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Paper Mage

3.41  ·  Rating Details  ·  183 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
In a small Chinese village during the Tang Dynasty, an unsure young woman has managed to elude the conventions of her society to become a gifted paper mage-one who creates magic with the ancient art of paper folding. Because her gifts are in demand for the protection they can offer, Xiao Yen must leave behind her beloved family and embark on a dangerous mission. Yet she ha ...more
Paperback, 343 pages
Published March 4th 2003 by Roc (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

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Robert Beveridge
Jan 29, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it it was ok
Leah Cutter, Paper Mage (Roc, 2003)

The whole time I was reading this book, which I did on and off (far more off than on) for almost four months, I kept feeling vaguely guilty that I didn't like it a great deal more than I actually did. I think this is because I can't quite put a finger on why it is I found the book to drag so terribly. It's not the pacing, the characters, the plot, or anything else I can pick out; there's just something.

The book concerns a young woman named Xiao Yen, a newly-gra
Faith Justice
This is the review I wrote for Paper Mage in Strange Horizons in August 2003

In Paper Mage, Leah R. Cutter takes us on a journey to a faraway place and time, a refreshing change from the traditional faux European medieval fantasies that glut bookstore shelves. Set in the Tang Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (about the time of Charlemagne in Europe), the novel tells us of the adventures of Xiao Yen, a young woman training to become a paper mage, a sorceror with the power to endow folded creations wi
Barbara Gordon
Jun 01, 2012 Barbara Gordon rated it it was ok
Paper Mage, by Leah Cutter, is about a young girl in ancient China who practices origami magic and is hired out to protect a caravan. But her real aim is to do great deeds and earn a peach of immortality for the aunt who paid for her training. The story follows two timelines, alternating chapters between the caravan journey, where one of her fellow travellers is a goddess who charges her with a dangerous quest, and her childhood training, torn between her aunt's plans and her mother's plans to h ...more
Aug 01, 2012 Dan rated it liked it
I am a big fantasy sci-fi buff, but after a time I just had to stop reading the books because they were so similar, or I would realise 20 pages into it that I had already read it. No such problems there with Leah R. Cutter's Paper Mage (ROC, 2003). What could possibly be new in the world of fantasy? "In a small Chinese village during the Tang Dynasty, an unsure young woman has managed to elude the conventions of her society to become a gifted paper mage-one who creates magic with the ancient art ...more
Feb 26, 2009 Katherine rated it really liked it
People talk a lot about pacing with this book, and I can understand the complaint. It's not very swashbuckling; each chapter sort of plods along, interesting and engaging but not a page-turner.

The really incredible part about this book (and the reason I finally decided on a four-star rating instead of three) is the sheer amount of research that went into it and also the textured, gritty world that Cutter put together. This is a book you don't read for the story as much as you read to live in the
“It was interesting to read about someone else' s culture. I previously did not know a lot about Asian culture, nor ever got a chance to look into it. However, I found myself immersed in seeing the culture,traditions, and behaviors of that culture through the novel. I admired how the author meshed myths and fairy tale elements together.
As for the character development it was okay.. There was periods where the time changed in the book and we only saw that persons perspective in flashbacks.
The ch
Kelda Mystern
May 02, 2014 Kelda Mystern rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 12, 2012 Shelly rated it really liked it
This book was one of the more unique books that I have in a while. The entire magic of the world was interesting. It felt nice to be reading a fantasy book not set in some medieval world. The magic was something different and wasn't your typical wizards and whatnot. I liked both of the story-lines that were being told: Xiao Yen's paper mage training and her adventure as a new mage.
I know some people didn't like how the author changed from the past and to the present every chapter. I, however, r
Dec 03, 2007 Wealhtheow rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Xiao Yen is a rarity--a female who can harness paper magic. After years of relentless training, she hires out to protect a travelling caravan. Within days, she is enlisted in the fight against an evil, immortal warlord. After defeating a dragon and the warlord, she races back to her home city to warn them of the warlord's unleashed army. Xiao Yen has a very precise personality that the author carefully constructs in the present day and in flashbacks to her training. The world is a well-developed ...more
Sep 10, 2007 S.L. rated it it was ok
Shelves: recentlyread
I've often wished that there were more books that had an Eastern influence to them. There's a lot of Western fantasy, but not much that has to do with Chinese or Japanese mythology or lives or the like.

And then I picked up Paper Mage, by Leah Cutter. The book, as many of my books in the TBR mountain are, is somewhat old. It was published in 2003 and it was Leah's debut book. It's a great story and so unique it makes me smile just having read it.

But it's not an *easy* read.

For all that I wanted
Apr 24, 2015 Amanda rated it liked it
How a young girl becomes a paper Mage, and what she does on her first job. Told from Xian Wei's point of view, in China at the time of Charlemaign. The barbarian foreigners are from what we now call Germany and the really, really bad guy is Tibetan.

Sometimes a bit slow, and I wish Xian Wei was not quite so hard on herself, but a nice book anyway.
May 26, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: no-romance
While I liked the Tang dynasty location and the more unique magic and world building, the story felt different. now, it could be a homage to how Chinese stories go vs. Western (I wouldn't know) but the last half felt like it should have come and there was a lot of foreshadowing which never happened. But, it ended on a good note emotionally.
Anaura Chen
Aug 24, 2015 Anaura Chen rated it did not like it
Well-researched fantasy based in Tang dynasty China. Narrative bogged down by extensive cultural references, female protagonist oppressed by societal structure. Pretty depressing and also hard to feel sympathetic. Not helped by lack of driving passions/goal/conflicts.

