Fantasy writers are prone to babbling about their own unique approaches to magic. And far be it from me to break that tradition…
Kidding aside, arcist magic, I think, is one of the things that should stand out in this story. It is a magic of emotions, a magic of archetypes that can manipulate how people respond to whatever else is going on around them. So an arcist magician can take a theme or idea that shows up in many stories—the king betrayed, the lover scorned, the trickster winning by their wits—and draw on that idea, so that others feel it without really understanding why. They can mix various images and events that will resonate and layer them to achieve a particular effect.
Let me pull back and acknowledge some of the inspiration for this kind of magic. It’s probably obvious that Carl Jung’s ideas of archetypes and the collective unconscious are a source of this magic. And certainly my reading as a teenager of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Jungian analysis of her own works has had a tremendous influence on how I read and interpret fantasy in general. I don’t claim to be an expert on Jung or even consider myself Jungian in some abstract sense, but I remain fascinated about what those ideas can say about stories, art, being human…
A more direct influence, though, was a series of short stories written by Matthew Hughes that appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the stories of Guth Bandar, which I'd read a few years before I began working on this novel. These stories are set in the distant future when scientists have discovered that the collective unconscious is a real thing, something called the noösphere, which they can explore. Within are the Events, Situations, and Landscapes that people experience, becoming more defined as more people experience similar events. They’re very fun stories, which I highly recommend, and though I don't remember any direct, conscious connection between the stories and the earliest stages of writing the novel, re-reading the stories helped me refine and develop arcist magic.
Back to The Silk Betrayal and the Eghsal Valley, arcist magic was only discovered some forty years before the events of the novel, during the Mumbler Wars. At that time, the cities of Pavresh’s people were at war with the valley’s indigenous people, the pale-faced mumblers. It was only one of many times violence had broken out between the two groups, though it was an especially aggressive push by the mumblers.
As the mumbler fighters closed in on the capital city itself, one young army captain discovered that he could inspire his unit to fight better by using arcist magic. No one taught it to him, and he likely at first thought it was merely something strange only he could do. His unit saved the city, and for the rest of the war, the army put him in charge of increasingly larger portions of the fighting forces until the mumblers were finally defeated.
That hero, Chaitan, didn’t try to rise to lead the various factions of soldiers but instead walked away. He was famous, and he used his fame to go from city to city and even to the smaller camps, and talk to everyone he could, to learn their stories. He ignored caste distinctions, famously claiming that the castes didn’t exist within the magic, and met with people of all walks of life to try to place their stories within his growing understanding of arcist magic.
Only when he grew too sick to travel did he retire to Romnai, where Pavresh would eventually travel to meet him.
How does arcist magic work anyway? Well, that’s one of the questions that Pavresh tries to understand as the novel progresses. It depends in part on what stories a person grew up on, on what stories they’ve heard, on what they’ve experienced. And it has the potential to be incredibly powerful.
Just how powerful, no one yet knows.