Title: The Paper Magician
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
“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.”
After the joy that was The Night Circus and as a die hard fan of Harry Potter, I’m always on the look out for more magic in my life. Enter The Paper Magician with it’s whimsical premise and promise of adventure and illusion. And, sadly, that’s where the joy stops, before it has even begun.
Stylistically, Holmberg spends a lot of time using a lot of words to say very little. This is obviously designed to be a light and fluffy novel, which is fine, except I found it lacked any real energy or excitement to propel me through. In Holmberg’s defence, there is some lovely imagery hidden (virtually buried) in here. I particularly liked her description of Ceony, our heroine, magically ‘bonding’ with paper and some of the enchanted paper constructions were really very enjoyable. But that’s where the positives stop.
One of the most aggravating elements for me was the romance between Ceony and her teacher Emery Thane. This was the soul focus of the narrative to the point where I felt it strayed way too far into chick lit territory, which just really isn’t my jam. Now, there’s nothing wrong with romance; I love a good love story, but as a standalone genre I am rarely enamoured. This is a romance story that contains magic, rather than the other way around and, personally, that’s the wrong sort of balance for me.
I don’t think I would have minded the romance element had I not found the relationship dynamic so cliched and, frankly, a little bit offensive. For one thing, it’s so reliant on tired gender stereotypes. Ceony, as Holmberg goes to great trouble to try and convince us, is highly intelligent, forthright and self-possessed and yet she seems to spend a lot of her time doing Thane’s cooking, cleaning and laundry to which she makes no objection whatsoever. The reason she’s doing all this scullery work? Because Thane, although brilliant and eccentric, is a hopeless man who can’t take care of himself and needs a woman to turn up and mother him. This kind of lazy dynamic is more than a little bit insulting to both genders but would be easier to forgive if it weren’t the centre of the whole novel. If this weren’t enough, considering that the entire book is supposedly centred on Ceony, we learn barely anything about her as, having fallen in love with Thane seemingly overnight, she spends almost two thirds of the book traipsing through flashbacks of his life.
This is another one of those books, not unlike The Invisible Library, that promises much in terms of its concept and world building, but ultimately is let down by its narrative construction. I may dabble with the second in the trilogy in the vain hope that things might improve since I thoroughly enjoy the way in which the magic of this world is imagined but otherwise this was a real disappointment.