Bingo Update: This is my YOUTHS! square, as it was not only published as YA, but feels pretty stereotypical of the genre as a whole, and not in a good way.
The Paper Magician ostensibly takes us on the journey of our protagonist, Ceony (whose name I never figured out how to pronounce and still don’t really like) as she learns the magic of paper. In this universe, the magically inclined are bonded to a specific material, and then that is the only form their magic can take forever. Ceony, despite graduating at the top of her class, is forced into bonding paper, which she does not want. She then proceeds to her apprenticeship with Magician Thane, who teaches her there is more to the art of paper than she could have imagined.
SPOILERS ABOUND BEYOND THIS POINT
After only a couple of weeks, Ceony is expected to save Magician Thane, who she is apparently now in love with? His ex-wife literally steals his heart (which is so on the nose I can’t even) using Excision, a magic bonded to flesh, which is apparently very bad for some reason. Then Ceony has to travel through the chambers of Thane’s heart to rescue it and return it to him. Because reasons.
None of this story really makes sense. I rated it a 3 on Goodreads upon completion, despite feeling pretty blah about it at the time. However, the more I think on what I read, the less I like it. There is a decent premise buried in the heart of this (BA DUM DUM). Magic based on bonding to materials is an interesting idea, but we never get to see other kinds of magic, and there’s no compelling reason for Ceony to be forced to be a titular Paper Magician. Excisioners are bad because…using flesh is evil? I wonder what this author thinks about the medical profession.
I think the thing that bothers me the most, though, is that this isn’t really Ceony’s story. This story is really about Thane, and Ceony’s entire purpose is to support that. Making your protagonist, in particular a female one, serve the narrative of another, male character is a strange choice. I don’t buy the love story angle, and I don’t love that the whole climax of the book is focused on her learning about him. It would be like if Howl’s Moving Castle took the scene from Howl’s past and made it the entire third act.
The prose is ok, the basic concepts are fine, and Magician Thane was interesting. Otherwise, it’s pretty skippable. I won’t be reading the rest of the series.