Charlie N. Holmberg – The Master Magician

I’ve been putting this off for a while… at first I didn’t know what to write, then I wasn’t sure if I should waste a post about this at all. Should I tell you about all the ways this book is a fail? Or focus on just one or two? Should I just leave it altogether? But the completionist in me refused to stop reading after book 2, and after pushing through the entire trilogy, I feel I can do you, dear readers, a service by warning you. If you want brainless entertainment, the first book is okay. But do yourselves a favor and just stop after that.

master magicianTHE MASTER MAGICIAN
by Charlie N. Holmberg

Published by: 47North, 2015
Ebook: 226 pages
Series: The Paper Magician #3
My rating: 2/10

First sentence: Ceony, wearing her red apprentice’s apron over a ruffled blouse and plain brown skirt, stood on her tiptoes on a three-legged stool and stuck a square of white paper against the east wall of the Holloways’ living room, right where the wall met the ceiling.

Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she’s kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She’s discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own — an ability long thought impossible.
While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final magician’s exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another paper magician for testing, a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony’s past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined.

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Oh boy. Let’s just get all the terrible problems out of the way before my head explodes. The lack of research for the historical period from the first two books continues here. Everything feels so very modern, so very American, that I kept wondering why the author wanted to set this in London and in the past. She clearly didn’t care enough to have anyone proof read the book to find all the glaring anachronisms. That is the least of this book’s problems, though.

Ceony, who was plucky and fun an in the first book, albeit a walking, talking stereotype, has now gone full-on idiot. Not only does she do forbidden and dangerous things – after TWO books of exactly this behaviour almost getting her killed and actually getting her friend killed – seriously, does this woman never learn? She may talk like a modern day woman but her ideas of gender roles are straight out of the stone ages. Women cook, men do… everything else I guess? Women, of course, are also supposed to be beautiful, but only so long as Ceony approves of their type. She shows distate on several occasions when other women act stereotypically feminine (wearing frilly dresses, giggling, being girly), but when she herself turns all 50ies wife or giggles, it’s okay. You know why? Because she is SPECIAL!

The story here is not just lame, it’s even lame in-universe. The villain from the second book – remember, the only Indian person in a cast so very, very white – has escaped and is now the villain of book number three. He is a villain because… the plot calls for something to fight, apparently. He has no agency, no personality, no motives – all he has is dark skin, an accent, and a desire to do evil for evil’s sake. I can let a lot of things slide but when an author so clearly doesn’t take the time to question what she writes, when research is deemed unnecessary, the book that comes out of this reads as if a five-year-old wrote it. And I’d hazard a guess that my imaginary five-year-old could have at least come up with a more interesting (and less offensive) villain. Hell, why not put a big monster in there for Ceony to fight?

Even if I could ignore all of that (which I couldn’t), the author decided to overhaul her entire magic system. Sure, Ceony found out in the previous book what NOBODY HAS FOUND OUT BEFORE: that magicians can break their bond to their chosen material and switch between materials as they wish. All they need to do is say some words… if this weren’t stupid enough already, suddenly Ceony can not only bond to all man-made materials – which was the whole premise of this trilogy – but to fire. I don’t know about you, but my interpretation of fire is not exactly that it’s a man-made material. Yeah, we can strike a match and “make fire” but it’s not the same as paper, plastic, or steel. This was a major moment of fail that breaks the entire internal logic (haha!) of the series.

If, at this point, I had cared about any of the characters, I would probably still have groaned and rolled my eyes at the blatantly obvious ending. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal. Because that’s the one thing Ceony needs, right? For her master magician to finally make a married woman out of her, so she can cook his meals officially, without society frowning upon it. Her discovery of new magic, her job application to the crime department, those are just background. What she really needs is other people’s approval for her need to feed her man.

So, the bad stuff is out of the way. That leaves me with – nothing. Sorry. Everything in this book is a mess. There is no plot, there are no stakes, there is nothing I cared about, and nobody I wasn’t annoyed with. Be it the forcefully inserted story about Ceony’s jealous younger sister, the pretend difficulty of her magician test (come ON, it’s all sooooo obvious, a baby could solve it!) or the hunt for the villain. There are the soppiest of soppy moments, there is the lame and unoriginal love story, there is no substance whatsoever. My God, am I glad that this is now over.

MY RATING: 2/10 – So very, very bad!

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