Science Fiction and Fantasy
Author Essay from Benedict Jacka on Cursed

Curse Magic in the Alex Verus Series

Curses are a type of chance magic from the universal family, also known as luck or fortune magic. A mage who can use them is called a chance mage, a luck mage, or sometimes (especially if the mage is female) a witch.

Like all chance magic, curses affect luck and probability. A curse can only affect the random element in any series of events, and the more static and predictable a system, the harder it is for a curse to affect it. For a normal person, knocking over a chair is easy but getting a set of dice to come up all ones is hard. For a chance mage using a curse, it’s the other way around.

Why is a set of dice easier to affect than a chair? It’s not because the chair’s heavier, it’s because the dice are moving. When a human being throws a die, there are thousands of tiny factors affecting which way it rolls: the person’s conscious decision, their subconscious actions, their reflexes, the way the die slips in their hand, the air resistance, the angle at which it bounces off the table . . . all of those factors add up to a result that’s completely unpredictable. But for a chance mage, those thousands of factors are exactly what their magic needs. The more unpredictable an event, the easier it is for a chance mage to control.

When turned on a person all those thousands of factors can be used to protect, bending probability so that dangers and misfortunes just miss them. But when used in a curse, a chance mage takes those same factors and twists them so that they always come up with the most harmful result possible. A piece of bad luck that might happen one time in a thousand, or a million, not only happens but happens at exactly the worst possible time. This can be as mild as making someone skin their knee, or as deadly as making them fall into the road just as a car swerves towards them, and there’s absolutely no way to predict which one you’ll get.

Luna’s particular curse uses both positive and negative chance magic at the same time. It focuses good luck upon her, and wards bad luck away. It makes her as safe from accidents as a person can possibly be—she doesn’t get sick, she doesn’t fall down, and anyone trying to hurt her will have to fight against dozens of little things going wrong. You might not think that that’s much of a curse, and you’d be right—the spell was originally intended as a defensive one, designed to protect its caster. The problem is that all the bad luck doesn’t go away, it gets redirected to everyone and everything around her, and she can’t turn it off. Touching Luna is about as safe as handling radioactive contact poison, and has a similar effect on your life expectancy.

One of the reasons curses such as Luna’s are so dangerous is that since they only work on what’s already there, it’s very hard for anyone else to realise what’s going on. Bad luck is obvious, but figuring out what’s causing the bad luck isn’t. Even if someone makes the connection, unless they understand how the curse works it’s almost impossible for them to protect themselves against it. From their perspective, just being near Luna is bad luck . . . which is more or less true.

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Benedict Jacka

Paperback: Mass Market


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