Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book Review: The Paper Magician

THE PAPER MAGICIAN by Charlie N. Holmberg
4 stars
Verdict: For anyone who enjoys fantasy. Very versatile!
#2 - The Glass Magician
#3 - The Master Magician

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Straight off the mark, we have a unique first novel by Charlie N. Holmberg. She sets out a world which I can’t wait to get more of, and it's written with an engaging prose that hooked me in from the start. I'd give it five stars for imagination, creativity in the prose, a believable and feisty protagonist, and addictiveness. I had to mark down for a speedy romance and the general need for fleshing out, but it was an almost five stars (4 1/2 wherever a rating system allows).

The language Homberg uses is very well thought out and gives a strong atmosphere to the novel. Even the names of the characters have poetic originality to them, and I felt like this place could really exist. However, the novel really only focuses on a slither of the world. Ceony wants to bind to metal, and would even embrace binding to glass, rubber, or plastic, but alas, there are only 12 Folders left in the world and so she is assigned paper. I found myself wanting to know more about these other avenues of magic too, but for book one, we too are assigned to paper.

Ceony is a strong female lead with feistiness and flaws. She’s perfect for this novel. No one other than Ceony Twill would embark on such an adventure, and Magican Thane’s heart is an interesting setting. He’s a man of mystery at first, one who seems amused, quiet, and odd, and once inside the heart we learn a bit more about why that is. His heart is (almost) pure, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been through a lot.

I should probably mention I’m a bit haemaphobic. By that, I mean I once almost passed out in an A level biology class because my teacher used plastic counters to explain blood groups - and they weren’t even red. I found this a little difficult to read at times. It’s not told in a gritty, realistic, or gory way, but there is a fair bit of blood and veins, and the heart filling with blood... I'll stop for my sake. Although it may seem whimsical and similar to a fairy tale at times, the book does take a dark turn nearer the middle.

Some of the action inside the heart takes a more superficial stance. Ceony forgets that she can’t be hurt in some of the visions but, as the reader knows she’s safe, it doesn’t have the same action factor as real action. There’s plenty of real action throughout the book to make up for this, though.

I’ve read a few comments that criticises the portrayal of anatomical elements of the heart. To that, I think we need to say that this is a book of magic and adventure, not a textbook. Blood may pass into the lung etc but the journey is metaphorical, not intended to be realism. The first chamber of your heart doesn’t contain all your hopes either, but isn’t it an imaginative concept?

On the other hand, of all the man-made materials a person can bind to, paper still feels like a pointless and weak option which I was waiting to be convinced otherwise of. The concept of the vitality chain is a bit weak in general, too. I can’t picture a paper chain wrapping around Ceony and acting as a shield, and I still don’t understand how it works. When threatened, the chain stiffens and this seems to protect. How? I have no idea. I still need a bit of convincing on how valuable paper can be and I think some clarity is needed in how the paper chains work.

The other reason I couldn't give it 5 stars as much as I wanted to was because of the romance. I was a little surprised by the love element, and this is something that seems to go for the young adult genre as a whole lately. Just because you have a male and female character, doesn’t mean they need to fall irrevocably in love - and in such a short space of time. Friendship is a little underrated and would have worked much better for this story.

In general, I felt like the book could do with a little more fleshing out. I’m still very curious about what exactly magicians do which makes them needed in the world. It’s all very nice to fold paper and make a bird live, but how does that earn someone a living? What is their place in society? And only seeing glimpses of Thane’s life made it hard to piece together exactly what he’s been up to – I feel some pieces are still missing. There’s room for the other books to build on world and a film to develop ideas further. This book has provoked my imagination and curiosity, and although the series doesn’t hold all the answers yet, I believe Holmberg will cover these thoughts in time.

I would recommend The Paper Magician within a heartbeat. This novel has more charm than most, and I can’t wait to embark on the rest of the series. I predict the story, world, and characters will reach their depth in the sequels – and next week I’ll be reviewing The Glass Magician because I’m already a huge fan of the series.