Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Paper Magician - Review

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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Another bit of Destiny fan fiction. Image courtesy of Bungie.

Mother tied my wrist to the pole.

Father covered my eye and put the knife between my teeth.

Together they pushed my coracle into the Time Stream.

They did not speak. It was the way.

In darkness I spun, slowly swirled by the ceaseless current. Blind I worked the oar, the feeling the occasional scrape of the smooth sandstone banks of the river against the wood. I am a desert creature. I fear water as much as I love it. My heartbeat thudded against my breast bone, a fist pounding for escape. I ignored it. Turning, pulling, pushing, lifting the oar as I'd been taught, I  gradually slowed and then stopped my spin.

And the current carried me towards my destiny.

I felt the light shift from red and gold to shadowed blue. The air cooled. Echoes closed in around me. And the voices began to whisper. She lies. She lies. She lies. She is death. She is doom. She hungers for ruin. Do not listen. No one can step without creating the paradox. You will end all things in all times.

I shivered under the assault of the cold words of those who have gone before or will go and who have failed our goddess. I bit down on the blade in my jaws. I would not fail. I would not listen, not to those faithless lost forever in the past and the future. I would not be swayed. I would succeed.

The light shifted again to red and gold--deeper and darker than before, as if the light were old, weak from fighting its way down into the great canyon.

"Remove your eye covering," the voice rang in my mind, from across the chasm of time itself. 

I took the knife from between my teeth. "I dare not. To look on you is to be lost."

"You are already lost. Now you must find thyself. I am thy anchor."

With trembling hands I lifted the cloth from my eye. I drifted in a vast round chamber without entrance or exit. The river still flowed, looping perpetually around a small slick island of stone. A towering dead tree reached up towards the shaft of orange light that trickled down through the curved ribbons of stone forming the ceiling. And seated beneath the tree, she sat. She looked like me, long limbed, and narrow faced, her single eye covered in a cloth of tattered red. The frill on her head stood out in a wide fan crowning her beauty. But where my skin was mottled brown and rough, hers was smooth and glowing, palest blue. Tentacles of light coming form her back wound their way up and around the tree's dead branches. With one hand she held an orb of pure white light which she caressed absently with the other.

As I drifted on the endless river's current, somehow she remained facing me though she did not move. The world moved beneath her.

"I saw your heart in the Passage. It is pure. But your mind... What a lovely mind."

I could not speak in response.

"Others have come and failed, but you do not doubt you will be worthy."

"None serve thee as faithfully as I."

"You are obedient, utterly and completely."


"Prove it."


Her tentacles unwound from the tree and slowly she stood, moving towards me without step or stride.

"I see thy knife. Plunge it into thy belly."

Another might have faltered, might have questioned. But not I. I cut my hand free from the oar, then taking the hilt with both hands, I gazed into that lovely god-face. With all my strength, I rammed the knife into my guts. Pain, red, breathtaking and horrible filled me. My green blood gushed, filling the time stream's course with verdant clouds. My savaged guts threatened to burst forth. My legs weakened, but I forced them to hold my dying body up. She had not told me yet to fall.

She smiled at me, amused. "You are dying mortal thing."

"Yes. For you."

"Do you see me?"

"Only you."

"No. Do you see me?"

I shook my head not understanding. Again the smile and then the light in her flesh bled away. All she was drew inward, leached away by a roaring, hungering darkness. My eye widened at the transformation and the understanding. Here she was. Here was her true form, more beautiful and terrifying than anything I might have imagined.

"I see you! I see you!"

She became the vessel of glowing pale flesh again, close and smiling, caressing the orb of light.


She thrust the light into my bloody wound.

Pain. Pain. Pain.

I screamed as I was remade. Screamed until my voice was torn away and replaced. And then there was nothing. No pain. No fear. No doubt. Only certainty in my creator.

I looked down on my new flesh. My body had become crystal and alloy. I could see and hear and sense things moments before I had not known existed. I could feel particles of time drifting through the air, sparking against my armored skin.

"You shall vex the universe," she said.

The Time Stream opened and I was rushing away from her.

"Go, my servant," my goddess shouted. "Time is yours to command. Remake thy people to perfection as I have remade you. Teach the universe fear! Go Aethon and do not fail me! Against you, the Light cannot prevail."

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