Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review: "The Glass Magician" by Charlie N. Holmberg

I was really looking forward to this sequel to Holmberg's The Paper Magician, which I reviewed here. The first book served as an introduction to Holmberg's magical world in which magicians bond with specific materials through which they work their magic. However, the first story left me wanting in many areas of world building and character development. I gave Holmberg some leniency in my review because this was her debut novel and I held out hope that the sequel would fill in some of those areas of weakness.

The Glass Magician picks up shortly after the events of the first book, and we once again follow Ceony Twill through her apprenticeship with Emory Thane, The Paper Magician. Ceony's feelings for Thane have blossomed into a love that she eventually convinces herself to be one-sided. Her feelings for Thane become her mind's preoccupation, and the lovesick internal monologue grows a bit tedious. The only thing that distracts Ceony from her pining are the very imminent death threats and attempts on her life.

Ceony used unique and ethically questionable magic to stop the Excisioner, Lira, in the first story. Now Lira's comrades have made it their purpose to force the spell's reversal out of Ceony, and then kill her. This is the main action of the story, and it introduces some very interesting details about Holmberg's magical world. The best part of this story was learning about glass magic. Glass magicians, or Gaffers, have the ability to travel through mirrors and typically build entire rooms full of mirrors so that they may observe, communicate and travel. I felt like it was a very interesting and inventive craft, and Ceony's big event in the story involves this very material...along with more ethically questionable magic.

However, Ceony's decision making in this story is borderline illogical. I understood what was written, in terms of her motivation, but I completely disagree with the destructive decisions she makes. Her insecurity about Thane's feelings for her, and an apparent desire to play the lone wolf and sacrificial lamb is entirely unnecessary. Her inexplicable inability to communicate isn't brave and romantic; it's rash and destructive.

There's too much sentimentalism, and while I feel like Holmberg wants Ceony to be a strong female character, all of Ceony's big acts of decisiveness and sacrifice simply result in her needing to be saved or getting others killed. She's reckless, and even though we know she is smart and quick thinking, (exemplified by what she does in the climax of the story), all of her actions leading to that point aren't consistent with those character traits, and instead become the result of her extreme emotional reactions.

It wasn't a bad story. I was entertained and interested in the slight expansion of the magical world of Holmberg's invention. I just felt disappointed in Ceony's development as a character. And then there was the sudden switch in perspective at the end of the story. We were suddenly reading Thane's internal monologue and his actions. I feel like this is a fine thing to do if it's a consistent narrative device used throughout the story, switching back and forth between character perspectives; but to just have one chapter that switches over makes me feel like there are problems with the overall story structure. If Thane's chapter had been made into an Epilogue then I would have felt differently, because the Epilogue can be outside of the story's main perspective. But that didn't happen here.

I intend to read the third book in the series and I hope Holmberg isn't rushed in her creative employment, because I wonder if perhaps the issues with The Glass Magician were the result of writing quickly to strike while the popularity of The Paper Magician was at a peak.


  1. The Master Magician comes out June 2, so she isn't waiting much. I agree with your assessment. These are books that have tremendous potential, but maybe not in Holmberg's hands. I expected The Glass Magician to be a significant improvement over her debut, but it was simply flawed in different ways.

    I'll read the third novel, but then it's short, I have time, and it's free with Kindle Unlimited.

  2. I plan to read the third novel too. Perhaps Holmberg will surprise us!

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