Book Review: The Paper Magician

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The Paper Magician
By Charlie N. Holmberg

Not My Edition:
Paperback, 214 pages
2014, 47North
ISBN: 9781477823835

From the back of the book: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever. Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic. An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

What I liked:
I was very interested in the concept and world-building  – the idea that you can only specialize in one form of magic, especially regarding materials like metal, paper, glass, rubber, etc. felt fresh to me. Add to the mix that it’s 18th (maybe?) century England, an era that I love to see magical or steampunk elements in, and I’m hooked. Unfortunately in this first book, there wasn’t enough development for me. We of course read about paper-based magic (which was fun), and I realize that’s what Ceony was assigned to, but I was still expecting to hear more about the magic behind the other elements.

What I didn’t like:
I don’t know how I missed this, but when I started this book, I didn’t realize it was YA. Then I started reading about Ceony’s hair and clothes on what seemed like every other page, and as soon as any new character was introduced, I was immediately given a pretty thorough description of them. I got the message. Now, I’m a big fan of YA, but I like to know what I’m reading before I go into it, so I was just thrown off. Also, I had to read about Ceony’s hair way too often. That seems like a very common YA trope and I hate to see author’s falling into that.

The love story was also incredibly obvious and I saw it from a mile away, but Holmberg continued to beat me about the head with it through the entire book. Another black mark in my book of YA sins is the underdeveloped love story and sadly Paper Magician earned that mark. Ceony’s relationship with Thane seemed to be comprised of about three days of working lessons, before she dives “into the chambers of his still-beating heart” in order to discover the secrets of his soul. Somehow, this equals love. Can you picture me rolling my eyes?

The last big issue I had with this book was this whole inside Thane’s heart nonsense. First of all, this may seem stupid, but while I am willing to suspend my disbelief to accept there’s magic based on manmade elements, I’m not willing to accept that one’s memories, hopes and fears are stored in the four chambers of their heart, or that there’s a spell that could transport someone into a still-beating heart and allow them to tromp through said memories. I’m sorry, but your heart is not where love comes from. Ceony spent the majority of the book trapped inside Thane’s heart, slowly building her own love for him just because she was able to glimpse some of his memories and fears. Frankly, it annoyed me to no end. I read along, mostly disinterested, as Ceony squeezed her way through artery after disgusting artery to discover the secrets of each chamber, and then as she somehow bumbled her way out of the thing. By the time she freed herself (without damaging the heart of course!) I was pretty bored.

~

Overall, I was let down by this book. I expected the focus to be on these different types of magic, not the burgeoning romance of Ceony and her instructor. The ending of the book was very underwhelming, and while I realize it’s part of a series, I thought it could have used a more solid resolution, or some sort of cliffhanger to keep audiences (me) interested. I do, however, plan to borrow the next book eventually because I would like to give Holmberg the chance to impress me and I’m hoping for a bigger focus on the magic of this world she’s created. I think, had I realized what I was going into before I read this (yeah, somehow I must have failed to read the back of the book) I might not have had such high expectations.

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