There was really no reason for me to continue the Paper Magician series after the first book, except wanting a bit more of the same and needing another book that doesn’t require my brain to be too awake while reading. The second part of Holmberg’s trilogy was better when it came to pacing, but pretty bad when it came to other things.
Published by: 47North, 2014
Ebook: 224 pages
Series: The Paper Magician #2
My rating: 5/10
First sentence: A late summer breeze wafted through the open kitchen window, making the twenty tiny flames upon Ceony’s cake dance back and forth on their candlewicks.
Three months after returning Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body, Ceony Twill is well on her way to becoming a Folder. Unfortunately, not all of Ceony’s thoughts have been focused on paper magic. Though she was promised romance by a fortuity box, Ceony still hasn’t broken the teacher-student barrier with Emery, despite their growing closeness. When a magician with a penchant for revenge believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, Ceony knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wayward hands.
Ceony is well into her apprenticeship and Charlie Holmberg doesn’t have to waste any time explaining her magic system again, so it’s straight into the action with this book and, to my surprise, there’s enough time to introduce new characters and fill Ceony’s world with a bit more than just herself and her master magician. Ceony’s friend Delilah, while mostly a bland stand-in for glass magicians who lacks personality, is nonetheless a nice addition to the very small cast. Through her, Ceony learns a lot about what glass magicians do – and it was these very ideas that I found genuinely interesting. Glass magicians use mirrors not only as make-shift telephones (or rather, Victorian Google Hangouts) but also as portals, and this offers a whole new world for a fun plot to develop.
About the plot… Ceony has to discover that her actions in The Paper Magician have consequences and, despite having bested the evil excisioner in the first book, there are others who want to use Ceony for their own plans. There is a magical terrorism attack right at the beginning, Ceony behaves like a proper idiot (seriously!), and there’s a continuation of her romance with her teacher, a romance still as stale as old soup. Emery Thane keeps being kind to Ceony, Ceony calls him by his first name (which makes everyone go: Manners!), there is still no visible reason for these two to be so in love with each other. They just are. Well, there is one chapter from Thane’s point of view in which he muses about why he is in total True Love with Ceony, and one of the main reasons (hold on to something, please!), is that she’s a good cook. I mean fine, I enjoy a good meal as much as the next person, but I don’t fall in love with the chefs at my favorite restaurants…
As much as I loved the idea of glass magic, of Ceony and Delilah running off to secretly portal themselves to and from places, the main plot sets the scene for a very obvious twist. And this plot twist could have been pretty good if it weren’t so damn easy to discover for both the readers and Ceony herself. I simply can’t believe that all the generations of magicians before Ceony have been so uninterested, so strict with the rules of magic, so lame that they didn’t try out things simply for the fun of it. Because the big secret that Ceony discovers… about 500 people should have accidentally discovered it before her. This doesn’t make some action-y scenes any less exciting or fun, but the book also still suffers from the same problems the first volume had. With the added bonus that the magic system in general is not new anymore, so glass magic is really this book’s strongest point.
The time period is all over the place again, and a quick trip to Belgium ensures that Holmberg exposes her lack of research even more. Who cares what the fashion was like in England at the time, or how people spoke, how they lived? We meet Ceony’s family who seems more American than the poor English family they’re supposed to be. There’s more casual talk of guns and fashion and make-up bags, and it didn’t gel at all because everything was picked together without the slightest bit of thought on the author’s part. If it were only language and skirt lengths I could have overlooked it, but this extends to class differences, to women’s roles in life, to everything. I mean, women can become magicians without any problem or social stigma – we have seen this in the first book – but then even if they have their own profession, they’re still expected to mainly exist for feeding their husband. Which of course they need… because why?
Another thing I noticed was that one of the villains of the story is Indian. He is the only Indian man I have met in these books so far, and he is a psychopath crazy killer… Given that the rest of the cast is overwhelmingly white, I wonder at the decision to make the creepy villain Indian. There are also some strange comments throughout the books the expose stereotypes galore. Any man who can’t cook, accodring to Ceony, needs a wife (because, gals, that’s our main job – feeding our husband), and she promptly decides to set up said man with her friend Delilah… never mind if they actually like each other. Ceony likes both, so naturally, they must be set up so Delilah can cook for him and he can.. erm… be a man I guess. I don’t know.
So you see, in many respects this book was worse than The Paper Magician, but being tired and exhausted and unable to think very hard at the moment, I decided to switch off the critical part (as well as most others) of my brain and focus on the plot and the action. And that is the one thing where the series has improved. I can’t say I like any of the characters much – with the exception of the paper dog Fennel, maybe – and the ones that I am supposed to like are so cardboard that it makes no difference if they live or die. At this point, I wasn’t as excited to jump into the last instalment of the trilogy but they’re short books and I still hoped for some improvements. Spoiler alert: I should have stopped after this one.
MY RATING: 5/10 – Meh