The Paper Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg

Caution, mild spoilers ahead.

“But she still had time. Surely she still had time. Stories like this one weren’t meant to end badly.”

I went into the book waiting to be disappointed, waiting for the magic of a good story to fade. But it didn’t.

The reviews and the ratings were not ravishing and this book migrated between my shelves of to-read and not to-read for some time. I had doubts, but the synopsis and the cover were so promising. I hoped that my judgment of the book by its cover (even though no one should ever do it, but we all do it anyway) would not fail me and it didn’t.

Yes, it had flaws. Yes, sometimes the details were too brisk. Yes, the story was sometimes confusing.

But I loved it. The Paper Magician surprised me with a new kind of story, taken out of the typical perimeter set for the YA novels, bound to be about romance, strong almost omnipotent protagonist and the events swirling all around her. Instead, the book has a unique world constructed around magicians bound to the elements. Ceony has hers chosen for her and it is paper. For the next few years she will spend her time as an apprentice with a paper magician named Emery Thane. What a useless material paper must be, you may say. But no, as Charlie N. Holmberg shows us it is not exactly the case. With its own limits, paper can save Emery and that is what Ceony is determined to do.

The main romance line is foreseeable after about 30% of the book, but it is lacking. There were some hints dropped here and there and the vision at the end of the book promises a good deal, but there is no actual romance in this book, nothing that would make your heart swell with emotion.

Even though the scenery is ever changing, the descriptions give enough detail to immerse you in the world lived by Ceony even if it is hidden in another man’s heart.

As many reviews had said there is a bit of a discrepancy with the setting. The book is set somewhere between the Victorian era and the modern times, but Ceony speaks as if she was living in the present days with expressions that weren’t present in those times. It didn’t bother me, but if you love your historical-fiction right to the tiniest facts, than this will be a constant annoyance for you.

The protagonist herself was a rich character, with her own troubles, mistakes, guilt and hidden powers that surprised me and made Ceony all the more likable and strong. She has her own kind of humor and ways of saying things that make her stand out as a strong protagonist. Contrary to her, the antagonist in lacking in compelling traits. It seems as if the Excisioner only does things because she wants to, there is no plan, only determination to give revenge.

But in some ways the story was more about Thane than about Ceony. Holmberg revealed more secrets about the magician than about his apprentice and it was told in an unusual way, through the memories, hopes and fears, rather than through dialogs and monotonous recollections.

I had some questions through the book, for some things I consider almost plot-holes. But it didn’t bother me for too long for the narrative was light and addictive.

The next two books will tell if the whole series is worth reading or not.

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