Charlie N. Holmberg – The Paper Magician

Sometimes, when you’re stressed and a big, fat fantasy book is just not something you want to start right now, you grab a thin little volume that sounds as fluffy as can be. I read the entire Paper Magician trilogy during the last week and this first part was just the kind of shallow, silly, but cute story I needed. The others… well, I’ll tell you about them when I finish my reviews.

paper magicianTHE PAPER MAGICIAN
by Charlie N. Holmberg

Published by: 47North, 2014
Ebook: 224 pages
Series: The Paper Magician #1
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: For the past five years, Ceony had wanted to be a Smelter.

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.


This unusually slim fantasy book begins with a generic  set-up. A young woman is apprenticed to older, wiser magician to learn the craft. Despite having been done a million times before, it was an utterly charming beginning. Ceony immediately dislikes her new master, but when he makes and animates a paper dog for her, she dares to hope that a career as a paper magician will not be quite so bad. He teaches her how to fold magic, what spells to use, what words to speak in order to bend the material to her will.

When an excisioner, a woman from Magician Thane’s past, appears and promptly rips out the man’s heart, Ceony replaces it with a paper one, to keep him alive long enough for her to retrieve his actual heart. This quest will literally lead her into Thane’s heart, where she needs to be clever, and resourceful, and brave. None of this is very deep or original, but (much like Marissa Meyer’s books) it was just perfect for the kind of fluff I was looking for.paper magician

One thing that jarred me out of the otherwise lovely experience was the historical setting. It’s supposed to be Victorian England and as far as most things went, this was believable. Mainly, the setting doesn’t matter much for the plot and the time period has mostly an effect on how people speak. World-building as such is non-existent and a few anachronisms (or at the very least things I felt were anachronisms) made me look up and stop reading. Make-up bags? Shot to hell? There were many expressions that, to someone like me who hasn’t done any research other than reading other books set during the same time, kick you out of the reading flow and make you wonder if you haven’t mixed up two books in your brain and this is actually set in contemporary times. But no, you haven’t. That was the one part that was truly bad. Whether it’s lack of research on the author’s part, lack of noticing it on the editor’s – I don’t really care.

Another thing that went past me was the romance. Of course there has to be a romance. Normally, the mentor/mentee situation, especially if you’re faced with a grumpy Rochester-type, is totally up my alley. But other than being polite and kind to her, there is nothing much to recommend Thane as a romantic interest. And if that’s all it takes to make Ceony fall in love in a matter of days, then I can’t speak very highly of her as a character. So yeah, insta-love.

Now here’s the thing. Despite all of that, despite its problems and the lazy writing, there is something charming about The Paper Magician. It’s a simple world, one where a young woman can literally save a man’s heart by using her mind and her kindness, by improvising and by facing her fears. It’s a world full of magic that has to do with man-made materials. It may not be well-explored (yet) but it’s somehow adorable – and there’s a paper dog who can kick just as much butt as a real dog would.

So don’t expect too much from this book, but if you’ve reached one of those moments where work is taking over your life, where you spend your evenings on the couch, tired and too weak/lazy to do anything, pick this up. It’s fluff, pure and simple, but it gets the job done. Uplifing, light reading, without any depth or world-building. Comes with an extra helping of magic.

MY RATING:  6/10 – Alright, I guess


Second opinions:

7 thoughts on “Charlie N. Holmberg – The Paper Magician

  1. fiddlerblue says:

    Aw, it started to make me curious and then I read about the insta-love and the inconsistent time period expressions…so, nope! But the type of magic it has sounds intriguing though 🙂


  2. jazzfeathers says:

    Oh, I’ve just read your comment above about the rest of the trilogy.
    That sounds like such a pity. When I saw the covers, here on you blog, I was immediately hooked. I don’t know what it is that I like that much about them. Maybe their semplicity.
    Then I read the synopsis and I thought the idea at the heart of the story was delightful. I found it so strange and lovely.
    And then you dashed my hopes like that…
    But maybe I will read just the first book. Though I’m curious to read what you have to say about the other books.


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