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8 Fantasy Books Where Magic Comes With Deadly Consequences

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R. Nassor

Senior Contributor

R. Nassor may spend more time with books, tea, and ceramic mugs than recommended by professionals but it hasn’t failed her so far. Nassor has a MA in English Literature from Georgetown University, where she looked at the way medieval and early modern literature reappear in fantasy books today. She’s been writing about romance, fantasy, science fiction, and pop culture for quite a while, starting at Book Riot in 2020. She’s also written for You can follow her on Tiktok and contact her through her website.

Magic always comes at a cost. In some fantasy books, those consequences are lethal. When life-saving magic use threatens the user’s life, it raises the stakes of helping others. These fantasy books ask, “What would you risk for your power?”

Fantasy books where magic use is deadly are fascinating. They come from a long tradition in myth and storytelling where sacrifices are given to perform important feats. Oftentimes, these sacrifices are connected to gods or spirits, but generally, there is an equivalent exchange made for power. So, the bigger the power, the bigger the price.

When writing about the literary tradition of making deals with devils, I looked into the deadly bargaining characters have done over the years. Giving up a life or an afterlife for magic is always a dangerous choice to make. However, sometimes the risk is worth the reward. An endangered character risks dying or giving up their life in the future for magic that can immediately help them. After all, when power comes at a cost, it’s worth paying every time if you live to see another day.

A recent inspiration for this list comes from @OliveJKelley’s tweet asking “Does anyone have recs for fantasy where individual magic use has severe consequence? not like ‘we’ve used all the magic now the world is dying’, more like ‘your magic draws from your life force and now You are dying because of it’”.

So, here it is. A list of fantasy books where the magic takes a bit of life from you in return. There is an exciting mix of fantasy books where magic comes with a price for you to jump into.

Beware! This Magic Comes With Deadly Consequences

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri Book Cover

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

In this sapphic south-Asian-inspired high fantasy novel, every time the temple children enter its deathless waters, they risk death for impossible powers. When the colonizing empire took over the land, magic users in the temple burned, but some of the temple children escaped. Years later, Priya fights the draw of the deathless waters rather than risk detection. But, when a job as a maidservant to a dangerous princess in the temple appears, she cannot say no to the high price. Now she will risk the draw of the waters that could kill her if she enters them again — a risk that only increases when she realizes the captivating princess in the tower may need her help. 

Content warnings: misogyny, imprisonment, homophobia, suicidal ideation

The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem Book Cover

The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem (July 18, 2023)

Sylvia hides her magic and her lineage as the heir to a fallen kingdom to survive. Even if she could use her powers freely, magic users from the kingdom of Jasad develop problems the more they used their powers. In this Egyptian-inspired high fantasy world, that’s the least of Sylvia’s worries. When Arin, the Nizahl heir, discovers her powers, he blackmails her into becoming his champion for the Alcalah, a deadly inter-kingdom competition that will test Sylvia’s impressive abilities. As they grow inextricably closer, it becomes harder for Sylvia to hide her identity as the Jasad heir and the full extent of her magic alongside it.

Content warnings: death of a loved one, racism, past torture

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang Book Cover

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

Rin has worked tirelessly to secure her place in an academy as a low-born citizen. When she begins to outperform her classmates, she discovers with the help of psychoactive substances and a teacher to guide her path, she is skilled in the art of shamanism. As her academic excellence begins to have military applications for an oncoming war, Rin begins to test the limits of her powers to fight for her Empire even as it begins to crumble her sense of self. This Chinese-inspired high fantasy series makes readers question what they would give up for power and who they would leave behind along the way.

Content warnings: racism, misogyny, genocide, self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide, animal cruelty, sexual assault, abuse, torture, cannibalism

Witchmark by C. L. Polk book cover

Witchmark by C. L. Polk

In this Edwardian-era Gaslamp fantasy series, noble-born Miles Singer helps uncover the hidden cost the witches sent to asylums across England pay for everday conviences. Miles became a wartime doctor to leave the magical life he was born into, but when a patient dies, he tasks Miles with investigating his murder. Luckily, the doctor has the help of a gorgeous anonymous man who will help him survive the task at hand. Turns out the lack of storms and easy access to electricity comes at a price, and it is up to them to dismantle the system that perpetuates the suffering of witches across the country.

Content warnings: imprisonment, suicidal thoughts, suicide, enslavement, death of a loved one

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst Book Cover

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

Years ago, Kreya was part of a crew of unlikely heroes who saved the world. Today, she is an isolated woman who does bone magic in a tower, living for the days she can reanimate her roguish husband. To do so, she gives up one day of her life for every one he gets in return. But, on her quest to reanimate him more permanently, Kreya discovers the villain they eliminated is not nearly as dead as he should be. Now, she must track down her former crew and save the world again if she wants to secure her future. 

Content warnings: death of a loved one, animal death

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab Book Cover

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Every Faustian bargain has a price. Addie knows she received immortality in exchange for no one remembering her once she leaves the room with the stipulation that when she wants to die, the dark being she bargained with would let her. In a narrative that follows her from medieval France through to modern-day New York City, Addie will realize just what she can accomplish as an anonymous muse in a world that may never remember her. Not to spoil things, but other bargains in the book do not ensure similar longevity and instead prove rather deadly.

Content warnings: emotional abuse, attempted suicide

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark Book Cover

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

A soldier and a turncoat become unlikely allies in this sapphic high fantasy epic. As a conscript, Touraine has been killing for the empire since childhood. But when she is sent to quell the rebellion in her homeland, her ancestorial ties begin to shake her training. Meeting Luca, a treasonous rebel who is looking to dethrone her uncle, was the last thing she needed to tip her into rebellion. Over the course of this trilogy, they will have to uncover the magic at the heart of the empire and decide what they are willing to sacrifice in order to use the power to free their people and seize the throne. 

Content warnings: child abuse, past sexual assault, enslavement, war, death, violence

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig Book Cover

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

As a child, Elspeth caught a magical disease and emerged with new powers and a deadly companion that continues to offer her power at a price. While Elspeth’s family has distanced themselves from her, they are willing to keep her childhood ailment a secret from regulators who would execute her if they knew. When members of the nobility discover her ability to sense rare, power-gifting cards, they convince her to join their fight to find the ever-elusive full set of cards that could secure their freedom. She will walk a fine line between protecting herself and giving up parts of her life to the powerful being that saved it so long ago.

Content warning: parental neglect

Final Thoughts on Deadly Magic in Fantasy

Magic sometimes comes at a cost, and sometimes you are willing to pay it. The stakes just need to be high enough. Maybe that is why fantasy readers are so fascinated by books where magic comes with deadly consequences. We are always looking to see what will happen with lives on the line. With any luck, this will be enough deadly books to hold you over for now.

For even more fantasy recommendations, you can try these magical mystery books. Maybe these fantasy books about forbidden magic suit you better. If not, there are the best fantasy novels from the last 10 years that you can follow up with. Happy reading, nonetheless, and stay safe reading about deadly magic!