Charlie N. Holmberg

Review: The Fifth Doll

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Review: The Fifth Doll

Matrona shook her head, mulling over Olia’s bizarre words. “What’s ‘snow’?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea” – Jaska shrugged – “but she prattles about it from time to time.”

That little exchange is the first sign you get that the small village in Charlie N. Homberg’s latest book might be a little…odd. Things aren’t completely perfect (other than the weather of course); Matrona Vistin’s newborn sister disappeared without a trace when Matrona was six years old, and her relationship with her parents in the twenty years since can best be described as “strained”. But Matrona is mostly content with being a dairymaid on her family’s farm, and she has her upcoming marriage to the handsome (if a little distant) village butcher to look forward to.

Matrona’s life might have stayed predictable and quiet, if only she hadn’t given in to a moment’s curiosity and stumbled across the tradesman Slava Barinov’s collection of nested wooden dolls. Each doll is painted to look like someone Matrona knows. In fact, there’s one for every member of her village, and trying to separate the two halves of the dolls has a nasty effect on whoever the doll is matched to.

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Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

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Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

Charlie N. Holmberg – author of The Paper Magician series – is working with a new type of magic in her latest book Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet (due out June 28). Instead of paper or metal or glass, the magician in this book works with food.

Maire is a magical baker who can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities. She can give someone a sense of love with a slice of cake, or a downtrodden worker new strength with a sugar cookie. She can even make baked goods do things they were never intended to do, like, say, making gingerbread strong enough to be used to build a house. Sounds like the makings for a whimsical, fun book, right?

Wrong.

Maire’s fanciful magic powers are just the backdrop for a book that’s almost relentlessly dark in places. The reader is quickly thrown into a story of Maire attempts to survive being kidnapped by marauders and sold to a lunatic, all while trying to recover her forgotten past. It’s also a story of love (lost and found), and little tidbits about what type of cake works the best for each kind of magic. The book is an intriguing mix of the cute and the dire, and none of my initial guesses about Maire’s origin ended up being right.

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Review: The Master Magician

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Review: The Master Magician

The final book of Charlie N. Holmburg’s The Paper Magician trilogy opens with Ceony just weeks away from the end of her apprenticeship as a Paper Magician. Having to prepare for the Folder’s exam would be stressful enough even without the secret she’s keeping about being able to break her bond with Paper and work with other materials. She’s also having to deal with the (false) rumors about what’s been going on between her and Emory Thane, caused by the (very much true) growing affection and desire between her and her mentor. And then there’s the little matter of the escape of Saraj, an Excisioner notorious even among other Excisioners for being violent and unstable, and who just happens to have a grudge against Ceony and Mg. Thane.

The Paper Magician introduced the beautiful and sometimes terrifying world of materials magic. The Glass Magician was a straightforward magical adventure that showed us new aspects of the magic of glass and paper, many of them very, very violent. The Master Magician is a coming-of-age story. With magic. And romance. And occasional violence.

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Review: The Paper Magician

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Review: The Paper Magician

Continuing the theme of Back to School, this week’s review is for Charlie N. Holmberg’s debut novel The Paper Magician. The new twist on magic-users caught my attention (every magician specializes in one man-made material: metal, glass, paper, plastic, etc.,) so I picked it up after only a brief look at the description: top-in-her-magic-class Ceony is heartbroken when she graduates and is assigned to be the apprentice of a paper magician, forever crushing all her dreams of working with metal. I’ll admit I thought this was going to be mostly a book about leaving childhood behind, learning to appreciate books and the beauty of origami, making new friends, and eventually finding out that the real magic was inside her all along. Standard coming-of-age young-adult stuff. 

Ha, no. Ceony does learn a lot about origami and other techniques used by Folders (paper magicians); she also faces scenes of massacres, betrayal, mistakes with horrific consequences, and for a good part of the book she has to wade ankle-deep through blood while trying to escape a magician who works with a material very very far removed from paper. This is a wonderfully dark little book. Clever, definitely, but also disturbingly violent.

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