Firstly, I received Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician for free from Amazon Publishing through Goodreads First Reads – my thanks to them!
Secondly, ignoring the above, I honestly adored this book, the first in The Paper Magician Trilogy. It’s quirky and charming and I know people will disagree with me, but I think it’s few flaws are vastly outweighed by the overall allure.
(Mild spoilers ahead)
In a quasi-Victorian magical London, Ceony Twill has just graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. All magical graduates then are assigned apprenticeships, where they will bond to a man-made material and study magic under a master in that field. Ceony is angry and disappointed when she is assigned paper magic as a Folder, since she had dreamed of being a Smelter and working with metal. Once you’re bonded to one material, you can never work magic with another.
Arriving at the home of Magician Thane, she snarks and grumbles at her situation. She believes him to be mad, until she begrudgingly realizes that paper magic can be enchanting – creating paper creatures, reading stories into visual illusions, and foreseeing the future through paper fortune-tellers. But her learning has barely begun when an Excisioner, a practitioner of the forbidden blood magic, breaks in and steals Thane’s heart, leading Ceony on a perilous journey to retrieve it through it’s own still-beating chambers.
The magical system struck me as extremely innovative. I haven’t read anything similar before, yet I can completely envision it functioning in the real world since magicians must bond with a real material to operate their magic. Paper magic is somewhat based off origami, but the implications are endless. With knowledge of anatomy, you can make any paper animal (like the incredibly adorable Fennel) or generate weather conditions from faux-snow to giant gusts of wind. Ceony, and the rest of her society, look down on paper magic as weak and unexciting but it’s so freaking cool!
The heroine Ceony came off as an irritating swot at the opening chapters of the book. While I could relate to the letdown of losing your dream, she was unnecessarily rude towards Magician Than, an individual that she was newly meeting for the first time, irregardless of the fact that they had to work together for her to become a full-fledged magician. For someone so intelligent, she kept acting rashly and without regard for the consequences. I only began to like her as she began to regret her assumptions and make amends for them.
Magician Thane, on the other hand, came across favorably from the start. A little quirky, but kind-hearted, I had no trouble understanding why Ceony would fall for him. Predictable though the plot was, I don’t share other reviewers consternation at the quickness of the romance. Thane made her a paper dog because he felt bad that she couldn’t keep hers and also gifted her with all the books – that’s like the perfect man! Although it had only been around a month since they met, Ceony’s journey through his heart caused them to become fairly intimate very quickly. I also think it’s key that she expresses “I think I’m falling in love with you” as if she knows she’s not quite there yet but can see it happening and doesn’t want to regret not embracing the opportunity. That’s a lot more than we get in most fictional romances these days, though adult readers may still roll their eyes at the swiftness of adolescent affections.
In general, the pacing was off, with a plodding opening followed by the breakneck pace of Ceony’s explorations of Thane’s heart. I don’t often say this, but I could’ve done with a bit longer book if it added to the plot exposition and the background of the characters. Though this isn’t a book that I will eagerly stalk the internet to find the sequel’s release date, I am intrigued by the still-unexamined possibilities of this world and am curious to see how Holmberg expands on it.
It’s a quick read that I would highly recommended, especially to a high school or college audience that enjoys more lighthearted (no pun intended) fantasy. As I mentioned above, it might come off as a bit juvenile for some adults but that was part of its charm for me.