I won’t say that The Paper Magician trilogy (by Charlie Holmberg) were the greatest books I’ve ever read. They’re not even really the greatest books I’ve read recently—although, possibly the greatest books I’ve read recently for the first time, if recently is in the past few months alone, and doesn’t take short story collections into consideration, and also doesn’t include the third in this trilogy. I will, however, say that The Paper Magician was AWESOME, and if you like fantasy lit at all, it’s a fun read to give a try, especially if you have a kindle and can buy it for like $2 on Amazon RIGHT NOW, or if you have Kindle Unlimited and can read it for free. I read it in a day—less than a day, even, because I was a third of the way into the second book, The Glass Magician, by the time I went to bed. I will say that the third book, The Master Magician, was not my fave, and if the first book had been like the third book, I probably wouldn’t have continued reading.
The next part of the review doesn’t contain spoilers, but it also doesn’t NOT contain spoilers, so I would proceed with caution if you don’t like plots moderately revealed. Again, I will be talking about the plot in the NEXT PARAGRAPH, so do not continue if you don’t want to read it—just go read The Paper Magician and then come back ;D
So, as a trilogy, it holds up pretty well. The books are very short, and the plot is very simple. There isn’t much depth, or intrigue, or twisty turnies. It’s a good, simple story about magic and people using it. My favorite part about this trilogy is the universe that Holmberg creates for it. Magic is based off of only man-made materials, which is unusual for fantasy, and which opened the door for a lot of creativity on Holmberg’s part. She did not disappoint. In the universe, there are several different categories of magic, and all magic must be cast through some sort of man-made material—the catch is that the caster must choose one material, and “bond” with it for the rest of his or her life.
Ceony, the main character, does not want to be a paper magician (Folder), but is pushed there by her magic school because lol no one else wants to be a Folder either so people started getting forced. Even though Ceony graduated TOP IN HER CLASS, she somehow managed to not get to choose her medium. I was willing to accept/ignore that though, because we see others thrown into Folding as well. The opening chapter sets up a great scene of Ceony as a sort of prissy schoolgirl who is confident in her knowledge, and who is Not Pleased that she will be apprenticing under an eccentric Folder with a paper skeleton butler.
After this, we learn about Excisioners, who bond with blood, and it is pretty obvious where the plot will go from there. I will say, though, that the actual specifics of the plot in the first book were PRETTY AWESOME. It went from whimsical to HOLY SHIT so fast. I would ABSOLUTELY 100% RECOMMEND picking up this book, especially while it’s on sale on Amazon.
The second book was also good. The one complaint I usually have about trilogies is that the first one is a complete story, and then the second and third are bridged together by another arc. I did not feel this way reading this trilogy. All of the books had a complete arc, but they were threaded together, and the first one would not have been complete without the third. My issue with it was that the plot was very simple. The only one that felt more like a short novel and less like a long novella was the third, because there was more than one action phase. The first book dove right into the action the first time that it was brought up. The second one sort of gave you an intro, but it was also pretty heavy on getting it all done right away. The third one—which, I think was actually the shortest, although it’s hard to tell when reading an e-book—had the most carefully laid structure, I thought.
Unfortunately, I also hated the third one, which brings me to the problems I had with the books:
- I didn’t think Ceony was a perfect Mary Sue character (which is good, obviously). She had a strong personality, which naturally comes with flaws, a la Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec, who is clearly a perfect human but is also clearly insane. But then to give her depth, the author arbitrarily decided that she had a fear of water? There did not seem to be any backstory for this fear—or if there was, it was so brief that I didn’t make note of it as being important—and it just seemed there to pop up when it was least convenient for Ceony. It was like Indiana Jones and snakes. And it was debilitating! Why?? Why was it so important??? I still don’t know.
- There was only one POC and…he was a villain? Ummmmmmmm. This issue was sort of resolved in the end, but by “sort of resolved,” I mean that a few other extraneous POC appeared and were not bad guys.
- The romance was terrible. So, so terrible. In book one, I was totally on board with it. I was like YEAH. BRING ON THIS SLOW BURN. But then she was like nope. And by the third book, they were all lovey dovey and it was horrible. It ruined the male lead for me, and also Ceony a little bit.
- It seemed like, in book 3, she was trying to throw in some sideplots, which I mentioned above as making it more novel-like, but they were stupid. In book 2, she had a friendship and a plot, and that was cool, but the random personal side plot in book 3 was contrived, and resolved in a stupid, contrived way. It was like a Hallmark movie (which I love, but not when I’m reading cool fantasy lit about blood magic and badass origamists…origami-ists? Idk).
- Ceony’s backstory was good, for the most part, but then there were two things that just sent it over the top. I’d have been willing to forgive one or the other, but to include both just seemed like prying for sympathy, and I didn’t believe that both had happened. ESPECIALLY since only one of them seemed to really affect her. So tbh, I kind of just ignored the other backstory.
So, aside from those 5 things, the first two books were a pretty awesome read. I loved how it went from whimsy to WTF in such a quick, unexpected way and didn’t make me feel blindsided by it. I am definitely interested in picking up another book by this author, though honestly, this whole experience might have been improved if I hadn’t read the third book. But it was short, and I paid for it, so I did.
3.5 out 5 stars. Would have been 4 if the third book didn’t exist, though.