- The Paper Magician (2014)
- The Glass Magician (2014)
- The Master Magician (2015)
NB: There is a spin-off book set in the same universe, The Plastic Magician, which I didn’t bother reading because I was over these books.
These books are set in an alternative universe (it feels like around 1900) wherein magic is a reality. However, magic can’t be used all willy-nilly by just anyone. People attend a school and are then apprenticed before becoming full-fledged magicians. In school, students learn about the different types of magic – each kind adheres to a different material: glass, paper, plastic, metal, fire, etc. When students become apprentices, they bond with a specific material. Once the bonding spell has been cast, there is no going back – a magician can only work with his bonded material. This isn’t because of a law or rule – it’s just the way the magic works.
I loved this world concept. This leaves room for so many different side trails of intrigue and interest, and I was way into it. I found myself wondering how this would apply to a modern variation of this world, and I was really interested in how this applied to the everyday lives of non-magicians. But I think this was a case where I allowed myself to get so interested in the concept that it took me a while to notice that the actual story was kind of terrible. By halfway through the second book, I was getting incredibly bored, and I basically skimmed the entire third book just to make sure of how things were going to turn out – which wasn’t too hard to guess, as the entire storyline was absurdly predictable.
Part of the problem was the main character, Ceony. I didn’t like her from the very beginning – and I kept not liking her through the rest of the series. She annoyed me. Ceony is one of those characters who ALWAYS knows what’s best and is constantly ignoring everyone around her and doing whatever she wants because she is SO CLEVER. Clever and ANNOYING.
In the first book, we start with Ceony, on her first day as an apprentice, arriving at the home of her new mentor. Ceony has been more or less forced to accept a position as a paper magician (a Folder) because there aren’t enough Folders. She’s quite depressed at the prospect of bonding with what she considers to be the most boring of all the materials, but while students’ inclinations are taken into consideration, ultimately the board decides which apprentices bond with which material – so paper it is. Because of the dearth of Folders, Ceony is being apprenticed a male magician, which isn’t exactly against the rules, but isn’t preferable. Ceony is surprised to find that her new mentor is (conveniently) rather youngish and good looking. Wow, I wonder what’s going to happen next.
What happens next is that Ceony falls in love with Emery immediately, to the point that when he is attacked she is willing to risk literally everything to save him. And that’s where this book started to lose me already, because Ceony went from “I hate being here and I don’t want to be a Folder and everything about this sucks” to “omg I am so in love with Emery that I am willing to give up everything up to and including my own life just to save his *heart eyes* *kissy face*” She then frolics off against everyone’s rules and manages to rescue Emery completely on her own, even though she’s only been an apprentice for like two weeks. This ENTIRE book could have been made at least somewhat believable if Holmberg had just inserted a sentence or a paragraph indicating that at least a smidgen of time had passed. Something like, “After a few weeks, Ceony had settled into her new life as a Folder. While still not exactly thrilled about it, she had at least come to appreciate some its finer subtleties.” Or maybe, “As the days went by, Ceony found herself reluctantly drawn into the world of Folding, not least because she found Emery himself increasingly engaging.” ANYTHING. Instead, I’m supposed to buy that in a mere handful of days she knows a crapton of amazing Folding techniques, is desperately in love with Emery, and is able to take on – and defeat – an incredibly powerful magician. Ummm.
The other weird thing is that somehow the story becomes all about Emery. Ceony is learning about his past life through his memories… so even though Ceony is the main character, it ends up being this weirdly passive story all about Emery. It just read really strangely and left me feeling incredibly disconnected from the story.
Still. I wanted to give the second book a chance… but it was just as ridiculous. By book three I was just over the whole thing. What really made me just roll my eyes in disbelief is that the opening of the third book informs me that two years have passed (apprentices have to apprentice for at least that long before testing to be a magician). During this time, Ceony and Emery are deeply in love. They kiss and cuddle. They live alone and unchaperoned. And… that’s it. Here’s the deal, folks – if you’re really desperately in love with someone, I do not believe that you’re capable of living alone with them for TWO YEARS without succumbing to temptation. I’m not condoning that or saying that it’s a good thing. I’m just saying that that’s reality. Saying that they had lived together but not slept together despite being “madly in love” the entire time meant that I just didn’t believe that they were really all that in love. It made their whole relationship feel unbelievable.
And that’s really what it came down to for this whole series. Throughout the entire time Holmberg is trying to use this amazing romance between these two characters as the catalyst for all of Ceony’s behavior – and it just didn’t work. Their relationship NEVER felt even remotely believable. I had zero confidence in their ability to make it work long term, and there was absolutely NO chemistry between them. And it just emphasized how uncomfortable their relationship was to me because Emery was in a position of authority over Ceony. So despite the fact that “Ceony fell in love first” and Emery wasn’t “taking advantage” of their situation – just no. If they were serious about not taking advantage of their situation, Ceony should have transferred to another Folder, and let Emery court her for those two years. Instead, she goes, at the age of 19, straight from school into Emery’s house where she falls in love with him – her teacher and boss – and then that’s it. It was just sooo uncomfortable to me.
I really wanted to like these books. The concept is fantastic. But Ceony was completely unlikable to me, and the relationship that is supposed to be the driving force for the whole series was unbelievable and forced. That meant that the entire story dragged and never felt natural or particularly engaging.
These books have their fans, but they are not really for me – despite the fact that I love the cover art!