Ceony Twill wants to be a smelter – a magician bonded to metal. She wants to enchant bullets and send railway lines across the country. She doesn’t want to be a paper magician, sending letters and making decorations for children’s parties.
But she doesn’t get the chance to pick her material. Faced with the option of no magic or paper magic, Ceony reluctantly begins her studies with the eccentric Emery Thane. Soon, she starts to find that both her instructor and paper magic are far more interesting than she first assumed.The Paper Magician is the first book in a trilogy dealing with Ceony’s magical education. These books are short and speedy, so this post is a review of all three books in the trilogy, not just the first one. It’s hard to review just the first book of something when you are already halfway through the third; everything gets muddled. Each book is a self-contained narrative, but slot in as parts of a larger whole, with the same enemies and the same romance. You’d never read just one of them – they need each other to properly resolve.
The books are historical fantasy romances, set in an England that is an interesting blend of Victorian, Regency, and modern society; it doesn’t quite match any of them, which is a strength – a society that discovered magic would not evolve in identical ways to a mundane one. Historial fantasy romance is an unusual sub-genre, if you can even call it that – you get romances with touches of fantasy and vice versa, but very few that are a proper blend of both. The only other books that springs to mind as belonging in the sub-genre are Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, both of which I strongly recommend.
Magic in The Paper Magician is beautiful. Ceony learns to make living animals from folding paper, to create illusions and read stories into life. I am a sucker for magic that makes me covet it – that makes me yearn for the wonder and sparkle of it all. It’s a definite strength of the first book, falling in love with paper magic while Ceony does as well. It’s also important to note that the magic is extremely limited in scope – no one is all powerful, and the limitations of particular disciplines are at the forefront of the action; magic helps, but it can’t do everything.
The main romance is sweet and right, albeit rather rushed. The books are short, and so have to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time, but I would have liked the author to linger longer on the build-up. All the key scenes necessary for Ceony to find love are present, but the gaps between needed to be stretched out – reluctance turning to passion works best if the reluctance has time to settle and then dissolve slowly. In the end, it is satisfying, as the final resolution is delayed to the end of the book.
I have a couple of little niggles about the book – a couple of plotlines don’t get tied up as well as I would like, and Ceony occasionally makes plot-helpful choices that someone of her intelligence shouldn’t. These are minor issues though – the plot is arguably the least important element in a book that is about character interactions more than anything else.
Overall, I really enjoyed these books. I read them in a day, while avoiding urgent work. They’re sweet, and pretty, and satisfying. If you are looking for something light and enjoyable, these are a good choice.