Leah R. Cutter,
Paper Mage
(Roc, 2003)

Set in the era of China's Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), Paper Mage is a well-researched debut from Leah R. Cutter. A young woman, Xiao Yen, studies to become a paper mage, one who creates magical creatures from origami. The most interesting aspects of the story are the conflict Xiao feels toward duty to her family and duty to herself and her teacher. Even duty to her family is split as the head of her household, the matriarch Wang Tei-Tei, is at odds with Xiao's mother over Xiao's future. Wang wishes for her niece to become a paper mage in order to perform a deed worthy of the notice and reward of Zhang Gua Lao -- the patron god of paper mages. Wang has her own reasons and agenda for Xiao in this but it sets her against the will of Xiao's mother, Fu Be Be.

In ancient China, respectable women marry and hope to bear many sons. Life as a mage will destine Xiao to a life alone in a culture that reveres family and defines a woman's worth by such. Much of the tension Xiao feels is this tug of war. She can't decide which life she wants more. Becoming a mage -- a man's work -- fulfills her duty to the family matriarch. Marrying a man of her mother's choosing brings honor to her family.

Upon graduating, she is hired as mage guardian for a caravan from a foreign land but soon finds herself caught up in a plot to free a goddess's soul trapped by an evil warlord. It was here I expected the story to pick up the pace, but the action, what there is of it, primarily serves as the framework for the characters' reactions and internal motivations.

This is not a novel to pick up for exciting battles or a rollercoaster fast plot. The emphasis is on Xiao's internal struggles. Nevertheless, though light, the novel is enjoyable and the prose flows well. For anyone looking for fantasy in a setting besides the standard D&D fare so typical of most, Paper Mage is a worthy addition to anyone's library.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 10 October 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.