Summary: 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.
From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages. (Summary and image from Goodreads.com)
My Review: This is the first novel in a series and Holmberg has done an excellent job on several fronts. The novel is takes place in an alternate, early 20th century England where schools of magic are as common as secondary school, and the practitioners of magic are well-respected. The world-building is subtle and well integrated into the story, with the main character acknowledging the way things are without digressing from the story. The main character, Ceony Twill, is vivacious and believable. She has a kind heart without being perfect and with a back-up plan...she could always go to culinary school if the magic thing doesn't pan out. She accepts her world the way it is and so does the reader. The secondary characters are also fleshed out enough to make them interesting without threatening to steal the show. Her villain is appropriately evil with enough backstory to know the villain wasn't always dark.
The journey that Ceony must take is one of self-discovery and serves as the backstory for the other main character, the paper magician of the title. Ceony walks through the memories, hopes, and doubts of her teacher to unravel the mystery of his character and learn how to defeat the evil magician who remains hard on her heels. Though this is the first novel in a series, it does not end on a cliffhanger or leave a reader with too many unanswered questions, though Holmberg wove in several excellent, unfinished plot threads. I can put the date for the next book on my calendar but I will not lose sleep over wondering what will happen next.
I have only two complaints. (1) The continued description of the stifling physical troubles of going through the valves of the heart was ridiculous. Once was enough. (2) I also felt there was a lack in keeping the language period correct, but since this is an alternate world...that can slide a little.
Rating: Four and a half stars.
For the Sensitive Reader: The dark magic performed in this book involves blood and dismemberment as well as murder. Thought this is not dwelt on at length, it is mentioned and could be disturbing to some.