The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

I think it’s true that we often to gravitate towards similar subject matter to what we’re writing. Why, you might ask, am I reviewing a book I’ve classified as magical reality when I’ve committed to writing dark fiction in various permutations. For me the answer is simple: I read everything, but I elect to review books that touch on certain elements that I consider to fit within the spectrum of horror-related interest.

The Paper Magician, however, falls a little further into fantasy rather than the dark side, even though I was hoping that the mention of necromancy would carry it along to the places that are splattered with a bit more ichor. There’s oodles of potential when dealing with the dark arts and lost love, and while thematically it should fall into the horror category, there’s still a happy ending here; much as there was a happy ending with the last book I reviewed, The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp.

Maybe I’m being morbid, but I’m really gunning for some serious psychological trauma and overhanging despair with the next book I read.

In the tradition of “books to read after you’ve finished Harry Potter”, The Paper Magician fits in nicely between Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and The Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. These books strive to not be Harry Potter, but it’s inevitable that we often end up comparing any magical school to Hogwarts, if Hogwarts is in fact the place you grew up.

(I did get my letter once upon a time, after all; regardless of how unreliable owl post may be.)

Post Mortem: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician follows the apprenticeship of Ceony to Magician Emery Thane; her unknown benefactor and a practitioner of the mostly useless art of paper magic. There are several disciplines of magic that a person may specialize in, but once you’ve made your choice, you’re stuck with it. Ceony harbours dreams of becoming a smelter, but that falls by the wayside as those apprenticeships are filled up quick. She’s got one of two options: take paper magic, or no magic at all.

She begins her apprenticeship with snark and disdain, and eventually, Thane shows her a few things she’s never heard of in her school books. She comes around, but it’s at that point that Thane’s ex-wife, Lira, shows up and literally rips out his heart. Thane is kept alive magically, but barely, and Ceony takes it upon herself to get his heart back from the Excisioner — it’s a nice term for someone who works blood magic and plays with severed hands.

With Thane near death, Ceony uses what little magic she knows to hunt down Lira, the Excisioner and retrieve Thane’s heart.

We spend the next half of the book in Thane’s heart’s chambers.

Let me pause here for effect, because it was just as confusing to me as it probably is to you right now.

Magic in this universe is a bit wibbly: very difficult to discern it’s limitations. But the point is: half the book takes place in Thane’s heart. Literally. A third of that is spent on flashback and reflection in Thane’s youth, sorting out where Lira fits into things, and how she went bad (we don’t really find out by the end of the book. It went to shit. She met some other dude practicing the bad juju, I suppose. Thane gets a bit violent. It’s all a little unpolished, but it sort of holds together?) Bad magician, bad. Good magician, good.

I’m sure you’ll guess at what I’m about to say next: there are a few plot holes, a few WTF moments, and the characters aren’t wholly developed — but given that this is a series, I expect we’ll have some of those answers in the next few books. The questions remains, however: will I read them?

Probably not.

The thing that did me in was the forced love declaration towards the end from Ceony to Thane. She’s nineteen, and he’s like, forty five. And her teacher. And he’s obviously got a bunch of stuff not contained in the cockles of his ticker that he hasn’t let loose yet.

It misses the point entirely: it treats the range of human emotion altogether too lightly to be plausible, and the dramatic moments are utterly over the top unbelievable.

Holmberg could spoon-feed me some more stuff bout Excision and I’d listen attentively. I’d love to see Lira’s side of things: what drew her in to Excision, who taught her what she knows, and why — in the world of The Paper Magician — Excision is such a bad thing at all. Because you can’t regulate it? Because the magic’s too powerful?

I need a little bit more than good-is-good and bad-is-bad to swallow this particular pill.

Side note: I would really love to read a book where the person practicing necromancy is the protagonist, with all the Machiavellian accoutrements that would come from dealing with the dead and their resurrection and manipulation. What if that was the begrudging cost of immortality — to see your loved ones die over and over again and it was up to you to bring them back, no matter how far from you they got? That’s a book I’d read. (Maybe that’s a book I should write.)

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg in Summary

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergThe Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by 47North on September 1st 2014
Genres: Magical Reality
Pages: 224
Format: Mobi
Source: Amazon
Check it out: Goodreads

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.

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