Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Heather Reviews: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (slight, but not big, spoiler warning)

Title:  The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)
Author:  Charlie N. Holmberg
Released:  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.

I won't lie; that cover is lovely. And you already know I'm a sucker for anything pertaining to magicians, so when Marcus talked about reading it, I caved.

The book begins with Ceony Twill, who has just graduated from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, arriving at the cottage of Emery Thane, one of the last 12 paper magicians in England. Ceony is dejected because she wanted to be a Smelter, a magician who works with metal, but the school assigned her to be apprenticed to a paper magician.

Gradually, Ceony begins to warm up the idea of being a paper magician and comes around to liking Thane. However after a few weeks at the cottage, an old enemy of Thane's shows up and rips his heart out of his chest. Ceony fears that she will be sent to another magician and is afraid for Thane's life, so she embarks on a quest to save him.

Ceony is presented as extremely smart, one of the earlier chapters mentions she graduated top of her class from the Magician school after attending there for one year yet Jonto, the paper skeleton that she has seen quite a few times, still manages to scare her quite often. A little later on, she's presented as being able to recall every single hand movement that allowed Magician Thane to make a paper frog, which she saw him do on her very first day there, but she can't remember that there's a paper skeleton in the house?

She also gives up studying a book because "the print was tiny and the book was only sparsely populated with figures, making it somewhat difficult to understand." =| If you are an apprentice to one of the last twelve Paper Magicians in England, and you've fought tooth and nail to be able to become a magician, wouldn't you just suck it up and read the book anyway?

This presents a problem for me however: I'm not against her being a fast learner, but I am against her being able to make, what we've been told in the book, is a complicated Fold, a (sort of) living creature. She makes the frog with no problems, nor any comments from her instructor. On her first try.

For all the time we spend in Ceony's head, she comes off as a very flat character. Aside from preferring to have worked with metal, and being told she's smart, there's not a whole lot else I can tell you about her. I can't even tell you why she fell in love with Thane. He made her a replica of the dog she had to leave at home because he's allergic to them and suddenly she takes off after one of the most dangerous excisionors in England because she believes she's in love with him.

While I can say the 'bonding' thing is a nice touch, I couldn't say it was my favorite thing. Mostly though because I don't understand why a magician has to bond to just one ... element? And paper is mentioned as a dying bond because ...? This is set in the early 1900s; there's not really any excuse for Paper Magicians to be going out of style. The digital age is still a good few decades away and paper is pretty much the only means to communicate.

Another review mentioned that a modern setting would help the book because of the ebooks / electronic media vs paper debate and I agree. The thinness of the plot shows through in just saying that paper is dying because...? I honestly can't tell you why it's was considered dying in the novel, it just was.

I'm also not entirely sure what Bonding means. Yes, you're Bonded to one element, but Magician Thane is seen using other spells to bring the paper creations to live or to make decorative snowflakes freeze. I guess it's the medium through which your magic works best? But if pretty much every material can use spells, what exactly is the point of Bonding? I'm assuming they don't work with specific Bonds in the academy, otherwise Ceony wouldn't have been assigned Paper, she would've worked with metal like she planned to.

Another question this brings up is that Magician Thane offers to allow Ceony to, for want of better term, retake a test several times until she gets a "grade" she would like him to submit to the magician school, implying that an apprentice can fail at whatever they're Bonded to. However one of the earlier chapters states that Bonding is for life, once it's done, you can't work with another medium... so how does this failing thing work? If you are so terrible at being an apprentice, do you have to do an ordinary job?

The writing is nothing special, but I can't fault a beginning author. It's simplistic in some places but then there are places where language is used that definitely wouldn't be presentable to a younger audience. A lot of things seem brought up out of nowhere and feel a little shoehorned in. Ceony's attempts to call Thane mad don't endear her to me. I can understand that on finding out she was to work with a Paper Magician instead of a Smelter, she would be upset, but on traveling to his house and seeing it glamored, she repeatedly said he must be mad. Even after she met him and he proved of a perfectly sound mind, she still attempted to say it every so often.

I also found Ceony's fear of water to be another random insertion. Nothing was alluded to before she mentioned it and when she refused to go to the lake to try out a spell, I thought it was because she was afraid someone would mug her, not because she was scared of it. It's a very awkward bit of characterization.

A little later in the book Thane needs to leave on business, leaving Ceony alone in his house. Prior to this, Thane revealed that he knew she wanted to be a Smelter and Ceony is wary since she never voiced this to him, however once Thane leaves Ceony goes through his office drawers and into his room.

The book isn't bad, but thinking back on the climax and, as the summary puts it, the journey into the chambers of Thane's still-beating heart, honestly, that had such a little impact on the story that I began wondering what the point of it was. It felt more like it was speed setting up Thane's backstory instead of "Ceony's in trouble, what can she learn here?"

However, an interesting event happens near the end of the novel that leaves me confused as to what I really think about it.

I believe the second book in this trilogy, The Glass Magician, is coming out in November and the blurb sounds good and I relatively enjoyed this book, for all my complaining, so I'll probably check it out.

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