My kingdom for this book to have not turned into an uninspired, forced, one-sided romance! It started off so well: in the late 19th century, Ceony Twill is the top graduate from the amusingly poncily-named Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. Like other trained magicians, after graduation, she enters an apprenticeship with a tradesman-magician who specializes in a type of materials magic. The idea is that magicians can “bond” to a material and then, basically, learn the all of the magical properties of that material and how it can be creatively and practically utilized. Ceony’s aspiration was to work with metal, but was assigned paper, as the number of students to choose to work with paper has declined in recent years and the art is dying. The paper magician she ends up working under is Emery Thane, an intelligent, soft-spoken, and thoughtful magician who Ceony learns to like in spite of her resentment of being “stuck” with paper.
There were a lot of ways this set-up could go. Indeed, in the early days of her apprenticeship, there are heaps of fun details about how magical paper folding (enchanted origami?) can be quite fun and useful indeed. Example — Ceony had a beloved dog while at the magician school, but was unable to take him with her to the apprenticeship because Thane is allergic to dogs. Hearing this and feeling badly about depriving her, Thane stays up all night creating and enchanting a dog made of paper, so skillfully that it looks and behaves like a real dog. (This becomes quite handy, as the dog can go anywhere with Ceony and keep her company, but if it’s not super appropriate to have a dog around in a certain moment, she can basically tell him to go to sleep and then fold him up and put him in her purse.)
But what ends up happening is that out of nowhere, Thane’s Vengeful Ex-Wife™ busts into the house, shrieking some Jealous Harpy nonsense at Ceony, magically pulls Thane’s heart out of his chest, and then vanishes into a Cloud of Evil. And you know what comes next — Ceony first calls a group of senior magicians to Thane’s house to try to get help, and after finding there is Nothing They Can Do, she sets off on a mission herself to find Ex and, you know, get Thane’s heart back. And that’s basically the rest of the book: upon confronting Ex, Ex performs a spell that literally traps Ceony inside Thane’s heart, and so Ceony has to work her way through the innermost secrets kept inside in order to escape and save him.
And, okay, just saying all that, it’s still kind of a cool concept, except that the passion and dire emotion and high drama are given no buildup to justify their existence. This book goes, on the turn of a dime, from an interesting story about a magician learning a magical trade to a dangerous rescue mission that Ceony MUST DO because she loves(?) Thane? Even though she barely knows him? And then the whole time spent inside his heart is basically an infodump: Here, Ceony, have Thane’s ENTIRE life story, so you can get to know him better and justify your feelings for him. It’s just not very moving.
There are further books in the series, and I’m struggling with whether or not to read them. On the one hand, they promise more explanation as to some of the other materials trades, but on the other, they also are largely about Ceony’s Major Crush on Thane, and I don’t know. It might get better, but if it’s more of this, then I’m not interested.