The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg: Book Review

I have an affiliate relationship with and Malaprop's Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC. I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you purchase merchandise through links on my site. Read more on my affiliate page.
Cover of The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

4 Stars

Ceony Twill has put herself through magic school in only a year when most people take two. She’s a smart girl and she’s hoping that her magic will be based on metal. She wants to design weapons and machines and things that matter. Instead, she gets paper. Boring old, get-it-wet-and-it-falls-apart paper. She’s crushed. She hopes there’s been a mistake. But the powers-that-be say that a balance must be kept so they assign a certain number of students to paper because, let’s face it, no one is volunteering for it. Ceony resignedly sets out for her apprenticeship with Magician Emery Thane.

Once she gets there, she settles in well enough. Thane is a kind teacher and a talented magician. So when his ex-wife shows up and literally steals the beating heart from his chest, Ceony decides she has to save him. She sets out with her few learned paper magic skills to face the ex-wife, an Excisioner whose magic is based on manipulating flesh.

This sounded promising but it also sounded like it could go very wrong. One of my friends loaned it to me, saying, “You’ll love it, I promise.” For two people who are confirmed bibliophiles, our tastes don’t overlap very much so I was still a tad worried. I should have had more faith. I enjoyed this immensely.

I was a little unsure of Ceony at first. She seemed to think that she was just too good to be a paper magician. But honestly, I would feel the same way. What can you do with paper? Fold it into an airplane and hope to poke someone in the eye? It turns out there’s much more to humble paper than I thought. Once Ceony settled in and set out on her quest, she slowly grew on me and I was firmly in her corner by the end.

I liked Emery from the start. He has a paper skeleton as a butler. He gives Ceony an unimaginably thoughtful gift after her first day as his apprentice. There are glimmers of a sense of humor. As Ceony literally navigates the chambers of his heart in her effort to save him, we are shown his good moments, his bad moments, his strong moments, and his weak moments. He really comes to life on the page. And I really, really liked him.

The plot is pretty tightly focused on Ceony and Emery, but the glimpses I caught of this larger world were fascinating. I’ve shelved the book as steampunk even though I can’t point to any specific steampunk elements. It just had that feeling.

I’ll definitely read further books in the series. If you enjoy fantasy or steampunk at all, give this one a try.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Charlie N. Holmberg on her (yes, her) website, blog, and Twitter.

Buy The Paper Magician at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

I love to hear from you! Please contact me (menu bar, above) if you're having trouble commenting.