“The Glass Magician” is the second installment in “The Paper Magician” trilogy. In this story, we continue with the whimsical magical world that Holmberg has created in London’s past. This story picks up about three months after the events of the first book and starts pretty much right where we left the main character, Ceony: pining after her teacher, Emery. The first book left a lot of holes when it came to what materials can and can’t be enchanted by magicians as well as never really explaining if having the propensity to learn these skills is something you’re born with or if literally anyone can learn any magic they want. The book hints that it’s the later but that it’s illegal to do so, but that just felt far too flimsy given that only one or two Smelter’s (magicians who can manipulate metal) are in the police force. If you had a force of police who were Smelter’s that could enchant bullets to only hit their targets, then why wouldn’t you? But I digress. Ultimately, I still enjoyed this fast read, but not as much as the first book.
First, I still enjoy the whimsy of this world and the inherent charm that Folding has. When you have an enchanted paper dog happily following Ceony about, it’s kind of hard not to enjoy the quaintness that comes with that. But it’s still paper, it’s still a pretty “weak” magical ability. Or it should be. It never quite comes off that way as Emery and Ceony are able to make paper explode like bombs or make the air fluctuate around someone so drastically that it disorients them and gives them massive headaches. And that’s only a taste of some of the improbable things these paper magicians can do. Regardless of there being magicians with arguably more powerful material they can manipulate, paper always beats scissors and that just doesn’t feel right.
This is most apparent when we meet the villain, an illegal glass magician who wishes he was an Excisioner (blood magic). Apparently, glass magicians, Gaffers, can walk through mirrors. Yes, like Alice in Wonderland walk through mirrors. Why London still has trains and buggies instead of mirror transportation systems run by Gaffers, is beyond me. It always felt like Holmberg kept those elements merely to remind the reader that this world occurs in the early 1900’s, a choice that is still unnecessary in this book as the location doesn’t feel like London, nor does the era even make much of a difference except in the few instances where Ceony comments that a skirt that ends just above the knee is shamefully short. Anyway, point is, paper still beats glass, if but barely.
This entire book is a cat and mouse game between Ceony and the Gaffer as Ceony falls victim to the classic hero trope of “I have to do this alone and not tell anyone the things I’m doing even though all the professionals have told me not to do this very dangerous thing”. Needless to say, it doesn’t turn out well for Ceony or her friends and it leaves you wondering why she did it at all with how catastrophically her plans go. That’s the running theme in this book as well, Ceony doing the things she isn’t supposed to. But, then again, if she listened to Emery or any of the other magicians, you wouldn’t have a book, so there’s that I suppose.
Then, our villain discovers how to un-bond to glass and bond to blood. Something that should be impossible suddenly has such a painfully simple solution that it leaves me wondering just how it was that no one ever figured it out before. So, of course, in order to defeat her foe, Ceony uses the same trick and the book ends with a mild question on if Ceony will now use this trick for good or evil.
Clearly, there are elements that bother me enough to outweigh the whimsical charm. The issues from the first book remain around the magic and the choice to have the story take place in a 1900’s London. The stereotype of a young student falling for her youngish teacher bothers me more in this book than it did in the first, probably because we have a whole chapter from Emery’s perspective where you can see how he views the relationship and that just ruins the mystery that made it endearing. I understand why Holmberg included the chapter, she needed to tie off some lose ends, but nowhere in the first book or before in the second, do we see Emery’s POV so it just felt a bit out of place.
Also, while in the first book Ceony being put in a situation where she had to save Emery made sense, in this book, Ceony is the reason for all the conflict. Her decisions and actions lead to all the action happening which is alright to a point. After a while, it gets frustrating and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the situation Ceony puts HERSELF in. Ultimately, I feel as if this book fell into a pretty common 2nd book syndrome, where it only exists to get you to the end of the trilogy, not because the story could stand on its own. All Ceony needed to learn was the trick about bonding and un-bonding to material, so Holmberg needed a whole story to bring that about and it felt overly simplistic…
I did enjoy the book and it’s an exceedingly quick read which makes it fantastic for reading on a plane. You aren’t going to make your neighbor uncomfortable if they catch a page or two and it’s a light enough story to calm nerves even through turbulence (can you tell I read this on a plane?). So I don’t feel like my time was wasted but I hope Ceony grows up in the last book because I WILL read it. But, given the the above, I give this book a 3 – 3.5 stars. Fingers crossed that it’s as good, if not better, than the first book rather than following the trajectory set by “The Glass Magician”!