fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergThe Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg, has a nicely original premise and a unique heroic quest, but the overall impact is marred by a trite romance, a somewhat flat main character, and a sense that it all goes on a bit long.

In this world, magic users “bond” to a particular material — rubber, metal, plastic — and work with that material (and only that material) the rest of their lives. Ceony Twill has just graduated from magic college (thanks to an anonymous sponsor) and been assigned, much to her dismay, to become a “Folder” — one who specializes in paper magic. Apprenticed to full magician Emery Thane, she is just starting to learn that maybe paper magic isn’t as dull/bad as she feared, when Thane is suddenly attacked and left for dead, his heart stolen from him by an Excisioner — a blood magician. Ceony finds herself having to journey through Thane’s heart (literally) before she can confront the Excisioner Lira and try to save her teacher.

As mentioned, I really liked Holmberg’s premise here. While “materials magic” is not a particularly unique idea, I’ve never seen it applied to paper or to the art of folding, and I enjoyed both its originality and the way it was presented here. The journey through Thane’s heart was also a nice touch — one of my favorite aspects of fantasy is how metaphor can become reality and here you have the classic “she stole my heart” and “broken heart” concepts turned literal. The journey through the heart is really a journey through various memories from Thane’s past, as well as aspects of his personality. For the most part this was nicely handled, but it did feel a bit overlong and had a few predictable or trite moments.

That also unfortunately extended to what is really the driving force of the novel, which is Ceony’s falling in love with Emery. A, it was predictable. B, it was instalove, my least favorite kind. C, it flattened Ceony’s character, making her more reactive and making her do all this because she’s in love rather than for something that was already interior to her, already part of her. And really, is it necessary to have a male-female couple focus on a love relationship? Couldn’t she just have tried to save her teacher, or her friend, or just have a sense of adventure?The Paper Magician Series (Book Series) by Charlie N. Holmberg

Beyond that, the world creation is a bit thin, but I wouldn’t call it a flaw; it’s more a result of the plot, which takes Ceony into Thane’s heart relatively quickly and then has her questing through it for nearly the entire rest of the novel. I assume later books in the series will show us more of this world — this version of England, how the other materials magicians work, etc.

In the end, while The Paper Magician began with an intriguing premise, and sends us on a unique journey, it ended up only mildly entertaining, and a bit annoying with the just-add-water “love.”

~Bill Capossere

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergThe Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

I liked this book a bit more than Bill did, finding the love story enjoyable (even though I agree that it’s trite). My bigger problem with the book was how unattractive a character Ceony was until she fell in love, and the seemingly complete transformation she underwent with the blossoming of that emotion. I thoroughly enjoyed all the manifestations of paper magic, which are what really made the book sing for me — and made me read on to the next novel in the series, and to buy the third after that.

~Terry Weyna

Published in 2014. 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 agesShort-Listed for the 2015 ALA Fantasy Reading List


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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