If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Charlie Holmberg. I loved her books The Fifth Dolland Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. So, when given the opportunity by Netgalley to review a free ARC of her most recent book, The Plastic Magician, to be released on May 15th, I jumped at it. While this book, the fourth in her Paper Magician series, was an imaginative, fun read, it wasn’t quite the caliber of the other books I’ve read of hers. But I still recommend it, if you’re looking for something light and easy.
What Plastic Magician Is About
Alvie Brechenmacher is an apprentice in the field of plastic magic; she can bespell the substance to do any number of things, as long as she studies hard under her mentor, the world-renowned magician Marion Praff. Alvie’s enthusiasm reinvigorates her mentor’s work, and together they create a device that could forever change Polymaking (the magic of materials). But Magician Praff has a bitter rival who learns of their plans and conspires to steal their invention and take the credit for it himself.
Alvie is a wonderful main character, a young woman who is smart, clueless in the ways of romance, attractive, mechanically inclined, eager, clumsy, and excited. As part of her apprenticeship, she’s required to do volunteer work at a local hospital, where she meets and befriends a young girl who has recently had her arm amputated. She happens to meet the girl’s brother, Bennet Cooper, and a cute romance develops between them.
Who Would Like This Book
Even though Alvie’s in her early twenties, I think the people that would most like this book would be young girls between the ages of 8 and 20. The plot, because it involves minimal conflict and a lot of magic, is more middle-grade than young adult. And, if you read and liked The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, or The Master Magician, you’d probably like this book too, although I’m told that Alvie is quite different than the main character of those books, Ceony.
As if I haven’t offered enough visuals for people to compare certain books to or rate books by (stars, anyone? nutrition facts labels? or how about gifs?), I offer yet another one: full-on videos, like the one below:
What book does it describe, you ask? The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg. And why a rug? You’ll see.
What The Fifth Doll is About
Matrona, the main character, lives in an isolated village, where her life is centered on pleasing her parents. She’s diligent in her chores and has agreed to marry a man of their choosing. But a visit to Slava, the local tradesman, threatens to upend her entire life. Slava owns a strange collection of painted nesting dolls—one for every villager. Through a series of accidents, Matrona discovers that each doll is connected to its villager in a very real sense, and that gives Slava the opportunity to blackmail Matrona into caring for the dolls. Forced to open one of her own dolls every three days, she falls deeper into the grim power of Slava’s creations. But nothing can prepare her for the profound secret hiding inside the fifth doll.
My Opinion of the Book
In the same way that the woman in the video carefully weaves, through a series of complicated-looking stitches, a relatively simple but beautiful rug, so does Holmberg weave a tale that is both complicated and intricate, yet artistic and wondrous. Each stitch is a detail that Matrona notices, a development in the story, an action she takes to get closer to the fifth dolls’ truths. She is compelled, both by Slava and the desire to rid herself of the spells he casts over the dolls, to unravel another “rug,” an even more complicated and much less beautiful version of the bigger one. That rug looks more like a web, and its woven with the lies and secrets that Slava has cast over Matrona and her whole village.
Indeed, when Matrona gets to the point where she’s gathered as many clues as she can and puts them all together, that’s when she’s able to see Slava’s web for what it is, and that’s when the rug of a tale that Holmberg has woven begins to unravel as well. As Matrona works to unstitch all of Slava’s handiwork, alongside her Holmberg unravels the rug to reveal a long length of incredibly beautiful fabric covered in a sophisticated print but with a feather-soft feel.
The fabric, laid out and looked at in its entirety, represents the story as well as all the backstory that came before it and the opportunities the ending represents. At the core of that story is a magic system that was so complex I feel it will take at least one more read-through for me to fully understand it. When that system started to feel too complicated for my little brain to comprehend, I comforted myself with the softness of Holmberg’s style.
Take this passage, for example:
A shifting of darkness at the window caught the corner of her eye; she turned, but saw nothing in the gap between her curtains. The wood had devoured the last wisps of twilight. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she tugged the curtains completely closed. Then she blew out her candle, bathing herself in darkness, and slid it and a single match into her pocket.
There’s such a sense of place in the simple details she provides, and a subtle way of building suspense through sentence structures that reflect Matrona’s moods. At the beginning of that paragraph, she’s pensive and nervous, which is reflected in the first long sentence. But by the end, she’s purposeful and her actions compound upon themselves: she tugs the curtains, blows the candle out, then slides things into her pocket.
Lest I wax too analytical, though, go back to the video of the rug and imagine running that soft fabric through your fingers. That’s how it feels to read The Fifth Doll, or really, any one of Holmberg’s books.
The Fifth Doll releases on July 25, 2017. I’ll be reading and reviewing Beyond by Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin next, and doing a giveaway for a free copy of that, so stay tuned! I’m also doing another giveaway of Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth; it’ll be going until the 24th, so go enter!
I received a free ARC of The Fifth Doll that I’ll soon pass on to another blogger to review. All opinions contained herein are, of course, my own opinions.