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I believe it was a standalone, but possibly 2 books. The main character was a female. The mages in the story exploded when they died unless they were completely drained of power first. They could be drained by making a small cut and then the other mage touching the cut and draining them (to the extent it would kill them). A large portion of the book was main character's training to use magic at a school where thy would basically put up magical shields and duel each other. I believe I read it in late 90's to early 2000.

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    Almost certainly Trudi Canavan's Black Magician trilogy, possibly conflated with some elements of her Magician's Apprentice, whose plot is basically identical. – Rand al'Thor Jan 19 '16 at 16:12
  • @randal'thor - argh you beat me by 5 minutes :( that'll teach me for trying to work at the same time as typing an answer and find evidence to back it up – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 19 '16 at 16:21
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    @CearonO'Flynn I would've posted an answer if I hadn't repcapped for the day, but you're welcome to claim the glory :-) – Rand al'Thor Jan 19 '16 at 16:54
  • @randal'thor thank you. most gracious – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 19 '16 at 16:55
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Trudi Canavan The Black Magician Trilogy published between 2001 and 2003.

Magicians were able to drain magical power from other magicians through a cut using black magic, they could be drained to death.

I don't remember any of them exploding though Cat'r'pillar informs me they do if they still have power and this rings a faint bell now its been mentioned.

The books follow Sonea a young girl who learns she has magical ability as she is trained in the arts of magic. A lot of dueling, throwing magic at the shields goes on during her training.

She ends up falling in love with the with a fellow magician who teaches her Black Magic.

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    They explode when they have power remaining when they die, and it's released all at once or something like that. – Cat'r'pillar Jan 19 '16 at 16:35
  • @Cat'r'pillar cool, I can easily believe I forgot that fact it has been ages since I read them, have so many books in my head since then including all the ASOIAF books, Peter Hamilton's tomes and a bunch of Malazzan books, they all take up some serious memory space. It was the draining magic and throwing spells at each others shields that triggered my memory. – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 19 '16 at 16:37
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    It just so happens that I reread the books very recently, or I wouldn't've remembered either :) – Cat'r'pillar Jan 19 '16 at 16:42

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