The Paper Magician written by Charlie N. Holmberg is a story about magic in Victorian London, although most of the book actually takes place inside a heart. The story centers on young Ceony Twill who has just graduated from a one-year education in Material Magic. At the end of their studies, students are required to ‘bond’ with one material only, after which they go into an apprenticeship with a magician specialized in that field.
The magic in this series is based on the thought that anyone can learn magic, but that magic can only be performed on a man-made material, such as paper, plastic, glass, metal. Ceony has always dreamed of becoming a ‘Smelter’, one who is able to manipulate metal. However due to a shortage of ‘Folders’ (Paper magicians) she is forced into an apprenticeship with a Paper Magician named Emery Thane. And once Ceony has bonded with paper, she will never be able to manipulate a different material.
The ‘Folding’ magic itself can best be described as magical origami. If you fold a crane and say ‘Breathe’ it will come to life. The magic is definitely my favorite part of this book and will make me instantly grabbing the next book the minute it is available. There’s an amazing imagination put into the way the paper can become magical, ranging from a ‘living’ paper skeleton to a paper heart that functions as a real heart. The inventions of the ability of paper magic are incredible, but not so incredible that you can’t believe them possible in The Paper Magician world.
As said in the intro, most of the book takes place inside a heart and this is brought on by the Evil of The Paper Magician world. Magic can only be performed on man-made materials, however in a way, man itself is also a man-made material. Therefore the Evil Magicians known as ‘Excisioners’, magicians who can manipulate the flesh, bones and blood of humans (creepy much?). One of these Excisioners decides to steal a heart and while trying to get it back Ceony gets stuck inside of it.
This journey through the heart is one of the best examples of the combination of realism and imagination. At times the heart is actually a heart, with bloody walls and a steady heartbeat but on the other hand the chambers represent hopes, doubts and good and bad memories, which come to life depending on what chamber of the heart Ceony is in.
The good & the bad
Although I will definitely read the next book(s) I did not like all of The Paper Magician. The tone used in the book feels juvenile at times and the main character is a real bitch in the beginning. Thankfully Ceony grows on you and the tone of the book is not so bad you can’t read through it. One other thing that seemed really out of place where the character descriptions, especially of Ceony and the ‘bad girl’. The book is desperately painting Ceony as this underdog pretty girl who dresses appropriately and even does make-up (which felt really out of place and unnecessary). On the flip side the ‘bad girl’ in the book is described as having ‘a deep cleavage’, a description I thought completely unrelated to the story. However, for me the way the magic is used is one of the main strengths of this book and I would still definitely recommendation it to others. So if you have read The Night Circus and loved its imaginative use of magic, then this is the next book for you!
This review is written by Suzanne Peet and you can read her other book reviews and blogposts at justplainsuus.com. Would you also like to write for Bored to Death book club? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Review Copy attained through Netgalley with special thanks to the publisher 47 North.