Charlie N. Holmberg, author of "The Paper Magician", discusses the makings of her alternate early 20th century England, where magicians cast spells through man-made materials.
For The Paper Magician, I created an alternate 1902 England where people have learned how to cast magic through man-made materials, such as paper, glass, rubber, fire, plastic, and human flesh (since we’re all technically man-made, right?). If it’s not man-made, it isn’t castable—this means things like naturally formed glass or fire are useless when it comes to magic.
The upside to man-made magic is that anyone can (legally) become a magician, so long as they survive the required coursework. In the world of The Paper Magician, the most prolific school for magician training is London’s Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. Once enrolled, and assuming you can pay the steep 15,000-pounds-per-year tuition, you have a maximum of three years to graduate. If you can’t master the classes in three years, you’re given a black mark as an aspiring magician, as well as a lifetime of student loans to repay. If you do graduate, you’re sent to apprentice under a practicing magician in your field for anywhere from two to six years, after which you undergo a magician’s test and, hopefully, pass with flying colors. Otherwise, it’s back to trade school.
The downside to the magic is that each magic user can only choose one material to bond to. In the case of my protagonist, Ceony, once she bonds to paper, she’s stuck enchanting paper for the rest of her life. (This puts a rather large chip in her previously made plans to enchant jewelry and bullets as a Smelter.) Unfortunately, the bulk of Tagis Praff graduates see paper Folding as rather, well, lackluster (Ceony included), and therefore England hosts only twelve Folders. Someone’s got to get those numbers up, and to Ceony’s dismay, that person happens to be the one assigning her apprenticeship.
The adaptation of this magic into society has also advanced a few bits of technology for the time period. Automobiles are fairly commonplace, and telegraphs are in general use, though electricity and telephones are still relatively new. The widespread use of magic has also played a role in civil rights, allowing women more freedom within the economy and government.
When not in London or on the outskirts of Foulness Island (how great of a name is that? Granted, it’s named for its birds, but still), The Paper Magician takes place in the five-inch-by-three-inch space of a man’s still-beating heart, and only somewhat metaphorically. Each chamber of the heart reveals a different aspect of Magician Emery Thane, and while the memories it holds are intangible, the danger is very, very real.