Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review: The Paper Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg

We are going to talk about a reoccurring problem I see in a many, many novels (mostly of the fantasy and sci-fi variety) and why it’s so aggravating.

Let me introduce innovative new fiction that goes by the title the Paper Magician. I’m going to give a short summary then get right into the pros and cons. Ceony Twill is a youngster right out of magic school looking for a profession to bind herself to. She has it in her head that she would love to bespell metal but as this particular magical world is short on paper magicians, so she is chosen for that profession by her school’s officials. She’s not exactly happy about it.

Her mentor teaches her at his cottage and she warms up to learning paper magic. All is going well until one day he gets his heart ripped out (literally) by this world’s equivalent of a dark magic user – an Excisioner. Ceony now must go through a perilous journey to restore her teacher’s health, leaping into his heart, and very soul, to save him.


What I liked About This Book:

This has wonderful imagination. I love the (albeit scanty) world building and how it’s set up. I LOVE paper as a medium for magic!! And all the inventive ideas behind it. The beginning has a beautiful set-up; Ceony is a spunky fun protagonist, Magician Thane is weird and awesome and I like how origami is used for magic. Not to mention the precision it takes for each Fold and if a fold is off – then the spell won’t connect.

I LOVE the idea of an untried student magician tromping off to save the day. I love that her animal companion is a paper dog. There is something about young ladies taking adventure by the horns that just isn’t done enough I feel, in a lot of fiction.

I loved the idea of wandering through the chambers of a heart in both a physical and metaphysical sense. That by doing so you really KNOW someone, all of them.

Things That I Did Not Like About This Book:

This is hard, because over all it’s a good book. It’s well written, it’s interesting, it’s got good description. It’s just… it runs into a problem I see A LOT in fiction these days. And that’s when you have an equation of male + female in the narrative MUST ALWAYS EQUAL ROMANCE. Like seriously, can you think of many popular fantasy/fiction stories with a main female and male character that remain platonic?

The ONE, the absolute ONE that I loved, loved LOVED was Nita and Kit from So You Want to be a Wizard but even they have fallen to the OH I’M SUDDENLY IN LOVE WITH MY BEST FRIEND with a Wizard on Mars. I am deeply upset about that.

Let me talk a moment about this Trope – because it IS a trope now, one almost as bad as Rape as a Backstory. You are feeding people the idea that there can be no platonic feelings between the sexes, that sex must ensue, that there can be no friendship when that’s bull. And it’s damaging and irritating that every goddamned story I read with a female lead MUST HAVE ROMANCE.

Surprisingly, I don’t like romance in every story I read. Sometimes I just want the girl to kick some fucking ass and not waste time with BUT I LUUUURRVE HIM. You are also cutting out all other sexual orientations – what if your characters have zero interest in sex? What if they like other girls? What if they like both? Almost as though they are complex human beings with a variety of desires.

There is an entirely different world beyond male + female and reading nothing but ‘there was this guy and this girl, and they got it on and lived happily ever after’ gets really, really old.

I strongly feel that had the romance been taken out of this book, had Ceony remained just a pupil to Thane, then it would have been a much MUCH stronger book.

The narrative takes place in what I thought was Victorian England; around 1900 or thereabouts. What I DON’T understand and made me feel the squicks, is that this young girl (Nineteen, fresh out of school) is sent to board with a grown man presumably in his 30’s ALONE. The two of them, together, in a house alone while he teaches her magic.

This just struck me as inappropriate and wrong and no way in hell would a proper Victorian lady be caught dead alone in a bachelors residence. So that was weird right off the bat.

I really wanted more world building. I wanted more building with the magic system because what was written was wonderful but very short. It isn’t very far into the book before Thane gets his heart ripped out. Then Ceony goes on a quest for a man she barely knows but suddenly loves, and that felt awkward too. And that brings us to our Villain.

OH DEAR GOD. This was NOT well done. The villain is Thane’s ex-wife, intent on ripping out her ex-husbands heart as a souvenir or something. There are a LOT of uncomfortable gendered stereotypes that this skates close to.

Bitch Ex Wife, for one.

Powerful Woman Are Evil and Bitches. Good Girls Always Get the Man.

Hands Off My Man, Bitch.

There is a point where the two female characters of the story ARE literally fighting over his heart, because women be fightin’ over men because that’s what they do, amiright? Can we PLEASE stop with female character’s being called ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’?? Please??

Can we stop with the women hating on one another, because all women hate each other?

The Ex-wife is a very flat villain. One dimensional, no reason for being evil, no background, just I’M EVIL AND I’M GOING TO RIP YOUR HEART OUT because REASONS!!!

I really wished it was just Ceony out to save her teacher NOT BECAUSE SHE WAS IN LOVE WITH HIM. Her realizing that she was madly in love with him felt very forced and uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right and I really wish this had been a journey on making Ceony a stronger, independent paper wizard – this book would have incredible potential if it was just about her growth in an otherwise degraded magical profession.

Like, I could see this as a slow build up to show the world how freaking versatile and powerful paper can be as Ceony, with the aid of her mentor, save the world. I would read the crap out of that.

But this whole I LURV HIM and the ex-wife hacking away at Ceony because of jealousy, or whatever, just…no.

I didn’t understand the whole Excisioner magic either, I felt like that could have been explored in much better detail and used more efficiently as an antagonistic plot point. We need a bigger background on it, more involvement than just the Ex-wife. Like how perhaps, her attacks lead to something larger and more scary than just an old flames bitter jealously and betrayal.

Maybe this is just the beginning of this world, maybe I’m wrong and the author can turn this into a long and amazing series of novels. The potential is there and I would like to read more on this vein. I just had problems with this first book and the ‘romance’.


  1. I somehow never got around to reading Wizard on Mars so I was in blissful ignorance. I has a sad, now. :-( I mean this is Diane Duane who is amazing so maybe she does it perfectly but still, I'd've preferred no romance for those two with anyone. Let Nita's little sister be the wizard who gets the boy.

  2. I was really upset with her about that. I felt like she caved into the pressure of YA hackneyed romance.