Ceony Twill arrives at Magician Emery Thane’s house upset and hesitant. She has just been assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic under Thane’s tutelage, despite her dreams of bespelling metal. Once bonded to paper, it will be the only magic she can perform until the day she dies. However Ceony soon learns that there is more to paper magic than meets the eye and more to her new Master than she could ever imagine possible.
This novel by Charlie N. Holmberg marks a fairly strong fantasy debut. Successfully interweaving the feel of Victorian London with the fantastical element of magic, The Paper Magician draws the reader in from the very first page. At first it sounds a bit Harry Potter-esque, but such comparisons disappear the moment you start reading. For a start, Ceony is not ignorant of her abilities; she is in control and learning more about them. Secondly there is no magical school in sight, merely vague references to a very academically oriented prep school for the magically inclined.
The story begins slowly, but soon accelerates to breakneck speed when another magician practicing the forbidden art of excision (blood magic) invades Thane’s house, attacking both him and Ceony. The rest of the book swirls the reader through Thane’s past and connection to Ceony as she attempts to save her new mentor’s life.
Overall, The Paper Magician is an engaging read. The characters are well drawn and you become as interested as Ceony is in learning more about Emery Thane and his past. Ceony is our way into this world and as the lead protagonist, she is fairly likeable. The only minor issue comes with her almost sudden leap from dislike to love over her mentor. Many reviewers have commented that this is believable due to her age (Ceony is only 19 years old), but to me, the leap made me disengage slightly from the story. I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about a schoolgirl obsession on an older man, but perhaps I am not the target audience. Another slight problem with the novel was Holmberg’s ignorance of authentic Victorian names. It took me half the book to realize that “buggies” were “motorcars.” References to architecture being full of tall factory walls with high archways being unique, when in fact they’ve been around since Norman times illustrate a lack of research on Holmberg’s part.
Despite the jarring romantic element and the slightly skewed references, The Paper Magician works well enough to make you want to know what happens next. As this is the first book in a series of three, Holmberg has done enough to earn herself an army of readers eager to know where the story will end up. To me, it’s very obvious what the end will be, but that doesn’t mean the journey in getting there will be a bad thing.
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