After thoroughly enjoying The Paper Magician, I didn't wait as long as I normally would to pick up the second volume, The Glass Magician. It being a brief listen and still leaving me hanging, I tuned in to The Master Magician without pause, and so will review both of those books in tandem here.
Overall, I felt the series declined slowly in quality from the first book, which intrigued me with a unique, whimsical take on magic that focuses on man-made materials as its source: paper, of course, and glass, metal alloys, rubber, and plastic. I was also taken in the first book with the characters, and the start of romantic chemistry between Ceony, a new paper apprentice, and her guardian, Emery Thane. The very hint of romance as a possibility at the very end of the first book, after Ceony travels through Emery's heart to save him from Lyra, his blood-magic-wielding ex-wife, is what made me pick up the rest of the series so quickly.
The romance progressed sure enough in the second and third books, but the tone of that romance was off-putting: it was so chaste, it was barely there. I'm not saying it needs to be erotica-far from it-but even the emotional elements of their romance were very sparse, to the point where I often questioned whether there was romantic tension at all, or if they were just close friends. The passion itself, the aching and yearning, was too cold and proper for me most of the time, and left me confused as to the power of that chemistry. The same is true of the third book, where a two-year-old relationship has been established in the gap between books, but again, there's even less passion to speak of in this third volume.
The plot of the later books suffered as well: the idea of fighting excisioners, or blood magicians, was interesting in the first book, but it became quickly formulaic. The saving grace of those plots were the interesting and unique ways that Ceony, a humble folding apprentice, uses something innocuous like paper to overcome a trio of extremely dangerous individuals. The characterization, which at first I admired, became stale as the characters didn't grow. In Ceony's case, she makes the same stupid mistakes, and takes the same stupid risks over and over again. For Emery, he never truly expresses his feelings for Ceony the way she does for him, so he comes off as perpetually distant. He had plenty of near-death opportunities to realize his error, and correct it before something bad happened to the woman he loves, but no. In the end, even though the ending is "happy," I was ultimately frustrated by it, because the warm fuzzy feeling was stifled. Ultimately, both of these halves felt rushed. I rushed through them because I wanted more, and I was left unsatisfied.
There is a fourth volume on the horizon, which I'm not sure I'll listen to, since it seems to have nothing to do with anyone I am familiar with. I am disappointed that Holmberg didn't take her strong characters, and strong concept, to their utmost potential. It's a real shame.
K Rating: 2.5/5