I recently¬† finished The Paper Magician series by Charlie N. Holmberg. I read the three book on my Kindle, courtesy of my Kindle Unlimited subscription.
- The Paper Magician, Grade: A-
- The Glass Magician, Grade: B
- The Master Magician, Grade: B-
In the first book, The Paper Magician, Ceony (whose name rhymes with “peony”) has just completed her education at the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. She must now complete a two-year apprenticeship to become a fully-licensed magician. She had hoped to become a Smelter (a magician who works with metal), but due to a shortage of Folders (magicians who work with paper), she is pushed into the paper-folding line. She is apprenticed to a Folder named Emery Thane. Emery teaches her the basics of paper magic, which she begins to see is more interesting than she had thought it would be, and she starts to care deeply about her teacher. Suddenly, Emery’s life is in threatened by an Excisioner (an evil magician who works with human flesh). Armed only with her apprentice-level magic and some paper, she sets out to save Emery’s life.
I’m going to try not to give too much away, but there may be spoilers ahead.
The first book ends with Ceony doing some magic that has never been done by a Folder before. The way that she did it seemed like a beautiful opportunity for the author to make a statement about the power of books, reading, words, etc. I was looking forward to that, and when it didn’t happen in the first book, I thought surely it must happen in the second. Since I had enjoyed the first book’s combination of fantasy and romance, I decided to proceed to the next book.
Unfortunately, when the author finally explained Ceony’s new power, she didn’t go in the direction I had expected. Instead, she basically undid the very foundations of the magical system that she had invented in the first book. That was hard to take. It was not just a missed opportunity. It was a huge fantasy-genre no-no. Everyone who reads fantasy understands consciously or subconsciously that magic must have a lot of limitations. If it did not, everyone would abuse it, and there would be nonstop chaos.
Also, student-teacher romances are not so cool. In the first book, Ceony had a crush on Emery. Emery seemed potentially attracted to her, too, but he didn’t say what he was feeling. I like romance, so I wanted him to like her, but I didn’t want him to act on his feelings. Not yet. Even though Ceony was over 18, she was still his student. He was in a position of power over her, so she needed to be off-limits until she finished her apprenticeship.
But, dammit, he does act on his feelings before she finishes her studies, and there’s an ick factor to that. It made me like him a lot less. The author is clearly aware of the problem inherent to Ceony and Emery’s relationship. A female teacher tries to warn Ceony off throughout the series, but Ceony won’t listen. In fact, that is Ceony’s main problem. She always thinks she knows best, and she does not grow up over the course of her two-year apprenticeship. If anything, she becomes less mature. In the first book, she gets involved in a fight that’s way over her head because she has to. In the sequels, she foolishly rushes into danger, against the orders of everyone older and wiser than herself, and it’s as if she does it simply for the sake of getting there first.
So overall this was a disappointing series. I liked the first book. However, the second and third not only felt rushed, but the story went in directions that I think would disappoint many readers, especially feminists and fans of the fantasy genre. I do not recommend the sequels.