Paper Crowns, by Mike Cyr: A Review

I really liked the premise of Paper Crowns, a debut novel by author Mike Cyr. Three late-teenage female cousins, Amy, Carrie and Renee, and two male friends (Mitch and Dean) find their way to another world via a magic mirror. Alice, however, would have nothing in common with these teens; neither are they the noble and polite children of Narnia. These are modern teens from a small town, teens with drinking problems, issues with sexuality, self-esteem problems, and, in Amy’s case, a mother who wrote stories about the world they find themselves in, before self-destructing, leaving Amy in the care of an aunt and obsessed with her mother’s writings.

The talking animals of Ezrantia are also not the talking animals of Narnia. Amy and company soon learn that the crumbling politics and rivalries of Ezrantia are largely due to her mother’s influence: the stories, were, after all, real. And it will be up to Amy and her friends – if they can survive their own dysfunctions – to save the land and its inhabitants.

At times Cyr writes with real skill. Descriptions can border on lyrical, and some of the action scenes are very effective. Characters develop over the book, especially Amy and Carrie, and to a lesser extent Dean. The plot moves quickly – almost too quickly, sometimes: there are multiple Ezrantian characters and multiple side plots which feed the larger one – but at times I found this confusing. I needed more background to fully understand allegiances and motives of the Ezrantian characters. In other places, the writing is awkward: ‘Its surface, rough and flecked with imperfections, quickly melted nice and smooth…” or ungrammatical: ‘..that between the spells he used to stabilize the portal and their eased minds would make this easier.’

One character – Shiraz – is referred to consistently as ‘they’, without explanation. Having only one character using a gender-neutral pronoun seemed odd to me, especially since at one point Shiraz is referred to by another Ezrantian character as ‘she’. This may be more of my problem as a reader than that of the writer, but because only Shiraz was ‘they’, I felt an explanation was needed.

The e-pub version I read was marred by multiple production errors. In a sample of 120 pages I recorded errors on thirty-one of them. Errors mostly resulted from poor editing: ‘Otkwo leaped into action, Yanking Kadesh back..’ and included the misspelling of characters’ names. Unfortunately, this number of errors significantly distracted from my reading pleasure: I found myself looking for errors instead of simply getting lost in the story. A final, critical proof-reading would have improved the reading quality of Paper Crowns greatly.

I would summarize Paper Crowns as a novel with a good premise, a complex world, and interesting, original characters, but also one that would have benefited from more thorough editing. There’s some good creation here: it will be interesting to see what the author produces as he matures as a writer. Three stars.

The author supplied me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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