Several years back, I was on a backpacking trip with a guy whose whole family were huge fans of classic SF/Fantasy. One of the fantasy books he brought for the long car rides piqued my interest, but I've lost the name.
General things I remember:
- It's part of a series
- It's not very recent (certainly not in the last 20 years)
In particular, the logistics of the magic system intrigued me, and is the main reason for wanting to reread the first book and find the later ones.
Magic is granted by knowledge of words of power, of which there are a finite number in the world. Knowledge of multiple words of power is possible and grants access to various tiers of abilities:
- One word grants somebody a knack for a particular skill. I don't recall the specifics, but I seem to remember that these were extreme enough to guide somebody's path through life without thoroughly defining it
- Two words makes somebody an adept, who excels at the acquisition of new skills when intensively trained. In the book, one example described is that an adept who trained for a day with a master swordsman would be his equal by the end of the day
- Three words makes somebody a sorcerer. I have very little knowledge of what this does, since there was only a brief encounter with one (if any). Knowledge of four or more words isn't brought up, AFAIK.
- Finally, the power of a word is slightly diluted by the number of people who know it. People who know words of power may form agreements to share with each other, but these nearly always ended in one member killing the other(s), as one person could slightly increase their power by offing the other guy
The final detail I remember is that there is a set of individuals who share a space in the world. These people all know the same word of power, and therefore are all adepts (there is a musician, a stereotypical brute, and maybe a thief?), but only one of them exists in the world at a given time. I seem to remember that these people could switch out if they reached a consensus.