Top critical review
Too many plots lines for a short book
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2017
Charlie Holmberg’s Paper Magician series has a lot going for it. The magic system is great: magicians have to bond to a specific manmade material, and can then perform spells only by manipulating that material. I also like the early-twentieth-century-England setting. And the characters are strong: Ceony Twill, the protagonist, is distinct and likable, as is Emery Thane, her love interest and mentor in the art of Folding paper.
But I’m mixed about the books' lengths. They all run about 220 pages, and while that makes for quick reads and accelerated pacing, sometimes the stories feel underdeveloped.
The Master Magician, Holmberg’s third entry in the series, is the guiltiest of this, probably because there are multiple plotlines. Ceony, now nearly done with her apprenticeship to Thane, toggles between preparing for her final Folding test and hunting a villain she thought she’d bested in the second book, The Glass Magician. Either one of these could have made a good tale on its own. But combined, they come off a bit rushed, especially the callback to the old foe. Sometimes subplots dilute a story more than they intensify it.
I’m also not sure I like how powerful Ceony is becoming. Part of the charm of the first book was how she went from being skeptical of a Folder’s ability to do anything useful to being proud of working spells with paper. In The Glass Magician, though, Ceony learned how to bond to other materials. And in The Master Magician, she’s slinging fireballs and teleporting through mirrors. How long until paper is just an afterthought?
Don’t get me wrong—I picked up The Master Magician because I wanted something fast and fun, and Holmberg delivered on both counts. If you’re looking for a bite-sized diversion, The Paper Magician series is worth a try.
Just don’t be surprised if it feels a few hundred pages too short.