‘The Paper Magician’ by Charlie N. Holmberg

August 13, 2014 at 12:00 am 3 comments

papermagicianAs an Amazon Prime newbie, I was totally unaware of a program called “Kindle First” until this month. Essentially, it gives you pre-access, for free, on your Kindle to forthcoming releases. This month, Charlie N. Holmberg’s debut novel The Paper Magician is on-offer and I pretty randomly went for it. Free book? Magic? Whimsy? Bookishness? Yes, please!

The book tells the story of a girl named Ceony who, having graduated the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, finds herself apprenticed to a paper magician, i.e. someone who can weave spells and make magic via paper. She’s a bit sulky about this assignment, but being a rather Hermione Granger-ish type, determines to succeed by sheer force of will and academic brilliance. This involves a lot of time spent learning how to fold paper properly and trying to bring to life various origami birds, frogs, and snowflakes. Things get complicated, and significantly less academic, when an evil magician from her paper magician teacher’s past shows up and tries to kill him. Ceony to the rescue!

To start with, let me say that the premise and fully-formed magical world of The Paper Magician are fabulous. I would happily read an encyclopedia (or perhaps just Charlie N. Holmberg’s notes) on the various magics and history of her version of Edwardian England any day. One of my favorite parts of any book like this is the internal logic of it–how the particular magic of a particular book and its world works–and The Paper Magician is marvelous in this regard.

Also excellent is the creativity of the climatic latter part of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t go into particulars, but Holmberg deserves full marks for her imaginative, and occasionally disturbing, second half. It goes on a little too long, but is both beautiful in its conception and perfectly strange in its execution.

That all said, sadly The Paper Magician is often rather less than the sum of its parts. The pacing of the book is a little off, with about a quarter of the book spent easing into learning paper magic and then, suddenly, the remaining three-quarters spent in the thick of the climatic battle between protagonist and villain.

Additionally, none of the characters are terribly compelling. The teacher boils down to innate goodness and dreamy eyes while the both the villain and our hero Ceony have vague back-stories that suggest there are more, and more interesting, stories to be revealed about each later in the proposed series The Paper Magician is kicking off.

Indeed, more than anything, the book seemed like the pilot of a TV show that is going to be amazing somewhere down the line. While Holmberg neatly and quickly establishes her world (although the time period eluded me for most of the book), there is still a lot to be revealed and a lot of shakiness to be mended. Even the intended audience is unclear–is this a young adult book or imaginative fiction for adults? I honestly couldn’t tell by the end, but I suspect I would have unequivocally loved this book in high or middle school.

So I guess I don’t know who to recommend this book to. It will certainly tide you over while waiting for the next Erin Morgenstern or Lev Grossman release, but it will also only make you miss them all the more. The Paper Magicians is many great things–creative, whimsical, and entertaining–but somehow the spell doesn’t quite gel (yet!) and, like a few of Ceony’s improperly folded paper birds, fails to soar. We’ll see where future installments of the series take us!


Entry filed under: Fantasy. Tags: , , , , .

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