Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Paper Magician

The Paper Magician

Charlie N. Holmberg
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
47North, 2014   ISBN: 978-1477823835

For five years Ceony has dreamed of becoming a Smelter, a magician who can power magic through metal. The dream pushed her to work hard in school so that she could get a scholarship to attend the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. This she did, though she suddenly lost the scholarship and thought, for a while, that she would have to turn her attentions to becoming a chef instead. Then an anonymous donor paid for Ceony to attend the Tagis Praff School for a year, and knowing that it was unlikely that more money would be forthcoming, Ceony managed to complete her education in that time.

   Most graduates of the school get to pick the material that they are bonded to – glass, metal, plastic, rubber or any other major category of man-made material – but a week ago Ceony was told that she had to choose paper. There are not enough Folders in the kingdom and more apprentices need to take up the medium. Though Ceony is not keen to become a Folder, she does want to be a magician, so she accepts the apprenticeship she is given, though she does so without much pleasure.

   Ceony is sent to the home of Magician Thane to learn how to become a Folder. The man is young and not at all austere, though he is definitely rather odd. Mg. Thane wastes no time, and he soon shows Ceony what paper magic is capable of, and in spite of herself Ceony is impressed. He makes paper snowflakes that are cold, and paper animals that can move about. He shows Ceony how to bring stories in books to life. Mg. Thane is not warm, but he is kind in a distant sort of way. After Ceony tells her master about a dog that she had and loved, he makes her a living paper dog, whom Ceony names Fennel. Fennel is sweet and funny, and Ceony comes to love him dearly. Quite by accident Ceony learns that Mg. Thane was the one who paid for her to go to the Tagis Praff School. 

   Soon after Ceony joins his household, Mg. Thane goes away and is gone for many days. He sends no word to Ceony and the young woman begins to worry about him. Then he comes home and for a short time he resumes his life as if nothing had happened. Then a woman called Lira breaks through the wards protecting Mg. Thane’s house and she attacks him. Lira is an Excisioner, a magician who is bonded to flesh. Hers is a forbidden craft, and her kind are being hunted down by the authorities. Ceony learns that Mg. Thane was one of the people who helped with the hunt and it is clear that Lira is now eager to punish him. To Ceony’s horror Lira rips Mg. Thane’s heart out of his chest and then she leaves, taking the heart with her.

   Desperate to save her master’s life, Ceony crafts a heart out of paper, she breathes life into it, and then places the heart in Mg. Thane’s chest. By some miracle the magic works and the heart beats. Ceony then contacts the authorities asking for help. Mg. Thane manages to tell Lira that the heart will only last a short time. She is going to have to retrieve his real heart if she wants to save his life.

   Knowing that the authorities will waste time, Ceony makes six paper birds and she commands them to find Lira. In the early hours of the morning one of them returns. It has found Lira and will lead Ceony to the place where the dangerous magician is hiding.

   Using a giant paper glider that she finds in her master’s house, Ceony flies across the country, following the paper bird to the coast. There she finds a cave, and in the cave she sees that Lira is keeping the heart in a pool of water. Ceony knows that Lira is many times more powerful than she is, but this does not stop her from trying to save her master. Somehow she has to get the heart and carry it back to Mg. Thanes house before the paper heart stops working.

   In this memorable, beautifully written and unique book we are taken to an alternate Victorian England where magicians practice their craft by manipulating man-made materials. Not surprisingly, some of these magicians stray from the path of righteousness and dabble in a horrible form of black magic. It is fascinating to see how Ceony, who is so new to the world of magic, copes when she is forced to take on quest that is dangerous and seemingly insurmountable. 

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