Bookshelves are rife with stories about the end of the world: There are Biblical, astronomical, environmental apocalypses. Nuclear holocausts. Plagues and famine. Undead masses stirred to violent cannibalism. Aliens! Fascists! Robots!
But what about magic?
My debut novel, Mage Against the Machine, takes place a century after human civilization was mostly destroyed by a group of psychopath wizard industrialists, and as a lover of End Time adventure, I enjoy riding along with all the various sub-genre horsemen of the apocalypse. I’ve found stories about worlds destroyed by magic to be less common than other types of Armageddon, however, so here’s a list of some of the greats…
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
I began reading WoT at exactly the right age, in exactly the right circumstances. I was a 12-year-old boy living in a forest. On my desk (a painted door set atop stacked crates full of books and old magazines) was an IBM PC with a VGA graphics card and a towering stack of Wheel of Time hardcovers, all well-worn to various degrees.
Whenever a Wheel of Time novel was released throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, I would reread the entire series, usually starting with Book 2 but occasionally skimming The Eye of the World for the billionth or so time as the details of Jordan’s world gradually became fuzzy.
Even now, after all these years, I still get a thrill at reading the opening line: “The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten…”
The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Dragonlance Chronicles are licensed fiction for an old D&D setting – and these books are dope. They take place after the gods abandoned the world, smashing it up with a cataclysm on their way out.
Book 3, Dragons of Spring Dawning, was the first novel to make me cry. I can still remember it, encountering this one particular death as kid and really feeling it in a way I never had with a character dying before.
I’ve yet to actually play the original D&D campaign, but I have a few of the old adventure modules. Reading the novels when I was young, then being able to study these manuals to learn how to retell the stories on my own—it was like opening the hood of a car and taking a peek at the engine!
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
As the series title might suggest, the world of The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky is one of constant and cyclical destruction, struck by ecological cataclysms every few hundred years. Each and every one of these novels won the Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Every. Single. ONE.
This has never happened before. It probably won’t happen again for a very long time.
Do yourself a favor and go buy the entire trilogy.
The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson
When it was announced that Brandon Sanderson would be taking on the responsibility of completing The Wheel of Time following the death of Robert Jordan, I was skeptical…but in the end, he pretty much nailed it. I was impressed, and dove into Sanderson’s other work, curious to see what kind of stories he might tell when not under the terrifying constraints of completing another author’s globally popular magnum opus.
The Way of Kings, the first novel in The Stormlight Archive, introduces us to a world that’s like a perpetually storm-blasted tidal reef. The apocalypse is cyclical here in the setting Sanderson has created. The opening scene shows the final moments of this world’s previous Armageddon, in which a Faustian bargain made by ancient heroes to come back and fight for the world every time the end is neigh is broken. The price—spending the centuries between apocalypses undergoing endless torture in a place that sounds very much like hell—is no longer something the heroes can endure.
And so the next End Time begins, but the reader is shown right at the start that there won’t be any ancient, magical God-Kings to set things right this time around…
The Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine
Every generation thinks it can glimpse the end of the world. But just like the Death card in the Tarot deck means “change,” not simply “destruction,” great upheavals in civilization usually aren’t the end of it all—just a bloody transition.
The Wraeththu, a new species who evolve and arise as humanity begins to fade, are neither biologically male nor female but hermaphroditic; their sexual intercourse is described in a way that sounds like abstract flower poetry, and relates to their magical abilities. This series is fascinating, beautiful, and wholly unique. It’s a powerful examination of love, sexuality, and death, and it’s filled with complicated, flawed characters caught up in the various conflicts of humanity’s final days, as the Wraeththu slowly claim what’s left of the shattered world for their own.
Shaun Barger is a Los Angeles-based novelist who detests cold weather, idiot plotting, and fascism. He splits his days between writing, resisting the siren’s call of Hollywood’s eternally mild summer climes, and appeasing a tyrannical three-pound Chihuahua with peanut butter and apple slices. Mage Against the Machine is his first novel.You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @ShaunBarger