The Paper Magician

The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

Enjoyable as a fast read, but with a few things that prevented me from enjoying it more. I'd give it 1.5 stars.

Because I like talking about good things first: the magic. Granted, it could have been more developed, but I could still get a good enough idea of the possibilities it offered, and of the restrictions imposed by bonding to one material, and one material only. As Ceony discovered what being a Folder involved, I couldn't help but try to find uses of my own for it: what could I do with paper, could books and stories be used for something else than illusions, and so on. When something spurs my imagination, it's always good. Paper magic just looked so beautiful. Moreover, I shall confess to a personal (and somewhat perverse, I think) fascination in general with magic linked to the use of flesh, and there were such magicians in there, which made me go all "Yessss! Here it is!"

Another thing I liked was the tone and atmosphere, somewhat whimsical, somewhat innocent, allowing me to discover Ceony's new life in a "fresh" way. That was a very pleasant side to this novel. The paper dog was just adorable—just like it was a good example of what Folding magic can achieve.

The second part of the book, in which Ceony had to navigate Thane's heart, left me with mixed opinions. To me, it was both interesting and boring. Fairly interesting in how it dealt with having to face a person's love and hopes, but also darkness and regrets, in order to find a way out; but boring because the antagonist had struck me as more aggressive in the beginning, and seemed to take her sweet time in there. And I'm still not sure why exactly Thane's heart was such a prize. For some ritual? Just out of spite? Maybe the answer lies in the second book. I don't know.

I had a lot of trouble empathising with Ceony. While I could understand her disappointment at being assigned to Folding instead of Smelting, I also thought her pretty whiny in that regard, considering how lucky she had been getting into magic school for starters. Folding over Smelting every day, girl, if this is the key to a better life than what you could expect otherwise! Fortunately she came around at some point, but there were still a few moments when I wondered why a character shown as hard-working and resourceful (she graduated within one year, the shortest time possible) couldn't wrap her mind faster around all the possibilities. Sometimes, the magic almost felt "wasted" on her.

As for the romance: not impressed. Unrequited, with too many things about the guy. In the end, I didn't feel like I had gotten to know Ceony that much, as if she only came second. Though her backstory came out now and then, it was always kept at a distance compared to Thane's, and it was too bad. The girl had her lot of hard experiences, which should have shaped her... yet they didn't seem to be part of her as much as thrown in there like an afterthought. The rest revolved about Thane. (And Ceony blushed all. the. time. Alright, alright, red-haired people often have fair skin and I suppose fair skin tends to blush, but it was really tiresome after a while.)

Last but not least, the way the (alternate) historical period was tackled was a bit muddled: for quite some time, I wasn't even sure when exactly the story was set. Quite a few elements looked and sounded too modern for something that, all in all, was supposed to be the early 1900s, and apart from some names, the place did not exactly "feel" like London at the turn of the previous century, either.

Despite those problems, I'll still read the second book (if only because I also got it from NetGalley, and think I therefore owe it a review), but I hope I'll like it better.