From the Publisher: 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.
If that's not an idea that makes you want to pick up a book, I deeply pity you. Charlie N Holmberg's Paper Magician is a story that I simply had to read. Unfortunately, rather than the enchanting story I was hoping for, the Paper Magician is something of a mixed bag.
The story is, without a doubt, creative. It revolves primarily around the cleaver and unusual premise: the use and enchantment of paper (and other man-made materials). But that's not its only charm. It also has something of a Harry Potter meets Pride and Prejudice feel. The publisher was so enamored with the premise they included a note at the start of the book about how the Paper Magician was published because of this creative premise. And I can't deny it's what got me to pick it up.
Like Far, Far Away, Holmberg's story breaks a surprising number of rules.
First, there is no clear villain right away. That's not so uncommon. Quite a few stories build to their villain, especially in a trillogy, but while other stories have an interesting world to meander around in or compelling characters to carry us up to the villain The Paper Magician lacks scope and energy. There is no vast Hogwarts castle to roam through. There's not even a Drago Malfoy to butt heads with. Instead the conflict (for the first part of the story) is generated through internal angst on the lead's part which is rarely compelling. Imagine, if you will, Star Wars opening, not with Vader's assault of the Rebel blockade runner, but rather with Luke bemoaning his state on Tatooine for the first quarter of the movie. Not very compelling.
Secondly, the writing, in attempting to emulate Jane Austin and other classical writers, is heavy with exposition and description. The contents of every room are carefully described, as are the possessions within Ceony's suitcase and the groceries in the kitchen cabinets. While it is all well written, and harkens back to the classics, I felt it slowed the story over much.
Finally, during the later part of the book we're treated to no fewer than four chapters of walking through a character's memories. While this could have been an exciting adventure, a treasure hunt of knowledge key to saving the day, it instead turns to a rather forced love story. We watch one character falling rapidly in love as she watches the events of another character's life gradually unfold.
For me, please forgive the pun, The Paper Magician just felt flat. There wasn't anything that really jumped out screaming "This is bad!" but there wasn't anything shouting "This is great!" either. But writing is art. Others have heard the story shout great things. The Paper Magician has been nominated for awards and has perched on several best seller shelves so clearly, the things I found lacking worked just fine for Mrs. Holmberg.
If you're a fan of Jane Austin and fantasy, maybe The Paper Magician will speak to you. Give it a read. A premise this cleaver certainly deserves a chance.
What to know: The Paper Magician is very Victorian. It is free of sexual references, language and any sort of vulgarity. The latter parts of the book contain some bloody gore that might disturb some readers.
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