Like many of the books I read in the past month, I bought The Paper Magician based on Amazon recommendation, but unlike the Chronicles of St Mary’s series which immediately caught my attention and I devoured the whole lot, I wasn’t quite so sure about this one. It had a lot to recommend it, but it also bothered me in a few niggling little ways, which might put me off reading its sequels.
The magic system in The Paper Magician is very cool. It works on the concept that magicians can only work with one material once they’ve been bonded to it. As the title might suggest, the story focuses on Ceony as she starts her apprenticeship as a magician working with paper, although she’d hoped to have the chance to work with metal. We learn that there are evil magicians who work with blood and flesh, and we see the varied and interesting capabilities of paper.
Basically, origami spells. I mean. Pretty cool, right? That’s what drew me to the book, and it’s what I liked most about it. It was original, and it kept things fresh.
Unfortunately, other aspects of the book bothered me. There was a romance element that, while not poorly done, just didn’t grab me at all and didn’t seem necessary. It was fairly slow-burn and didn’t dominate the narrative but it just annoyed me. I’m sorry. I don’t like romance, okay? Especially when it’s not needed to tell a good story.
My other main objection to the book seems really petty, but nevertheless interfered with my enjoyment of it while I was reading: for a book set in London at the turn of the 20th century (e.g. the very early 1900s), it had a lot of Americanisms. I wouldn’t expect an American author to use entirely British spelling and grammar, but the terminology frequently seemed out of place, and forced me to suspend my disbelief when reading dialogue between supposedly British characters.
You probably want some examples to see if I’m justified in this, and of course I can’t remember them off the top of my head. “Barrette” was one, instead of “hair clip” or something similar; I’ve never heard any British person use “barrette”. Did those even exist in that period? Frequently using “apartment building” seemed anachronistic; probably, for the period, you’d want to go for something like “tenement”. And of course, “gotten”, which is one of my pet peeves.
It seemed odd for a book ostensibly taking place in 1900s London to feature Americanisms not once or twice, but throughout. And as a result, I found myself jerked away from the story whenever I encountered one. Obviously, an American reader wouldn’t have the same problem.
Ceony was okay, as a character. I could sympathise with her, having set her heart on working with metal and having that path closed to her, because I know what it’s like to suddenly find you can’t do something you wanted to do. She’s brave, and plucky. But I can’t say I was invested in the romance.
The book also gets quite trippy and weird towards the end with her literally being inside Thane (her master)’s heart, and while the symbolism there is all very well, that did quite odd. I mean, I enjoyed it. But also it was surreal.
On the whole, the concept of the book carried it through for me, and the magic system caught my attention enough for me to stick with it to the end, but there were quite a few aspects of the book that just didn’t gel with me. So it gets three stars. I might read the sequel, but I imagine the romance element develops more there, so I’m a bit wary of that.