The Paper Magician – Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician had every appearance of something I would love. What a lovely cover. What a wonderful idea for a system of magic.

Ah well. What a shame.

It is, I think, a terrific system of magic – but there is so little information about other branches that it’s hard to know. Paper magic is fascinating. The Paper Magician is sorely lacking.

“Ceony Twill, eldest of four and top of her graduating class”, scholarship student, had her heart set on a certain kind of magic. Paper magic wasn’t it – but will she, nil she, she was packed off to apprentice to Magician Emery Thane to become the newest paper magician. And that’s part of my early confusion with this book: she was at the top of her class, but was given no choice about where she would go?

Another confusion is when and why exactly Ceony comes to feel as she does about Thane, the master magician to whom she is apprenticed. I mean, the revelations about her scholarship are relevant, and a huge point in his favor comes early: “There, wagging its little paper tail, stood a paper dog”. But I don’t think it’s spoiler-y to say that Ceony goes from resentful student to passionately in love, with no transition or warning whatsoever. I found it all a little uncomfortable, both the struggle to catch up to her mood swing and also in wondering just how old this girl was. Apprentices have historically been pretty darned young – fourteen comes to mind, but I think it’s often younger. But Ceony’s age is never given until finally, finally it is revealed that she is twenty.

Which only adds to the confusion, because every impression she gave throughout the book is of a younger girl.

Most of my confusion, though, simply came from very confused and confusing writing. Such as: “She could not have been any older than Mg. Thane. Not so much older than Ceony herself.” The person in question was eleven years older than Ceony.

There are run-on sentences. “She had never considered herself someone prone to worrying, and it seemed almost silly to worry over someone whom she’d only worked with for a short time, let alone someone she hadn’t wanted to work with in the first place, but she worried.” Good grief, take a breath.

There are vaguely specific yet baffling descriptions. “She wore two-inch gray heels that fastened with two cords around her ankles.” Two cords per ankle? “The front doors did look like they were meant to open via the mouselike hinges” – mouselike? Huh? “Ceony flew up from the yellow cottage disguised by spells” – The house was disguised, or Ceony? Seriously, it could be either. “Ceony stopped retreating. She would not be a mouse, nor would she be a grasshopper.” How – what – when did a grasshopper become an exemplar of standing one’s ground? Grasshoppers … hop. Was the author thinking of the grasshopper and the ant? That’s a whole ‘nother fable.

There is one scene in which – told to avoid spoilers – someone tries to stop the Baddie from being bad. The someone has a gun. The someone has, apparently, one bullet. Whether this is because it was a single shot weapon or whether someone was too lacking in foresight to load more than one bullet may not have been explained; I don’t recall. And it’s irrelevant, because the gun is never used. I was shouting at the Kindle (or at least making all-caps notes) of “SHOOT HER” … nope. (*paging Mr. Chekhov…*)

There are *sigh* anachronisms for a book supposedly set in an alternate 1901. (Research, y’all. It’s not the enemy.) “They simply phased through her”. Not in 1901 they didn’t, as far as I can tell. “The psychotic woman” – technically, she could be called psychotic in 1901, but I doubt it was in common usage. It’s an iffy one. “Grath and his gofers” – “Gofer” as meaning “lackey” came into usage in the 50’s. The 1950‘s. “Bucking back and forth like a rodeo bull” – did I mention this is 1901 ENGLAND? The date on etymonline.com for “rodeo” is 1914. This is absurd. “Okay” made me twitch, but it’s borderline.

And there are plain and simple mistakes. “Ceony pet the back of the dog’s neck.” *flinch* Petted, please. “The large, molten sun sunk slowly”. *wince* Sank, thank you. “She spied over her shoulder” … What? “The room heaved as Lira’s hand sailed across Emery’s face.” … What? “…Though his name didn’t sign the page” … *sigh* … “She curled her hair with a little more flare” … I surrender.

What made my eyes go very wide was when I reached the acknowledgements at the end and saw “Thank you to Brandon Sanderson, the best writing teacher any aspiring author could have…”

Oh dear. Maybe that’s some clue as to why I never got into his solo work.

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