The Paper Magician trilogy by Charlie N. Holmberg


I read “The Paper Magician”, the trilogy, about a month and a half back. I’m not usually a steampunk or Victorian fiction fan, but I do love fantasy and magic and I bought the eBook when the first in the series was free. My memories of the books’ events are a bit hazy now we’re six weeks or so on from when I finished it, but I loved the series. It was time and money well spent (I bought the subsequent two in the series) and I chased the story, page after page, sequel after sequel.

It centres on a girl called Ceony, who graduates at the top of her magic school, only to become an unwilling apprentice in the art of paper magic due to lack of interest in the area from general magicians. Her tutor is a quirky but talented magician named Emery Thane. Her training doesn’t go as expected — just like any good story! — and we are catapulted into an exciting adventure when Emery’s ex-girlfriend (literally) rips his heart out.

Contains a bit of spoiler for all three books.

What I loved was Ceony’s gutsy and solid character. Her witty conversation with the rather scatty Emery was one of the highlights of the book. I had my reservation about some of her decisions (of course the apprentice has to run and chase after one of the most dangerous criminals of her time and survives) but as a young girl with a stubborn streak, my annoyance with some of her attributes mellow to cheering for her when she does learn from her lessons. Having said that, this is one of the recurring themes that I have to fault with the writing: although Ceony does superficially learn from not being so tactless and danger-seeking, she does end up doing it again and again in the sequels. By that point she’s endeared herself to me, so I carried on reading.

The magic is, for want of a better word, magical. The apparently unlimited potential with paper sent my imagination whirling with the possibilities. Fennel was my favourite part of the story. Fennel, oh, Fennel. As a dog-lover, what wouldn’t I give to have something like him! (Hey, no hairs to brush, no poop to pick up, and all the love!)

The pacing worked well for me. Slow bits to set up the lore in Ceony’s world. Medium-pacing areas to solidify the characters and build the romance (and my hate for Prit in the last book). Fast-paced ones to keep me thirsting for more. I’m not usually a romance fan, but I enjoyed the coupling of Ceony and Emery. I’m a sucker for unrequited love — who’d have guessed it, huh. I think one can argue the character of Emery is a bit superficial: he seems to just flick from mild and disinterested or (later on) angsty whenever Ceony throws herself into danger’s way. There doesn’t seem to be much in-between.

Like I said, I’m not a steampunk/Victorian fiction fan or regular reader. But I’m sure those who are will object to the Americanisms in the book. ‘Buggy’ and ‘Mom’ springs to mind, although I didn’t notice them until I’d finished all three books. I just assumed ‘buggy’ were magical transportation, until I realised they were carriages. There was nothing in the book, unless specifically stated, that made me think it was Victorian. It was a completely alternate universe I’d built in my head when I was reading, which is also why I didn’t question the improbability of an underage, unmarried girl living alone in the household of an adult man. I guess that’s a flaw in the world-building because I don’t think the writer kept me in the Victorian world or culture at all.

And I do object to how she thinks the heart has four interconnected chambers. Unless Emery has a congenital heart wall defect, I’m going to put it down to poor research.

Overall, I recommend these books. Loved every page. If you’re a reader who is firm on historical accuracy and setting, these books will likely be jarring and off-putting. If you’re just looking for an easy and enjoyable read, go for this. I became highly invested in Ceony, annoying as she sometimes is. I definitely whooped when she and Emery kissed and swooned during their romantic moments. And shed a few tears when she finally became a fully-fledged magician.


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