4 out of 5 stars.
This review contains spoilers.
This one is intensely cool if only because of the system of magic that has been set up. Those who have read Tamora Pierce’s “Circle of Magic” books will partially recognize a craft / materials based magic system. The main one focused on in this book is, as the title would suggest, paper magic, though other magicians can use plastic, rubber, metal or glass. Magicians are trained at a college and are bonded to one material after graduation. That material will be theirs to manipulate and work their magic through. You cannot switch and you cannot have more than one. Anyone unsatisfied with those choices can always use blood/ flesh magic, but those people tend to turn evil.
Ceony has just graduated and has been told that, instead of getting to choose her own material, she is being shipped off to be taught paper magic, since no one else wants to. Convinced this is the most boring possible path but unwilling to give up magic altogether, she goes along with a heavy heart. She meets her teacher, a 30-something weirdo named Thane, and starts to discover that paper magic (basically origami that comes alive and other neat tricks) may not be as horrible as she was led to believe. Before they get very far, one of those evil magicians I mentioned before appears and steals Thane’s heart. This is not metaphorical, she goes into his chest and rips it out. Think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Ceony decides to give chase and ends up wandering through Thane’s heart (this time metaphorically, I think). She sees his memories, hopes, and dreams and ends up saving him after confessing her love for him.
This was the huge flaw in the book that would have ruined it had the premise not been so cool. The 19-year old student has only known her 30+ teacher for a couple of weeks and it is never hinted that there will be a romantic relationship. We get the feeling they are becoming friends, but then love is sprung on us out of the blue at the very end. Completely unexpected and unrealistic. There time together had been so brief and she had come into it so snarky and unhappy that it grates to have the author try and convince us this is at all believable. It would have worked so much better if the timeline of the story was extended a couple of months or if they had just stayed friends. The romance was way too much too soon for a novel of this length.
The second book I enjoyed more than the first. It was less abstract than the first, none of it taking part in a manifestation of someone’s soul. Ceony and Thane are now facing a more practical attack by a blood magician on English soil. A psychopath is on the loose and targeting Ceony, and another psychopath is on the loose and wants to become a blood magician. Ceony and Thane’s relationship is now a little undetermined, and less of a focus of the book. Most of the book is awesome magical action and it really showcases the unique magical system of this world. One of Ceony’s friends is a more central character and since she is a glass magician we get a good view of another type of magic. It is a bit longer, has more characters, and leads us deeper into the world Holmberg has created.
The writing was lyrical and, except for that one flaw, this was a great read. I really love the idea of magic based around materials and crafting, instead of the classic 4 elements or spells and potions.