I picked up The Paper Magician quite by chance on a pre-publication deal. I wasn't sure, about the story, but I liked the cover a lot, so I thought I would give it a go.
It falls in the "steampunk" category or alternate history, taking place in a Victorian England that has magic academies. Ceony, the heroine of the story, has just graduated from one such academy in one year on a scholarship. She is on her way to an apprenticeship where she will learn how to become a full Magician. In this reality, magic is conjured only through man-made materials. But once you bond with a material and can do magic with it and through it, you can't bond with any other materials. So there are magicians who work with metal, glass, plastic and paper. There are even evil magicians who do magic through flesh. These are called Excisioners.
Ceony has always wanted to be a Smelter and bond and work with metal. However, apparently lots of other people have, too, and not enough apprentices have gone into Folding, which is bonding with paper. So, the headmistress and the powers-that-be have decided that Ceony, because she was so brilliantly fast in going through the academy, will be bonded to paper and become a Folder, without any input from her. And once she bonds with a material there's no going back.
This is one of those stories where I enjoyed it, but I'm glad I don't live in the reality. Ceony doesn't even think about say applying to another school, maybe or leaving to find an apprenticeship on her own. She just does what she is told. She isn't very nice about it, but she does it.
Her new mentor, Emery Thane, seems very whimsical and more than a tad quirky. He seems to understand her disappointment and reticence, but from the other side, as someone who was also forced into Folding, but now it's just a way of life.
I wasn't sure I liked Ceony at all when I first started reading. The first chapter, before Mg. Thane shows up, I was ready to walk away from the book. It could be I'm too old. She's 19 and full of herself and thinks nothing of snooping around and making judgements and she "won't hold with secrets." Oh, please! I think I am too old for that. Later on in the story, she grows on me, as her character grows and the book shows the other parts of her, but in the beginning I'm rolling my eyes a lot.
It is a good adventure story. It's creative. Using paper for magic. And the different ways to incorporate paper into magic. Once the action starts, it's doesn't stop and you're led around the story while Ceony works to accomplish great feats with little or no training.
There were four spots, at least, where I got pulled out of the story and thought, "maybe I don't like this as much as I thought."
1) Another one where I had a hard time at the beginning of the book. It didn't go smooth. Used to, it was understood in books that the beginning introduced the setting and the characters. It was like a nice smooth carriage ride up a drive. These days, everyone is being taught to shove as much attention getting stuff at the beginning as possible, to keep the reader's attention. But instead, it's just confusing. You have to choose what to introduce and let the rest come when it may. Take your time.
2) P. 76 or 75. Continuity. Ceony snoops in her mentor's bedroom and finds his dress uniform and thinks it's a good thing he didn't wear it when they met yesterday. However, the scene takes place two-three weeks after she's moved in. So, I think during revisions, no one caught that. If they just deleted "yesterday" it would be fine. But I stewed over that for a while. Put the book away to read later because it bugged me.
3) p. 170 where Ceony thinks "I know you don't love me. Not yet." Yes, typical 19 year old girl thought process, but it put a sour taste in my mouth. It feels too romancy and one of those falsehoods that women have bought into over the centuries and we need to not let get into our heads and here it is yet again. Brainwashing us. "You don't love me yet, but I can make you love me." Why isn't she thinking: "You don't love me. Fine. I get that. But we're friends and I want to help you." OR "You don't love me. I get that. I'll find someone who DOES love me." But that "Not yet." Just - Eeeeyuch! and
4) Toward the end, after the adventure, a doctor is examining Ceony and she tells a lie to her headmistress, basically skimming over a major portion of the conflict with the villain. That's understandable, but she's obviously covered in blood and has finger bruising around her neck and neither the doctor nor the headmistress call her on that lie. And they're not the types of characters to let apprentices skim over those types of lies. So, either they are blind to details (not likely) or they decided to let it lie (which feels weak).
However, as much as I didn't like Ceony in the beginning, her character does grow. I do appreciate that. In fact, one of the major bugs early on was the whole comment about no secrets. She sees her mentor working on something in secret in the middle of the night, wonders what it is and is kinda nasty in how she judges him on it. Hello? It's his own house. He can do whatever he wants in the middle of the night and it's none of her business. And by the end of the story, she is much more likely to think that. To realize he gets to have his own life.
So, in sum, setting, characters, growth of main character, adventure tale - all good. Some confusion at the beginning, not so sharp as it could be and some continuity details and other things that bugged, brought it down a bit. I gave this book a solid 4 out of 5. I wouldn't pay $14.99 for the ecopy, but if I saw either the trade paperback or the ecopy on sale for $5.99 or less, I'd get it.