Was on the recommended reading list in "Writing the Other".
Nov 21, 2014 Myridian rated it it was ok
This novel for a perfectly acceptable, escapist piece of fiction. Unfortunately that's all it was. Within the story, the heroine initially bucked tradition by learning magic and then was thrust into world events where she interacts with mystical beings and dragons, not to mention foreigners. Unfortunately the book felt quite juvenile and lacked the momentum I have come to expect. Additionally, Cutter used the strange conceit of alternating chapters from the main characters childhood and magic tr ...more
May 04, 2013 Elyndrical rated it liked it
I found this book enjoyable but frustrating at times. I loved the introduction and would have been interested if the book had continued with Mei Mei. I think the events of the past would have been better grouped in sequential order as the story lost some of its potency knowing what would happen. There were a few sections where I was left scratching my head (view spoiler) and 1/4 of ...more
Sep 26, 2007 Schnaucl rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 14, 2007 Debbie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2004, fantasy, dead-tree
I always love reading fantasies that take place in the non-Western historical world. The idea of paper magic is an interesting one and very different from traditional ideas of magic. I enjoyed the book; it told a very good story with a very likable main character. However, I did not like Wang Tei-Tei very much; she seemed to be manipulative and demanding in her quest to get an immortal peach for herself. But since she did not get much "screen" time, it was a minor point, and she was an important ...more
Chie Ordillo
Jan 30, 2016 Chie Ordillo rated it really liked it
Shelves: shelfari-fantasy
A random pick. Cover art was pretty. It also reminded me of a favorite anime, Read or Die. But set in old China.
But not really. There is origami.
I had fun.
A.G. Lindsay
Jan 24, 2013 A.G. Lindsay rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy-sf
This book had a lot going for it from an unusual kind of magic to a setting based on Chinese culture (a setting which I have not run into very often) to a female protagonist who was not a "pretty, pretty princess" or an overeducated Amazon.

Unfortunately, I had set it aside half-way through to do some reading for work and just couldn't get back into it when I picked it up again. I leafed through the second-half to find out the ending, and I think if I had kept with it, I might not have as low an
Jan 31, 2016 Outmind rated it really liked it
Apr 14, 2012 A.k. rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fantasy lovers, fans of Chinese mythology
Mostly a sweet story of a girl having to choose between the life of a paper mage (her aunt's wish for her) or the traditional life of a devoted daughter, wife and mother (what everyone expects of her). The story takes a surprisingly brutal turn in the final third of the book but remains a strong tale of familial expectations and personal choice.

The descriptions of the ancient Chinese landscapes, clothing and mythology are the real treat of this book.
Feb 08, 2013 Kerry marked it as dnf
I loved the premise of this when I first saw it and I've been looking forward to reading it.

Unfortunately, I got halfway through and realised I was bored. I just didn't feel inspired to finish and didn't mind that I wasn't going to discover the fates of the characters.

So a great premise that failed to deliver for me.

[Copied across from Library Thing; 9 February 2013]
Mar 01, 2011 Yvonne rated it really liked it
A comfort reread from my shelf.
I might be a little biased because I first read this book during trying times, and it was a great friend to me. The story itself is about choices and consequence, and the plot is relatively fast paced - although I prefer the parts where the main character is on the road. This book is a keeper.
Jun 04, 2008 Nikki rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Interesting, easy read. I remember someone recommended it to me, someone who rarely gave any book recommendations... Possibly because of my interest in origami, I think. But it also served my interest in non-Western fantasy. I think I gave the book away, which is sad, because now I'm interested in revisiting it.
Jun 22, 2010 Bradley rated it really liked it
I enjoy oriental flavor fantasy tales. This one helped recharge my own creative powers for a few days. I wrote several pages of my Orcish Dreams manuscript. This story reminded me strongly of the Disney movie Mulan. This writer is definitely going places. Sadly this book is going back to the library. =)
Melissa Robertson
Dec 28, 2010 Melissa Robertson rated it liked it
I wasn't expecting to like this book at all. I just needed something to fill in my time while waiting to be picked from school, and I found this book in my school library. It was a really cool read! Think Mulan, with magical origami...
Jul 23, 2013 Omly rated it it was ok
I loved the idea of this book. Origami magic! In practice I had trouble with some of the writing though, which was not helped by little copy editing. (My copy had a typo in the very first sentence!)
Aug 09, 2014 Angela rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book. Not least because the main character ends up alone( as in single) but happy enough with her life. not enough books ever show that this is an option.
Bobbi Taniguchi
Jul 10, 2010 Bobbi Taniguchi rated it really liked it
A nice book for its genre, although a little sad, as she is still solitary when the book ends, and you don't really care about any of the other characters.
Jun 24, 2010 Jen rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, read-in-2010
Interesting concept and world, but not as much character development as I prefer. Still, it was a good book to read in the car on a long drive.
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Leah Cutter writes page-turning fiction in exotic locations, such as New Orleans, ancient China, the Oregon coast, rural Kentucky, Seattle, Minneapolis, Budapest, and other places.

Her fiction includes literary, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror, and has been published in magazines, anthologies, and on the web.

Read more stories by Leah Cutter at

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