Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.
Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.
An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.
The Main Characters.
Ceony is a newly-graduated student of a magician's school in London who has now been apprenticed to a master magician for training. She comes from modest means, and had to work very hard to get to where she is now -- which is why it's all the more galling that she's been forcibly assigned to become a paper magician instead of a metal magician, as she wanted. Ceony is nineteen when the book begins, and very frustrated at having her choices dictated to her -- a circumstance which she spends some time taking out on her mentor, the kind and eccentric paper magician Emery Thane.
And what can I say about Emery Thane? I don't know if words will suffice. What I really need here is a meme of some woman fanning herself as she swoons. Since my blog won't easily handle one of these gifs, I'll restrain myself and say instead: marry that man! I fell in love with Emery almost instantly, and only grew to love him more over the course of the book. He's so incredibly sweet and endlessly patient, with a lovely sense of humor. It was so nice to read a romance where the male lead was actually healthy relationship material. Er, apart from the teacher/student relationship, of course... but let's be honest, that's actually part of the appeal.
The Big Keyword: Student/Teacher.
This book is, for the most part, actually a fantasy book. The romance, when on-screen, is so subtle as to be nearly missable. In spite of that, I do consider it a romance. Every plot development of note centers around Ceony and Emery and their developing regard for one another -- and later, the possibility of a different relationship between them. Ceony makes all of her most dangerous decisions in this book because she cares for and wants to rescue her mentor, on whom she has a growing (and in my opinion, well-justified) crush.
This being a clean romance (sigh), Emery remains utterly above reproach for the entire book. The next two books definitely develop Ceony and Emery's relationship further, but I'll warn thirsty readers ahead of time that the most you're going to get are a few stolen kisses and some cuddling. I forgive this utterly, but only because I'm just so smitten by Emery. I'd cuddle that man any day.
The Big Misunderstanding.
There's both an external plot and an initial misunderstanding to overcome here. Ceony has to chase after the villain in order to rescue Emery's heart -- but in the process, she learns many intimate details about his life that both soften her bitterness about her assignment as a paper magician and develop her feelings for Emery as a person. By the end, it's safe to say that Ceony has a very different perspective on her magic.
Fie, You Villain!
The villain in this book was genuinely frightening. The whole concept of excision -- flesh magic -- was the kind of delightfully dark edge that rocketed this book from charming storybook to edge of my seat. I found myself jumping at every potential mention of the villain, wondering if and when she would finally catch up with Ceony and how Ceony might possibly survive such an encounter once it occurred. There was some A+ suspense in this writing.
I would call this a clean, kid-friendly fantasy story with a hint of romance, except that its villain is actually pretty terrifying. I loved every moment of the story though, and I was super invested in its sweet romantic plotline by the end.
My Sweet Tooth Hurts.
Emery Thane is just the sweetest, most adorable male lead I've ever seen. I'd marry this fictional man in a heartbeat. (Ba-dum-sh.)
Ceony spends the first bit of the book being a bit grumpy, but as her loyalty toward Emery grew, so did my love for her as a character. I really wish more books had such wholesome relationship fodder in them.
Get Your Popcorn!
This was a very short read, but I can't tell whether that's because it's actually short or because it held my attention so firmly the whole time. I've read this book more than once now, and I'm always so immersed that I can't stop until I'm done.
The magic system in this world was so charming that it instantly reminded me of Howl's Moving Castle. It has a handful of rules and some internal consistency, but it also embraces the fact that magic is fun. I really can't emphasize enough how much I enjoyed learning about the setting. The idea of taking both a literal and a metaphorical journey through another person's heart was such a neat concept, and the execution was everything I would hope it to be.
Why It's On the Bookshelf.
Everything about this book was fantastically ingenious and well-polished. I was totally engrossed -- and by the end, I was instantly ready to read the next one. I've since re-read The Paper Magician multiple times, and it truly never gets old.