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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Holmberg's Magical World Not Developed Enough to Enthrall

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

All through her years at Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony Twill has dreamed of becoming a Smelter.  Manipulating metal is important work.  She longs to learn all the secrets of the intriguing, exciting craft.  Since graduates are allowed to choose the medium (metal, plastic, rubber, or glass) to which they will bond themselves, 19-year-old Ceony has no reason to believe she will not get her wish.  Until she doesn't.  Thanks to an anonymous donor, she will be apprenticed to a paper magician, of all things.  Ceony cannot think of anything more useless and dull than paper magic.  And now she's stuck with it.  For life.

As Ceony gets to know her new teacher—30-year-old Emery Thane—she begins to understand that there is more to paper magic than meets the eye.  She'd still rather be working with metal, but her assigned medium does have its surprises and wonders.  The same is true of the enigmatic Thane.  Before Ceony has time to learn much at all from him, however, his evil ex-wife rips out his heart.  Left with a dying teacher, Ceony must use all her new skills to save him.  Does she have even a fraction of the knowledge and talent she needs to triumph against a powerful practitioner of the dark arts?  Or will her education in paper magic end (tragically) before it's begun?  

YA fantasy is such a saturated genre that it's always refreshing to find a book that stands out from the norm a little.  The Paper Magician, the first novel in Charlie N. Holmberg's new trilogy, certainly does that.  While the magical world she creates is imaginative and different, it's also confusing.  Its rules were never very clear to me.  Likewise, the characters (especially Ceony and Emery) aren't developed enough at the outset to make me really care about what happens to them throughout the rest of the novel.  As far as plot goes, there's some action to liven things up, but much of the story is told through memories and flashbacks, meaning the tale has little momentum to keep it moving forward.  In the end, while I appreciated the fresh aspects of Holmberg's story, I was disappointed by its weak world-building, flat characters and lackadaisical plot.  There just wasn't enough to The Paper Magician to enthrall me.  Too bad, because I really, really, really wanted to love this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a teensy bit of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence/gore, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of The Paper Magician from the generous folks at Amazon Publishing because of my position as a judge for the Association for Mormon Letters Awards.  Thank you!


  1. Thank you for the review of this book, it's one I've been considering and now I know it's not for me.

    1. Yeah, I really wanted to like it more. It's imaginative, just not developed well enough for me.

  2. I liked it, and I look forward to more world- and character-building in the sequels.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure Holmberg will continue to develop the characters and world in the sequels, but I just don't have the patience to stick around for it.

  3. Well dang! I just bought this one for my Kindle. I guess I'll have to see what I think. I'm so sad to hear it's not fleshed out enough.


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