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Literature / The Paper Magician

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The Paper Magician is the name of a series of 2010s fantasy/romance novels by Charlie N. Holmberg, as well as the name of the first book in that series.

The series is set in a world where magic is a fairly commonplace and respected profession, like law or medicine. All magic in the setting is channeled through man-made materials. A magician begins their career by bonding with a specific type of material (metal, glass, rubber, plastic, etc.), and thereafter they do all their magic on or with that material. The bonding is irreversible, and a magician who has taken one bond cannot take another.

The first three books in the series follow the apprenticeship of Ceony Twill, a gifted young woman in early 1900s Britain, to the senior magician Emery Thane. Thane is a Folder, a magician specializing in paper, and so Ceony becomes one as well. In addition to her course of training, Ceony must deal with both external threats from practitioners of dark magic, and her own increasingly romantic feelings towards the man training her.

The fourth book focuses on a new character, Alvie Brechenmacher. Alvie is an apprentice Polymaker (plastic magician) from the U.S. studying in London.

The books in the series thus far:

  • The Paper Magician. Published 2014.
  • The Glass Magician. Published 2014.
  • The Master Magician. Published 2015.
  • The Plastic Magician. Published 2018.

The Paper Magician provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    Tropes across multiple books 
  • Abnormal Ammo: A Smelter can enchant a bullet to never miss its mark. This is one of their more common jobs.
  • Age-Gap Romance: At the start of the first book, Ceony is nineteen and Thane is thirty.
  • Ban on Magic:
    • Type A2 (partial ban, certain people). Only licensed magicians can practice magic professionally. To get a license, a would-be magician must graduate from an expensive prep school and then serve an apprenticeship under a senior magician. The entire process takes three to eight years. A magician-in-training who somehow loses their apprenticeship is pretty much out of luck, even though they have already bonded with a material by that point.
    • Also type A1 (partial ban, certain schools). While all the other schools of magic are widely practiced and accepted, Excision (flesh magic) is completely banned...and with good reason.
  • Black Magic: Excision, the magic channeled through human flesh, is presented as this. Even though it could conceivably be used to heal people, everyone who practices it seems to invariably descend into Mad Doctor territory or worse.
  • Blood Magic: A major part of Excision. In the first book alone, we see blood-fueled spells to blast enemies backwards, teleport, divine someone's location, heal yourself...the list goes on.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Used constantly to refer to the schools of magic, their practitioners, and the use of magical powers. Anyone can fold a sheet of paper, but only a Folder trained in Folding can Fold a sheet of paper.
    • Here is a list of the materials that can be manipulated by magicians, and the name of the school dedicated to each: Paper has Folding, Metal has Smelting, Glass has Gaffing, Rubber has Siping, Plastic has Polymaking, and Flesh has Excision.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Even though it's confirmed that Excision grants healing abilities, it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that Excisor doctors could save countless lives that couldn't be saved by normal surgery.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Ceony cooks a fair bit, and she's very good at it. Becoming a chef was her fallback plan if she couldn't get the money to study magic.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Most of the magicians we see, as magic is a well-respected profession (suitable for gentlemen) and the training is prohibitively expensive (which prevents most non-gentlemen from studying it).
    • Emery Thane is a good example: while we don't know his parents' social status, he has a lot of money and is seen casually hanging around outside of Parliament.
    • Unusually for this trope, female magicians seem to be as common and respected as male ones. In late Victorian / early Edwardian England, no less.
  • Human Resources: Excision again. Practitioners will mutilate and dissect innocent victims to increase their own power.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All of the books are called "The [X] Magician".
  • Job Title: Each book appears to be named after a type of magician.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: A magician who has bonded with one material cannot work with any other.
  • Necromancy: Yet another aspect of Excision. Excisioners can use their power over flesh to animate corpses or parts of corpses, human or animal.
  • No Cure for Evil: Inverted. Excision is the only form of magic to grant healing abilities.
  • Paper Master: All Folders are this, including Mg. Thane. Ceony becomes one over the course of the series.
  • Photographic Memory: Ceony.
  • The Power of Glass: Gaffers can control glass. We mostly see Delilah (Ceony's friend) use her powers with mirrors for communication and Reflective Teleportation, but that's not the limit.
  • Semantic Superpower: Magic in this series has quite a lot of this component. A Folder, for example, can make "living" creatures out of paper simply by Folding an origami bird, frog or dog (i.e. an iconic sign of whatever the Folder wants) and telling it to "breathe". Emery says new spells are developed experimentally, by trial and error, but still.
    • This is also how Excision was invented in the first place. A magician can only channel their magic through a manmade material, but apparently flesh counts as "manmade" because humans beget other humans.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Ceony is Thane's apprentice, and winds up falling for him.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ceony has a crippling fear of water. So naturally...
    • In the first book, the villain is hiding in a cave along a steep rocky shoreline, and Ceony has to climb down the slippery rocks and risk falling into the ocean.
    • In the second, Ceony and Emery are in a buggy that plunges into a river. She is paralyzed with fear, and useless in getting out. Emery has to get her out of the buggy and carry her to safety.

