The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg


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.


I could have really enjoyed The Paper Magician, if only for the fascinating world with a form of magic I’ve never come across before: the manipulation of paper.  You could animate stories by reading them aloud, see the future by using that paper fortune teller thing we played with as kids, and create entire gardens out of various sizes and colors of paper.  But the nifty idea was not enough to carry this story for me.  While some aspects were relatively solid, most of it was underdeveloped and fell flat, from the characters to the plot.

What Worked For Me

The Idea • • • Paper magic?  Heck yeah.  Props to Miss Holmberg for her enthusiasm and imagination.  I liked how the magic was just different enough to be new.  And I liked that there was a very permanent choice involved: once you decided on a medium, that was what you were stuck with the rest of your life.

What Didn’t

Character Development  • • • When I can’t give you a hint of the character’s flaw by 100 pages in, something went wrong in the planning process.  The summary will tell you Ceony came onto the page “broken-hearted” but that’s a state of being, not a flaw.  How this “broken-heartedness” manifested might point to a flaw, but I didn’t get the sense of anything concrete.  When I got to The End, Ceony looked the exact same to me as she did when she first walked onto the page.  And beyond that, she didn’t have any other redeeming qualities for me.  She whined a lot, was indecisive and inconsistent.  Wasn’t funny, wasn’t charming.  Just there.

The Plot • • • In my opinion, there’s very little plot can do for a character who has no defined flaw, because good stories have plots that directly cater to the main character’s flaw.  (But, of course, plot is like having the worst waiter in the world, who “accidentally” dumps a hot dish in your lap, keeps screwing up your order, and won’t catch your eye when you’re ready for your check.)  I didn’t find anything particularly engaging about the events of The Paper Magician.  Without a character flaw, the events just simply happened to Ceony, and a character that floats around at the whim of external, seemingly non connected events does not a cheer worthy character make.

Writing Style • • • What really did it in for me was the lack of attention to craft.  I didn’t feel there was any real dedication to telling the story as effectively as possible, so this came off as very “first draft” to me, where we got the bare elements of the plot, but it hasn’t been delved into and the meatier parts dragged to the surface and polished up.  There was far too much telling, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it didn’t seem like a deliberate choice, and so it came off as sloppy to me.


A very disappointing read, and not a series I will be continuing with.  Perhaps, if Charlie Holmberg starts a new series a few years down the road, I’ll take a look.  But for now, I’m good where I am.

Book Info

224 pages • Book 1 • Published September 2014 by 47North


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