The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

I spent my Saturday morning finishing this action-packed novella, and immediately jumped to my PC to write my review of it.

We meet our main character, Ceony, just after she graduates Tagis Praff. She was top of the class, and graduated in just one year. But, her heart is broken; her dreams of becoming a Smelter have been crushed as she’s bonded to Paper. Emery Thane, the Paper Magician she is apprenticed to, teaches her weird and wonderful spells on the daily, and slowly we see her perspective change – maybe paper isn’t as bad as she’d previously thought.

However, her world comes crashing down once again, as Lira – an Excisioner, follower of blood and flesh magic – steals the heart of Thane.

Quite literally.

She rips it from his chest.

And it is Ceony who takes the initiative to hunt the thief down and return his heart to him.

Ceony travels for miles to the coast, where she finds Lira hiding out and awaiting her boat to take her wherever it is she usually resides. However, when Ceony very quickly finds the heart, Lira spells her to put her inside it. And let me tell you, the description is awful. I found myself grimacing quite a lot at just the thought of being inside a heart.

She quickly realises that she has to travel all four chambers of the heart to get to the end and escape – and I liked the authors introduction of different themes for the chambers. Doubts and hopes and dreams really stood out to me, and we get a good look at Emery’s past with Lira whilst we’re looking at his fond memories, but also see how the relationship soured when Lira became an Excisioner.

Ceony manages to escape the heart, with the help of Emery himself, and has to battle Lira on the beach for his heart. It’s quite a nice scene really, well.. not nice. There’s lots of bloodshed, tears and screaming, but it was written very nicely. I was on edge the entire time, and Ceony almost didn’t make it.


Ceony overpowers Lira using some kind of blood magic, and Lira is turned into a statue on the beach.
Battered, bruised, and a little bit broken, Ceony returns to the cottage in London – Thane’s heart in tow. Four days after returning it to him, Thane is back up to his usual mischief, and that is where the book leaves us – ready for the sequel.

So, that’s the basic overview. Let’s get into my actual thoughts about it.

I rated this book four stars, and honestly I think it deserved it. I read a lot of reviews for one and two stars for this book, stating that it lacked research and writing capability. But, I didn’t feel that way at all. After all, this is a fantasy novel, and we’re reading about a girl learning to enchant paper. I didn’t expect a realistic view of London, and didn’t think it was an all-important detail. The setting was pretty perfect for me – we got a really good view of where she would be living, and all the weird paper trinkets that were hung and strewn around the house. Every scene gave a good description of where we were, even in the queasy parts of being stuck in a literal, beating heart. That was probably the best part about this novel, and I found myself quite engrossed in the book purely because of how the surroundings were described. My imagination went a bit wild, and I loved it.

Character development was pretty okay as well. We see Ceony develop over the course of the novella, and become – for lack of a better phrase – less stuck-up about her magic. In the beginning, she is very narrow-minded, set on being a Smelter and absolutely crushed that she has been forced down the route of paper. However, we see her grow as a person and embrace her new occupation; by the middle of the book she has thrown herself into her studies and can appreciate the craft she has been given. That was a super nice aspect of it, and had the novel been longer I imagine we’d have seen a lot more of that. I do wish it had been longer, so we could get a better appreciation for character development, and that is one of my qualms. I’d have loved to have seen more of Ceony’s background as a premise to her apprenticeship, and learned more about her as a person, because really we don’t learn much at all.
The same goes for Thane; although we get to see his past with Lira, we don’t really learn too much about what got him into the world of paper magic, and I’d have liked to have seen how he advanced to be the best folder in England. I liked that we got to see a small portion, but I’d have loved to have seen more. I want to be able to resonate with characters, and quite honestly I resonated more with the paper dog, Fennell.

I’ve covered the plot in the brief, spoiler-filled description above, and I’d probably give it a three star in terms of how well it was built. It’s a pretty basic plot; girl has to go somewhere she doesn’t want, learns to love it, mysterious woman takes something important, she has to go get it. I’ve read it a thousand times, and although it’s a great plot, I really do think the author could have expanded the idea of it. I’m looking for something new. Something extraordinary. I didn’t find it here, but didn’t find the plot lacking. I did like the focus on paper, and the magical elements were very well written, but it just wasn’t everything I was looking for.

So, overall, this book was great. It was a super easy read, with some great world building and a great plot full of (albeit, obvious) twists. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a short, fun read. I will probably pick up the second book, just to give it a go, but that won’t be until after the Summerween challenge has finished on the 6th July.

Plot: ***

Writing: ****

Setting & World Building: ****

Characters & Development: ****

Enjoyment: ****

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