    Tropes specific to The Paper Magician 
  • A-Cup Angst: During the flashback to Emery Thane's wedding, Ceony notes "with some chagrin" that the bride's chest is bigger than hers. Every other description of said lady focuses on her busty charms and how her outfits tend to underline them.
  • And Show It to You: Lira shows up out of nowhere and rips out Thane's heart about a third of the way through the book. Ceony manages to Fold a temporary prosthetic heart, then spends the rest of the book trying to get Thane's real heart back.
  • Artistic License – Biology: While Ceony is travelling through Mg. Thane's heart, the book depicts a valve between the second and third chambers of the heart. Human hearts do not have a valve there. note  And this is after Ceony has spent time specifically studying anatomical diagrams of the heart, which gives the impression that the character has done more research than the author who wrote her.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: In connection with And Show It to You above, Thane's heart is beating all that time, and Ceony can hear it when she's close enough. As in, inside.
  • Blow You Away: Thane shows Ceony how to Fold a paper fan that produces gusts of wind. In his words, "Made well, it can give gusts that would embarrass a thunderstorm." Ceony puts it to good use later.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Thane has Ceony study some books of human anatomy, presumably because he found the knowledge useful when building his origami skeleton servant. She uses this knowledge to Fold a prosthetic heart for Thane.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Ceony finds out that both of Thane's parents died when he was three years old.
  • Drama Bomb: The first section of the book follows Ceony around the house as she studies, wonders about Thane's background and what he does when he leaves the house, and cooks. Then a vaguely-foreshadowed villain literally appears from nowhere and rips Thane's heart out of his chest. Yeesh.
  • Deadly Doctor: Lira used to be a nurse before going into Black Magic, hence, she has the knowledge and she has the nerve (especially that black magic in this setting is mostly Blood Magic).
  • 11th-Hour Superpower: At the very end of her long struggle with the villain, Ceony discovers that if she writes something about Lira on paper with Lira's blood, and then reads it aloud, it will happen to Lira. This is arguably a variation on an earlier spell that also harnesses the connection between paper and writing, but the effect is completely different.
  • Exact Words: The explanation of how Excision (flesh magic) was invented plays on this, specifically the definition of "manmade".
    Mg. Phillips: Materials magic can only be performed through manmade materials, of course, but someone many, many years ago concluded that because humans begot humans, people were also manmade, and thus the dark arts began. Now, turn to page one twenty-six in your text—
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: Ceony winds up shrunk down and traveling through Mg. Thane's heart. As she travels, she phases back and forth between the physical heart and a metaphorical heart (desires, fears, etc.), making this an unusual hybrid with Journey to the Center of the Mind.
  • Femme Fatale: Lira has the looks, and her behavior definitely fits in the scene where she convinces her just-signed-the-divorce-papers ex-husband Thane to let her spend the night and not rat her out to the police. He knows she's mixed up in dark magic, but she wears him down with a well-applied blend of feigned regret and seduction.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Ceony tries shooting Lira when they meet in the cave. Lira immediately heals the wound. The gun is a single-shot pistol, and Ceony doesn't have a second bullet.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Ceony initially has a dismissive attitude towards Folding, and would really prefer to become a Smelter (a metal magician). In fact, the entire country seems to have this attitude; there are only twelve paper magicians left in Britain, and so few students are interested in the field that Ceony's school has to assign people to become Folders (including Ceony herself) just to keep the specialty from dying out. Emery Thane himself was disdainful of Folding in his younger days, and was also assigned to the field against his will. He got over it. But by the end of the book, Ceony comes to have a great appreciation and respect for the power of Folding. And who wouldn't? You can create origami-animal servants, predict the future, summon gusts of wind, shield yourself from projectiles...
  • It's All My Fault: Thane blames himself pretty harshly for all the deaths Lyra caused, since he could have stopped her (he thinks) but gave in to her buxom charms.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: In each of the four chambers of Mg. Thane's heart, Ceony encounters a different set of thoughts or memories, and converses with a different facet of the heart-owner's personality. The first chamber holds happy memories, the second holds dreams and hopes for the future, the third holds unhappy memories, and the fourth holds doubts and regrets.
  • Starter Marriage: Thane was married to the once-sweet Lira for three or four years, though we're not given exact numbers.

