These are Reviews: The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Try New Books)

January 07, 2015

Source: Goodreads
NOTE: If you're just here for the review, skip the first six paragraphs unless you want to read amateur life philosophizing.

If anyone's been creeping on my Goodreads feed lately, you'll have noticed I shelved both The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician, two-thirds of Charlie N. Holmberg's Magician trilogy, in rapid succession. First, I'd like to say thank you to my Kindle Voyage (you beautiful gadget, you) and its accompanying free trial of Kindle Unlimited. (Nope, not an Amazon employee, just moderately in love with my e-reader.) Without it, I never even would have given these books a shot, despite the fact that I know at least one other book blogger quite liked the first installment.

Because, see, I have this thing. I tend to gravitate toward heavy books—for example, nearly 30% of last year's reading dealt directly with tough topics: racism, sexism, abortion, FGM. To me, that percentage should be even higher. A large part of why I read is to learn more about the world around me, particularly the parts we'd rather minimize or ignore altogether. If there's nothing else I can do (and I certainly hope to do more, in my career and personal life), I at least want to bear witness. I also like to read the classics, as my Classics Club list shows.

When it comes to my lighter reads, I tend to be much choosier. One might even call me a snob (according to this piece, definitely call me a snob). I want to know it's well-regarded before diving in. I want it to be a book I wouldn't feel embarrassed to hold up for inspection when someone asks, "What're you reading?" (Yes, I'm choking on my own pretension, thanks for asking.)

Enter my Kindle Unlimited trial, and my noticing that both The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician were freebies with my membership. I'd had a grand old time reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette (review here) over my vacation and, sensing that I wasn't quite ready to pick up my Heavy Book Mantle again, I downloaded both novels.

Source: Goodreads
And you know what? They were GOOD. Not groundbreaking, not mind-bending, not even altogether original stories, but a really good time to read. There I had been, ready to write them off as young adult fluff, and while they're definitely lighter than what I'm used to, I've never had so much fun being proven wrong. It made me wonder why I'm so worried about only reading the good or the heavy. If I want to read those (and I will), great! If I want to have fun, well, why shouldn't I? Reading shouldn't be a chore. I have enough of those to do already.

Once again, I have Karsyn to thank for this attitude shift. She makes no bones about the fact that she reads for fun and is more than happy to tread off the beaten path in search of great books. The next time I hesitate before trying a book that sounds interesting because it isn't a timeless classic or one that's already been reviewed dozens of times by other bloggers, I'll think of her. Thanks, gal. I can't promise I'll never be choosy again, but, good lord, I don't want to be this guy.

(P.S. for Karsyn: I totally downloaded Timebound at your behest, and it's fun so far!)

All right, fundamental mindset change covered. Now, the review-y part:

The first two novels in Holmberg's Magician trilogy follow the story of Ceony Twill, an aspiring magician about to embark on the apprenticeship that will forever bond her to her material of choice. Well, sort of—one of her instructors has assigned her to become a Folder, because paper magic has fallen out of style. She dreads her fate until meeting her mentor, Magician Emery Thane, the handsome, mysterious weirdo with a much darker past than Ceony could have anticipated. Both books take us on action-packed adventures, with Ceony leading the charge on dispelling the demons from Emery's past and finding her way into his heart (sometimes literally) in the process.

Ceony is such a refreshing female lead. She doesn't break all the stereotypes by any means, but I also think that trying to completely invert typical feminine tropes would lead to an unbelievable character. She just has spunk. She doesn't take crap from anyone, and she doesn't wait around for anyone else to handle problems for her. In fact, she sometimes seems like the only one in the books even willing to try. As she says herself, she doesn't want to be "the mouse" in any situation, and definitely not the dangerous ones.

Also, Emery manages to sum up my greatest life struggle in about three sentences:
“I think life would be much . . . simpler . . . if a man could believe in one solid thing,” he answered, still not looking at her. “Bits and pieces here and there do no good for a man’s soul. Thinking all of it is right or all of it is wrong does no good, either. Just as a magician cannot work all materials. He must choose one. But how does he know? How do these people believe in this faith, but not the others? Yet they are happy.”
If you figure it out, dude, give me a call.

