Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Series: The Last Magician #1
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: My shelves
Stop the Magician. Steal the book. Save the future.
In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.
Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.
But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.
This was my book club book of the month for April 2020. We picked it for our “fantasy” category, and I can say that I was nervous going into this one. I waited until the last minute to pick this one up, specifically because I was so hesitant. This isn’t unusual for me, because I thought this was going to be a light sci-fi, but it’s not, so don’t worry about that!
The Last Magician follows Esta, who travels back in time over 100 years to participate in a heist and steal the magical book herself. There’s something called The Brink that spans the one entrance into New York, something that is lethal to any person who possesses a magical gift, referred to as an “affinity.” Esta, whose affinity is time (makes sense, right?), wants to destroy the Brink, which exists in her time of 2017. But she needs The Book to do it.
“Find the Magician,” he told her.
“And stop him before he destroys our future.”
I really enjoyed this story. I will say that the first part of the book was a bit slow, and I could have probably easily put it down during that time, but I was so thankful that I didn’t. But by page 300 … I was so hooked as Esta, Dolph, and his rag-time street gang team tried to pull this heist off. Esta’s part in this heist was to recruit Harte Darrigan, a 19-year-old whose rising position in society was recruited to gain them the necessary access to steal the book. Esta and Darrigan’s “enemies-to-lovers” thing that they had going on was quite fun to follow :) There was even a part of the book where they were roommates, and you know that’s one of my favorite tropes. Their banter was just so entertaining!!
Esta and Harte were incredible characters, and I loved that they had real skills that they’d had trained to perfection. They didn’t need to use their magic to get out of tough scrapes, and I appreciated the fact that they used their magic only as a last resort. I loved the two of them together, especially because I didn’t see their relationship coming! I thought Dolph was going to be the love-interest, as he was the gang leader, walked with a cane (Kaz??), had a dark past but also had a secret heart of gold. Nope! The cast of secondary characters was definitely part of what made this story breathe so easy – I loved them all ?
His life might have been built on illusions,
but his death would be his greatest trick.
And the atmosphere? So good. Esta describes old New York (kinda get Kell vibes from her and her undercover job, right?) as enticing, smelling of danger and possibility, dirty and frantic. Old New York was a place that lived, and damn if the atmosphere didn’t come through for more.
More than just a heist book, it was also a long-con, and the writing-style matched that pretty well. Lisa Maxwell’s style is one that builds, as we’re crumb-fed information as we follow the characters – they never said what each other’s affinities were unless it was paramount that we know! It drove me crazy the whole book as I tried to figure out what everyone’s affinity was. I annotated this while I was reading in preparation for the Book Club Zoom Party, and had a blast! connecting things in the margins and trying to figure out what was going to happen. I had several theories that proved irrelevant and not even close, but I did manage to catch a few twists ??
The Last Magician is a great book to go into not knowing much. It’s reminiscent of Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody and – yes I’m going to say it because it is! – Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, but managed to make it completely it’s own. It’s twisty, seethes with betrayal, and was genuinely so much fun to try and puzzle out. It’s not perfect – time travel never is, because you think you’re making connections / solving problems that the author didn’t consider – but I had a great time. I do think book two will be better, however, now that I’m invested in the story and we’ve narrowed down the characters we care about. Hopefully, there will be less “build-time,” per se. I’ve seen this described as a “The Diviners” x “Six of Crows” book, and I’m definitely adding “occult society” to my wishlist because that’s a subgenre that I loved here.
Other fantasy books you may enjoy…
What are some of your favorite heist/con books? Do you have any historical fantasy recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!