    Tropes specific to The Glass Magician 
  • Axe-Crazy: Saraj, who doesn't care about such petty things as bystanders. His idea of fun involves killing orphans.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Delilah, and it's a good thing, too! Ceony would have been in more trouble if Delilah hadn't spilled the beans.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The mirror spells Delilah shows Ceony at lunch come in handy in her final confrontation with the Big Bad.
  • Combat Pragmatist: When getting ready to face Garth, Ceony prepares a bag full of spells, her enchanted mirror... and a pistol.
  • Contrived Coincidence: When running away from the Big Bad in the middle of London, Ceony literally runs into Langston, Emery's former apprentice.
  • Oh, Crap!: Having seen Emery off at the train station, Ceony gets to safety at Mg. Aviosky's house. She enters the safe house, and... "Hello, pet." Grath grinned.
  • Chick Magnet:
    • Dover, at school, was the boy every girl wanted to notice them.
    • Also Langston, surprisingly. He may be a big lunk, but according to Mg. Thane, a new girl showed up at the flat every week. It's a wonder Langston ever finished his apprenticeship!
  • First-Name Basis: In this book, Ceony begins to call Mg. Thane "Emery," even though she's still his apprentice. This gets her some stern looks from Mg. Aviosky.
  • Indy Ploy: The plan to go after Garth while the "adults" hold all-day meetings is... less than well-planned-out. The result is not really surprising.
  • Knee-capping: Ceony pulls her gun on Garth, at first aiming at his chest, but then decides to just immobilize him by aiming at his hip. She never gets the chance to shoot.
  • Mirror Monster: The prank that Delilah plays on Ceony at the restaurant.
  • Portal Pool: One of the Gaffer specialties is to turn mirrors into portals.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: Clemson, the Pyre apprentice, saves the girls from flying rubble, gets a quick "thank you," then... he and the other male apprentices are never seen again.

    Tropes specific to The Master Magician 
No tropes listed here yet.

    Tropes specific to The Plastic Magician 
  • Big Fancy House: Briar Hall. Alvie gets lost in it several times.
  • Blind Without 'Em: A continuing plot point with Alvie. She cannot make out anything except blobs when she's not wearing her large glasses.
  • Contrived Coincidence
    • Alvie's meeting with Bennett on her first trip, then again when she's with Ethel at the hospital
    • On the same trip, her meeting with Mg. Ezzell seems to be this, but after several others, they are implied to be planned as part of the scheme.
  • Chekhov's Gun
    • Alvie's experimental "handcuffs," which fail several times before working on Mg. Ezzell's goon at the remote house.
    • Also her glasses, which are given plastic lenses early in the story. They come in handy later.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The book begins with Alvie ruminating on Mg. Jefferson's mustache, ending three paragraphs later with her calculating how quickly it was growing per day. Mg. Jefferson clears his throat, and has to repeat himself. (See Running Gag, below)
  • "Eureka!" Moment
    • Alvie realizing the wound on her hand from working on the buggy's engine matches Emma's, and that they got the cuts the same way.
    • Several involving the prosthetic project. Alvie coming up with "The Idea" while talking to Ethel, then subsequent important revelations about refinements.
  • Everyone Can See It: Alvie and Bennett. It's almost painful to watch everyone else, while the two continually deny and dance around the obvious.
  • Holodeck: Mg. Praff's famous invention, the Imagidome, is a tame version.
  • Ludicrous Precision: Alvie veers into this sometimes, usually just in her own thoughts.
    "Alvie felt her body temperature drop at least 0.7 degrees."
  • Running Gag: Alvie's tendency to go off into her own head, running calculations and imagining (sometimes absurd) things, usually while others are talking to her, and they have to repeat themselves.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Alvie and Bennett give each other Valentines, on which they have written the same obscure verse of poetry.