That said, these books aren't perfect. There are definite plot holes (how did Emery know that Ceony got her scholarship revoked in order to sponsor her in the first place?), and Holmberg has her favorite words—I probably never need to see the word 'astute' in print again. More SPOILER-y qualms: I really hate the trope of, "Ooh, let's bring in a new character solely for this one plot device and then kill her off." Poor Delilah, I barely knew ya. 

Without giving too much away, it seems other folks were pretty displeased with the romantic part of the novel. While it was definitely cliché, our protagonist is also 19 (in Glass, 20). I'd be lying a hundred times over if I said I didn't "fall in love" at the drop of a hat at that age (and still sometimes do now, oops). If anything, I'm more surprised at the fact that Emery (supposedly ten years older) returns the infatuation so quickly. I guess living alone will do that to you.

Overall, The Paper Magician was the stronger story of the two. Glass loses half a star for needlessly killing off characters and its irritatingly hot-and-cold male lead (seriously, Emery, you can't fall asleep with Ceony and then tell her she has the wrong idea). I will definitely be on the lookout for The Master Magician, due out this year.

Has anyone else read the first two installments in the Paper Magician trilogy? Anyone else has a change of heart about how they choose their books? Anyone else upset by what a snob I am? Talk to me!

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  1. Ahhhhh, I'm glad that I've done something to help your attitude shift. :) I'm so glad that you are trying more. It's like me, I started trying more at the beginning of the year, after Shadow of the Wind. But I guess I'm your complete opposite, I've never read a classic (unless And Then There Were None is considered one, I read and loved that), or at least not since HS and I hated it when they made me read that stuff.

    I'd love to know how someone so young gravitates towards such big books and topics. I couldn't read anything heavy like some of the topics that you mentioned. I don't like books that could make me cry, or make me mad. I like books that put a smile on my face. The world is sad and miserable enough to me, to read stuff like that.

    I don't consider you a snob tho. To me, someone who is a snob is someone that looks down on others for what they like and you haven't done that to me at least. I'll never read a classic, and I'll only read for fun, but you don't make me feel bad because our opinions differ. You just like what you like, and that's ok. BUT it's great that you are realizing there is other good stuff out there. I did as well. Previously I'd say I really only had read suspense or romantic suspense, and now I will pick up anything that sounds good to ME. It might not sound good to you, or to anyone else, but if it sounds good to me, then I'll try it. :)

    I hope you love Timebound. Depending on what kind of "fun" books you wanna read, I can recommend tons. :) I'm all about the fun!

    1. So glad you don't think I'm a snob, haha! I'm only just starting to recognize in life that having an opinion about something doesn't automatically make you a judgmental, closed-minded jerk. Yes, I'm kind of a doormat. ;) Like I said, working on it!

      It's awesome that you were able to break out of your usual reads and find so many new and enjoyable things! I can't wait to see what books this attitude shift brings for myself, too.

  2. I can totally relate to this post as I used to always focus on 'heavy' or 'literary' books. I never thought I'd be someone who'd love YA, yet I have read quite a few of those now (with no small amount of help from the book blogging world) and enjoyed them. As you say, reading shouldn't be a chore - it is okay to read light, fluffy fiction if that's what we want to read (and likewise, it's okay to read classics, or mysteries, or heavy books...)

    1. Absolutely agree! :)

      What's some YA you've particularly enjoyed? I'm definitely not opposed to it!

  3. These sound pretty good! I certainly am kind of a snob, myself. It's whatever. I don't have a problem with reading books that are just fun now, but I still often find myself veering away from YA books in most cases, in favor of adult thrillers or horror or whatever. I don't know, I also feel like there's a lot of pressure to love everything and give everything a chance and ain't nobody got time for that.

    I think I'll look into these books, though, despite my aversions.

    1. Toootally agreed on your last point. I tend to go to extremes, so either I'm only reading the 4+ star rated books on GR, or I'm prowling through the library/my Kindle freebies feeling completely overwhelmed by the options, because ALL of them could be good, man. We've gotta strike a balance somewhere. I don't have time to read all the books I *know* I'll like in my lifetime, so I especially don't want to waste time on crappy ones.

      Yeah, check 'em out! Like I said, real fluffy, and there were parts I couldn't help but roll my eyes at, but, overall, they were really fun.