The Paper Magician
By Charlie N. Holmberg
This is the first in a trilogy by Holmberg following new Magician’s Apprentice Ceoney Twill as she begins her tenure in paper magic under the eccentric Magician Thane. She is not exactly keen on paper magic, she had wanted to be bonded to metal and a magician can only work with one material for their entire life. Normally, the student first in the class would get to pick their discipline, but Ceoney is told by the head of the school that due to a lack of Paper Magicians at the moment they need her to follow that path with very little explanation as to why except that it is a dying art that needs good people. The first two weeks of her apprenticeship end up being far more exciting than she expected, especially when her Journeyman instructor’s heart is stolen by an Excisioner- a practitioner of dark magic- and Ceoney has to try to steal it back. During the process of rescuing her mentor she finds herself growing more and more fond of him while putting her brand new paper magic skills to the test.
OK, this book. As I was reading it I thought I had inadvertently picked a Young Adult title. Nothing against Young Adult fiction, it just isn’t what I was looking for this time around. Turns out it isn’t really what the author was looking to write either, since as far as I can tell it isn’t actually considered YA (though many reviews on Amazon talk like it is, so who knows?). That takes it down a pretty big notch for me. The author is a good writer overall, and I was starting to dig the world she was creating, but it really was just a High School fantasy romance. Girl falls for her teacher after working under him for two weeks. I really don’t understand the accelerated timeline; there really isn’t any solid reason for it, especially since the whole impressionable girl falling for the older experienced man is SUCH a romance novel cliché. It’s overdone and kind of creepy. I don’t like it in YA and I dislike it even more in adult novels where the core audience is more likely to not be looking for the white knight anymore.
I got about half way through wondering why the premise felt so familiar and it turns out it was because I had read alwaysanswerb’s review way back during Cannonball 7 and then forgot about it. I turns out I have many of the same feelings about this book.
The most frustrating thing about the book is the wasted potential. This is an interesting pseudo-Victorian world and it deals with magic in a little different, intriguing way that is a little different that others. Paper magic sounds really intriguing and fun in a lot of ways. Plus way more useful that the heroine’s snotty attitude would indicate. Her Mentor Magician even creates a cute paper dog for her who turns out to be one of the more entertaining characters in the book. I just wish we didn’t have to discover it via this rather obnoxious girl who alternates between a Stepford Wife-in-Training and a textbook “plucky, stubborn perfectionist complete with almost photographic memory!! Now with self-destructive tendencies to lash out at people who have power over her without thinking of consequences!” She is just really hard to care about even though the bones of her story make her sounds pretty neat.
I really loved the whole idea of the exploration of human heart organ as the representation of the person’s emotional center. It’s a really interesting concept, which set up a fun, interesting adventure for the heroine, I just really wish she hadn’t fallen back on the old ‘familiarity breeds love and attachment’ trope. I mean, it’s great it helped her understand him better and know he’s a person worth knowing, but falling head over heels in love during the journey was a bit trite.
So, while I don’t regret reading this book or anything it’s not likely I’ll read the others. I just don’t care about the protagonist enough to see what happens to her. Which is a shame, because I would have liked to have gotten a bit deeper into this world the author created.