Published: July 18th, 2017 by Simon Pulse | Series: Book #1 in The Last Magician duology | Length: 512 pages | Genre: YA historical fantasy | Source: Edelweiss | Possible Triggers: sexual assault, racism
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
It’s probably not hard to understand why I was interested in reading The Last Magician. I’m a huge fan of YA fantasy and an even bigger fan of time travel, so when I read that synopsis, I was incredibly intrigued. Luckily, The Last Magician managed to live up to every one of my expectations, making for a wonderful and engrossing story.
I absolutely loved the time travel aspects of this story. That’s kind of what drew me in to begin with and I felt that Maxwell did an excellent job of writing it. Because this is a historical fantasy novel, I think using time travel was a great idea because then you end up with a modern character, Esta, as the main character (and therefore don’t have to deal with the issue of having a protagonist who has outdated or offensive opinions), but you still have the appeal of a historical setting. I appreciated not having to deal with a bigoted protagonist and loved seeing her try to figure out how she could challenge people’s racism/sexism/etc. without giving herself away as a time-traveler. I will say that as much as I loved the time travel, the time jumps in the beginning of the novel were very confusing and as a result, some of the initial plot and world-building was confusing as well. It starts off with a couple of different times/storylines before they finally converge and it was a little difficult for me at first to remember what magic was like in the early 1900s vs. what it was like today, as the presence of magic has changed drastically over time. I’m not sure if there was anything that could’ve been done to avoid this, though, and it really didn’t end up having too much of an impact as I was able to figure things out as I continued reading.
Like I said, by using time travel, we’re able to have a protagonist who holds modern views on things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. despite having the majority of the story take place in the early 1900s. Similarly, I appreciated that Maxwell incorporated a good amount of diversity into the novel rather than using a historical setting as an excuse not to, as a lot of authors do (because apparently, people of color and LGTBQIAP people didn’t exist in the past?). In the main cast of people that Esta becomes familiar with, there’s a Chinese-American boy, Jianyu, and a girl, Viola, who is in love with another girl in the group (presumably because of the time period, no real label is ever applied to her and it’s unclear whether or not she’s interested in other genders as well). Maxwell did a pretty good job of incorporating diversity without ignoring or downplaying the difficulties they would have faced. Jianyu does experience some racism from other people in the novel and Viola struggles with her attraction to girls and is embarrassed and unsure of how to admit it. This may be kind of upsetting to some readers who are looking for happier and more positive representation, but I think it’s realistic without being too dark and depressing – these things are acknowledged from time to time throughout the novel, but they aren’t overbearing themes.
The plot was very interesting but could be slow at times. This probably would’ve annoyed me, but I’ll admit I was so in love with the eclectic cast of characters that I didn’t care at all when the plot was taking awhile to go anywhere. When Esta travels into the past, she meets Dolph Saunders who has a pretty big group of Mageus (people with magic abilities) that she becomes friends with as she tries to infiltrate them so she can steal the book and save her world. I especially enjoyed seeing Esta struggle throughout the novel, as she becomes increasingly attached to Dolph’s crew while knowing that she’ll have to betray them if she’s to succeed in her mission and save her friends in the present day. She’s fiercely loyal, both to her friends in the present and to her new friends in the past and this makes for a lot of tough decisions for her. All around Esta was just an awesome main character – she’s tough as nails and doesn’t let anything get in her way and I adored that about her. She’s so easy to fall in love with and root for.
One last thing I want to mention is that there really isn’t a whole lot of romance in the book which I personally thought was refreshing. It’s not completely devoid of romance, as there’s certainly some flirtation between Esta and the Magician, but it’s not a major part of the plot at all. Based on how things ended, romance might end up playing a bigger role in the next book, but it doesn’t play a big role in this one. So if you’re looking to take a break from romantic subplots, The Last Magician might be a good choice.
Clearly, it isn’t hard to see that The Last Magician was a story that I thoroughly loved. Sure, there were some flaws here and there, but overall it was an incredibly entertaining and engrossing novel. The Last Magician is a must-read for fans of YA historical fantasy.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Please be aware that all quotes included in this review are from an eARC and may differ from the book’s final version.