I think it's no secret to long time readers of the blog (I think I HAVE long time readers, yeah? For some definition of "long time"? And "readers"?) that I'm a big fan of: YA writing, fantasy novels, especially with novel magical systems, strong female protagonists, alternative histories, and romances.* Charlie Holmberg's The Paper Magician series has ALL of that - AND it's really well written and totally enjoyable to read! Ceony Twill lives in 1920s (ish) London, but a London (and a world) in which magic works. She has just graduated, and is set to start her apprenticeship as a paper magician - a Folder. She will derive her magical abilities from paper, and express those abilities through manipulating paper (and the text written on the paper). Magic in Ceony's world is construed as power over materials made by humans - fire, paper, metal, glass, rubber, and (recently) plastic. And, in a dark twist, other humans. Oh, but there's a hitch - once you've "bonded" with a particular material, you're stuck with that material forever - no switching. And there's the rub - Ceony really wanted to be a Smelter - a magician who works with metal - but was directed to take the apprenticeship in paper because so few magicians do, and so they need to be replaced. In the end, however, Ceony comes to enjoy her assigned magical path.
The series is three books, and traces Ceony's evolution from apprentice to full magician, and from young adult to full adult. There is adventure - a rogue cabal of Excisioners - blood magicians, totally illegal - who need tracking down and arresting. There is mystery and intrigue - even a little bit of politics! The alt-history is a little light - Holmberg has clearly thought through the implications of magical manipulation of crafted materials (allowing instantaneous travel and communication, among other things) but Ceony is not really engaged in the nitty-gritty of the running of the world. The scope of the novels is such that we only really get the (absolutely intriguing!) edges of that element of the world. However, the magic system that Holmberg presents is very fully thought out and truly original - certainly a key selling point for me. The plot and character progressions are reminiscent of Garth Nix, in the best of possible ways. Oh, and there's a romance, which is both delightful and satisfying, while being entirely YA appropriate. My wife and I so enjoyed the first book that we bought the whole trilogy (which we NEVER do), and have already started lending it to people.
Oh! Also, check out these covers!
Aren't they delightfully Art Deco-esque? I do love when the whole book experience is pleasing - well written AND visually appealing. So. If you like YA fantasy with novel magical systems, strong female protagonists, good writing, a touch of alt history, and romance, you'll probably like these books.
*Also, caper novels, but this series has no capers. Alas, I can't have it all.