The Big Idea: Kat Howard

For An Unkindness of Magicians, author Kat Howard decided to go about things… well, just a little differently. She’s here to tell you why doing it that way made sense for her novel.


This is a book that began with an ending.

Not the ending of the book–No, that took me a number of drafts to actually know. But the ending of magic.

An excantation.

It’s a word so archaic that I had to add it to my computer’s dictionary. I don’t even precisely remember where I first read it – maybe it flashed across my twitter stream  or maybe it popped into my inbox as a word-a-day offering. It’s a kind of disenchantment, done by a countercharm. Magic to end magic. I read that definition, and my hair stood on end, and I knew I had a book. A book about an ending of magic.

Except a book isn’t only an ending. I needed a why: why would magic be ending? I thought about what I knew about magic, about what made magic real and true, about what made magic matter. Magic, I thought, should take work. It should have consequences. To paraphrase Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, magic should not be something you can get by tearing out someone else’s liver.

An Unkindness of Magicians is about what happens when magic is paid for with someone else’s liver.

And not just by one person. By an entire society, for multiple generations.

There is, of course, more to it than that, because even with the why, An Unkindness of Magicians is about more than simply an ending of magic, more than the abomination of magic that led up to the events of the story. People tend to not be happy when their power is taken away, particularly when they see that power as something they deserve.

An Unkindness of Magicians is about many kinds of endings:

  • Of friendship, when you discover a person is not who you thought they were.
  • Of familial bonds, when you learn that who you are matters less than what you could be used for.
  • Of a place that is a prison made sentient.
  • Of a terror that has stalked a community and of a system that simply looks the other way.

And yes, about an ending of magic.


An Unkindness of Magicians: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

5 Comments on “The Big Idea: Kat Howard”

  1. A whiter shade of pale; hard to read and yet that’s neat cover art and type usage.

    Magic is such a strange thing. Even when you’re a fan of science, and in a time when science is getting less credence, still, we have a certain capacity for the sense of the magical, or the sense of wonder, the need for what is miraculous, beyond understanding, beautiful, wonderful, and we see both “good” and “evil,” maybe, at work in the world. (We also see random chance, the unexplainable, or what is not evil but natural forces too big for humans to combat effectively right away. And we see people who act with malice, as well as people who act with empathy and caring, compassion. There are things we can’t explain yet, or maybe ever. Some things, we can’t prove or disprove with science. so that means there’s more to all this stuff than we know how to deal with yet.

    I think we all need a good story with magic sometimes, the chance to let our minds play back in that childhood way, or the sense of wonder, where anything might be possible. Aw, heck, nothing wrong with dragons or elves, for instance, wizards and knights and such. (Hey, I personally wouldn’t mind if the handsome prince and the trusty young squire like each other, but that’s a whole ‘other thing.)

    I do prefer magic stories, or fantasies, to be believable, realistic, plausible. In other words, it should be internally consistent. A fantasy or a story about magic needs guidelines to how its story-universe works. To me, that’s one of the things that makes good storytelling, a good magic or fantasy story, as opposed to bad writing.

    It sounds like this story, the writer knows that.


    The comments about relationships that turn out to be not what we thought they were, a sense of personal or group loss — ouch. I have had that at a few points in life, from people and events I did not expect. I still don’t know what to make of some of that. It still has had a big impact on me. (And I’m leaving it at that, to avoid a rant or tangent way off-topic.)

    I guess to me, stories involving magic tend to be about making choices and morality, or how to deal with the inexplicable. Those stories are needed. Whether we are kids just learning how to deal with the world and people, or whether we are adults still grappling with that (hmm, funny how that doesn’t change much with age, it just changes in quality or degree), we still need ways to consider those things and rethink things.

    Hmm, and sometimes, we just need to relax and be entertained, with some thoughtful stuff worked in there so there’s something to the story while we’re entertained.

    Not sure I have anything much useful to add my two cents. Just rambling today. (I need sleep, my brain feels like jello. So if I was rambling too much, that’s why. Too little sleep, but I need to be up and doing.)

  2. “It’s a word so archaic that I had to add it to my computer’s dictionary.”
    I have to add pretty much everything to word processor and web browser spell checkers these days. I think wistfully of the days of WordPerfect 4.2 for DOS and a spellchecker with more than a couple thousand words…

  3. OK, I don’t know who came up with the title (you or your publisher), but that is such an evocative title, that combined with “excantation” it’s gotten this book on my to-read list! The art is pretty sweet too.

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