October 28, 2014


Wow, a book review!

What with all the ranting going around here lately, I'd almost forgotten that I do that. But, partially to blame have been the number of books I've read recently that just haven't provoked a response. I checked out a pair from the library - a post-apocalyptic series, and on the front cover, of both, the girl had a great big swoopy cape and I just... couldn't. No. I mean, I read the first one, but... meh. Because I kept thinking:

Really, character? Where did you GET that swoopy cape? Are you not scared and starving and living under the lash of a despotic scary military-type who just killed your grandfather and threatened sexual violence to you and killed your beau's mother when he was but a tiny child? What, then, is with the swoopy capes and perfect body? JUST ONCE I want to see a YA novel where the character looks as scared and as scarred as she should. Like the ROT & RUIN cover. That character there looks appropriately terrified. But, we can't even get ethnic or ability diversity on covers, not to mention people of diverse sizes so why am I going about facial expressions and outfits?

< /digression>

With the number of books I've been putting down lately, I was cheered and charmed pick up this breezy pair from 47North, Amazon's new publishing imprint. Or, one of several. The novel is imperfect in its pacing, and has some Harry Potter moments - but in more of a tribute than a derivative way, which was good - but has a warmly whimsical - if also bone-headedly, truculently impulsive and stubborn heroine. Two books are available now in Ms. Holmberg's series and a third of the trilogy is in production.

Summary: Ceony Twill is well vexed. What's the point of working your behind off to graduate top of your class in magic school if you don't then get to choose your next steps? However many protests she mounts to the Head Magician in charge apprenticeships of Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, she's stuck. Ceony had her heart set on being a Smelter; someone who worked magic into metal. She wanted to make, for some reason, charmed bullets, which always struck true. Now the apprenticeship offered, take it or leave it, is... Paper. What on earth can you do with paper that even counts?

Despite her less than can-do attitude, Ceony arrives at the ugly, cluttered house and eventually determines that there's a place for everything there... including her. Magician Thane - though younger than she expected and quite gifted is kind - and he just might be worth listening to... at least, a little. Ceony's gulping down magic by leaps and bounds, aided by a preternatural intelligence and a firm determination to make something of herself, to make up for a few scrapes in the past. Her eagerness to learn something is interrupted by danger that she doesn't understand and that no one expects. Can a half-trained Paper Magician make a difference and save someone she's just learning to love? Turning her prodigious intellect and ferocious stubbornness toward the task, she just might be able to change the whole game. All it takes is a little luck, listening to absolutely no one but her own heart, and doing her best.

Peaks: Both novels are filled with those wonderful "new-things-per-page" which worked so well for JK Rowling. Reading the first novel at times felt like opening a pop-up book for the first time and figuring out what little flaps and paper levers will move what - always a fun experience. This is a slightly steampunked London - but instead of dirigibles we've got... gliders. Ceony is not perfect princess material; she describes her hair color as the inside of an uncooked yam, which means it's quite orange-y, initially she's bitter and not at all charming to her new teacher, which would also make her unattractive, in a way. And yet, she grows on the reader, just as she grows to have great respect and affection for her teacher. The extended metaphor of having one's heart ripped out is subtle enough not to be invasive - and a lot of what happens in the first book IS metaphor worked out in reality. It's interesting, and in the end, Ceony's bright intellect and stubbornness win the day.

I found Ceony's crush to be completely realistic, despite its speed -- crushes work like that. I was gratified that it wasn't acknowledged until the second book, and that natural consequences of her personality and bone-headed choices in the second book have taken some of the shine off of it. I doubt the whole thing will be as easy as readers expect, and I'm intrigued by the New Things Learned at the end of the second novel. A secret is best kept with just you and yourself... one other person knows Ceony's secret...but, if things go as badly as I think they might? That might not last...

The paper cutout covers are THE BEST. Classy, yet understated and fresh.

Valleys: A tiny disappointment is that these books lack diversity. Despite the novels taking place in a fictional parallel Victorian London, the exceptional appearance of a South Asian person is so that he can be identified as a psycho killer, and boo for that. As always, if we're going to imagine worlds, why not imagine them diverse?

I found it a tiny bit distracting that I found out about Ceony's backstory where and when I did -- there are hints several times about Bad Things that have happened to her - hints that are supposed to lead the reader to believe that the stories inform her character. Unfortunately, I felt told about them more than shown how they worked to change and shape her.

At Tagis Praff, the magical apprenticeships are divided by type of magician... There are Folders - in paper, Gaffers, in glass, Smelters, in metal, and more - it seems like a lot of fiction has been hijacked by The Sorting Hat. Or Divergent. I don't find my world as easily sorted, but the nod to the types of magicians - or Divergent - and knowing that One Is Bad - one was bound to be, and in this case, they were the Excisioners, who practiced blood magic - was a comfortable and familiar plot convention, if not terribly original.

Conclusion: Debut author Charlie Holmberg has created a lighthearted, charming magical series for readers who enjoyed school stories like Shannon Hale's THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, or Caroline Stevermer's A COLLEGE OF MAGICS and an intersection of London and magic as in Patricia C. Wrede's MAIRELON THE MAGICIAN series.

I received my copies of these books courtesy of NetGalley. Now for the first one, and after November 4th for the second one, you can find THE PAPER MAGICIAN and THE GLASS MAGICIAN by Charlie N. Holmberg at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!


Colleen said...

Not happy about the lack of diversity either - I'm bugged a lot as well by how Caucasian even imaginary worlds can be. (Maybe we need a new hashtag - IMAGINE DIVERSITY!)

But man...those covers!! They are STUNNING!

tanita✿davis said...

YES. The covers are what made me pick them up, so WELL DONE 47North.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I did wonder about these, but I wanted to read your review first (which I'm just now getting to...sigh). Maybe I'll give it a shot if I see them in the library...The premise sounded intriguing, anyway.

tanita✿davis said...

@Sarah Stevenson: They're fun - a perfect rainy-day distraction pair of books and I can't wait for the next in the series. Not perfect, but quite good, and a nice debut pair.