Monday, 22 June 2020

Review: 'The Paper Magician' by Charlie N. Holmberg

Remember how earlier this month I complained about my habit of putting off reading books that I know I'll probably really enjoy? I'm here to tell you I did it again. This time it is The Paper Magician and Charlie N. Holmberg I need to apologize to. This is a delightful book I should have enjoyed back in 2014, although I'm also very grateful for the distraction it gave me now. Thanks to 47North and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 9/1/2014
Publisher: 47North

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.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

I love books about magic, especially when they're this inventive with their world-building. In The Paper Magician, every magician is bonded to a specific element or material forever. That is the material your magic will be tied to for the rest of your life and there is no way of breaking it. I enjoyed the way this tied the magic into everyday life as well, where every material has its own use in industry etc., meaning that magicians are needed for every material. And then there is the dark side of this all, the Excisioners whose chose material is flesh. Holmberg really brings these types of magic to life through her writing, especially in the more descriptive moments. There is a joy to most of the magic in The Paper Magician which was very fun to read.

Ceony would not have chosen paper for herself, but a new paper magician is needed. Hence she will now apprentice under Mage Thane, who turns out to be a great, if mysterious, teacher. But her training is cut short when disaster strikes in the shape of an Excisioner and Ceony has to save her teacher. Initially I was a little confused as to what we were working towards, plot-wise, but the journey through Thane's heart is very much the goal itself. As Ceony gets to know more about Thane, her new skills will be put to the test as she battles for her own life and his. The plot of The Paper Magician moves fast once the action begins, but it is offset by moments of calm and emotional depth that ground the action and allow the characters to grow and develop. Despite some of the more intense scenes in regards to the Excisioners, I do think The Paper Magician could be suitable for a wide age range. Occasionally I did question the power balance between Ceony and Thane, but much of it will depend on how it is developed in the next books of the series.

This was Holmberg's debut novel and I was enraptured by it. There is a soft glow to the book, which perhaps doesn't make a lot of sense but feels correct. It's not whimsy, per se, despite the cottagecore feel of it, but rather a sense of comfort and warmth, despite the rather bloody setting of the second half of the book. Ceony is a lovely main character, driven and ambitious, willing to learn but also stubborn. Emery Thane is a quiet but humorous counterpoint, never giving away too much and yet saying more than he perhaps means to. (See, ambiguous!) I got strong Howl's Moving Castle vibes from The Paper Magician, especially the Studio Ghibli film adaptation, but didn't hate it. Perhaps it was part of the gentleness of it, Ceony's fieriness, and the need to save a mysterious magician by digging into his heart and past. I have set my sights on The Glass Magician next.

I give this novel..
4 Universes!

The Paper Magician is a lovely read that brings together many of my favourite things about magic in novels. For lovers of magic and Howl's Moving Castle (which I assume is an overlapping group), this is a great read!

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