haven’t read it, but I love her Sunshine, which also involves magic. And vampires. The dh introduced me to McKinley via The Hero and the Crown. I don’t read a lot of YA, but I enjoyed that book.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      EC, I loved Spindle’s End! What a great story. My favorite of McKinley’s though is Beauty. :>

      Nancy, I loved The Hero and The Crown. Actually, I must say, I really love ALL McKinley’s books. Grins.

    • Hi EC

      Thank you so much! I’m always happy when the books really connect with a reader! Adapting the magic is part of the fun for me, because I want it to feel fresh and authentic with every series/setting. Thanks!

  • Jane says:

    It’s been a while since I read epic fantasy, but I do remember enjoying the first couple of books in CL Wilson’s Tairen Soul series.

  • helensibbritt says:

    Hi All

    What a great post and some of my favourite stories with magic are Nancy’s absolutely love them 🙂

    Have Fun