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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Red Rising, Pierce Brown

Caution, mild spoilers ahead.

“Funny thing, watching gods realize they’ve been mortal all along.”

I was going to leave for a trip for 3 weeks and couldn’t bring physical copies of the books with me. At least not as many as I would want to. So, for the first time in years I bought kindle versions of a few books.

I decided to clean my want-to-read and owned-to-read shelves and this is one that’s been on one of those lists for a long time. I don’t think the synopsis really convinced me and I wasn’t sure the book would be worth buying.

I regret that I formed an opinion before giving it a real chance. I think I might want to have it on a shelf of my bookcase so I can re-read it or just flip through the pages to savor the good passages.

This is one of those books that really surprised me. There was action, a bad-ass character, suspense… Everything you want in a good novel that takes you in its grip and doesn’t let go before you flip the last page.

The future that this book is painting is simple but evil.

It has been compared to The Hunger Games, and I thought the same by the middle of the book but P. Brown created something new. It may be another dystopian future, another example of our flaws and habits, but it is also an example of what we might become if a handful few can grab the seats of power and impose their will, hiding the rest of us in the dark for the next centuries.

If I only knew that there would be Greek and Roman mythology involved I would have picked the book sooner. P. Brown used the names of the gods and their characteristics and attributes to show the different battling houses of the Golds, but at the same time mentioning the differences between Greek and Roman mythology.

The main character is not perfect, but deep and easy to connect to. He might be above average in his skills or strength, but then again, it was all built for him. And throughout the pages P. Brown shows us the change in the protagonist, his doubts, his fears, but also his never ending will to push forward. We get to presence his evolution and the adjustment to his new role in the society.

The story is gripping and full of twists. Even though some of the turns of the events are easy to foresee, the story is ever changing. The fluid relationship between the characters and the protagonist is sometimes surprising like with Tactus, Servo and Pax, other times not so much as with Mustang. But the author is not afraid to kill one or several of the characters you liked or started to like, leaving you on the edge of the seat to see what will happen next.

It was a good ride and I hope you will take it too.

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The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Caution, mild spoilers ahead.

“Ignorance is fatal.”

The Martian Chronicles was a book that my dad mentioned whenever we talked about good books and classic science fiction. Ray Bradbury was known to me since I was little and I think Fahrenheit 451 was one of the books that showed me that love for literature that all of us practiced readers have. It was short, precise and it painted a futuristic image that we’ve almost achieved in today’s society. With the exception of burning books… Wait, I heard some priests in Poland actually have burned Harry Potter ones

But I am here not to talk about Fahrenheit 451 no matter how good it was, but about The Martian Chronicles.

It had been on my want-to-read list for far too long and then on my bookshelf for another few months before I finally opened it.

I came biased and I don’t regret it. I enjoyed every last page of it.

Not a single review of this book can be done without a quote that describes the human nature just the way it is. For me there was a passage to be remembered on almost all the pages.

But I am going to try not to copy the whole book just to make the review. I just think that Ray Bradbury saw us for who we are. Humans, creatures capable of adapting, but preferring to smooth the edges whenever it is possible to make our lives easier, to pollute and corrupt whatever we touch but still capable of greatness.

This book is a collection of stories, sometimes a few-pages long showing only a glimpse of a well-constructed and a bit scary world, other times they’re a long-narratives exploring an alien race and their upper hand in the evolution but lacking to foresee the total destruction by the our race. The symbolism of our perceived greatness, but flawed actions appears throughout the book.

The Martian Chronicles makes us ask numerous questions about who we are and what is the reason for our presence here. I just hope that there are more of us out there that are like Jeff Spender or even Captain Wilder than Biggs or Parkhill.

As in any science fiction, Ray Bradbury uses the imagined future it to create a world in which he can talk about what he wants, to describe and criticize it in subtle ways. He succeeds in getting the message across to the reader. The only question is will we achieve greatness or stay a blunt race that will do anything to accommodate themselves disregarding the consequences.

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The Magicians, Lev Grossman

Caution, mild spoilers ahead.

“If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so.”

I read some of the reviews from the people I follow before buying this book. And I actually left it on the bookstore shelf several times before finally picking it up and moving to the checkout line.

Usually I think about it for a long time if a book has a lower than a 4-star rating on the Goodreads. I have enough trust in the community, unless it appeals to me with its cover or its summary. The latter is what happened in this case and oh, boy how I much I regret it.

From the first pages of the book I had this feeling that I have read all of this somewhere else. Harry Potter, Narnia… but well it has been said so many times before and by better reviewers than me.

So let’s start with what I liked about this book. Sometimes I like reading about characters who are all perfect, other times the bad-ass crazy one appeal to me more. In this case the protagonists seem to be real people, who have problems and real feelings, who have relationships that are not perfect and which are constantly changing.

And that’s about it. Now to the stuff I didn’t like.

The characters are so dull. Quentin, Elliot, Janet, Josh… They have no depth. Almost in the ending I wondered maybe it was Alice the real protagonist, but no, I was right from the beginning. It is Quentin.

He is just a person with no motivation, who always gets what he wants and seems to get no satisfaction from it. Which leads to a heavy alcoholism for about 2/3 of the book. There were chapters that were so hard to get through just because it went on an on how the famous Brakebills quintet took all the drugs they could lay a hand on and tried to find their way to oblivion because they were just too perfect for this world.

Now to the plot-holes. The characters that appear in a scene and then are gone till the end of the book seem to be an endless treasure for L. Grossman. Their appearances almost seem to be there to tell you ‘Well, you heard of him/her once, isn’t it enough for him/her to be the biggest hero/enemy of the book?’

The information is laid in front of the reader so he doesn’t start doubting anything he is told.

The little cherry on the top of all this pile of nonsense seems to be the fact that all the narrative arc happens on the last 100 pages.

I wondered for a long time when will we finally know what this book is really about till I reached the 350 pages. For an exposition and the conflict to incite the readers’ attention that takes a really long time.

And it happens again at the resolution, when the tracks for the next book are laid. Quentin has finally accepted his uselessness as a character and he becomes what he should have been from the start only to be swept away on a new adventure on the last half-page.

The fact that the show that is loosely based on the book is already on its fourth season and has a 7.6 rating on IMDb, tells me that the show is better than the book.

Out of curiosity, I watched a couple of episodes and I regret to tell you that the show is definitely better than the book.

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