“But then, liars do make the best magicians, and he happened to be exceptional.”
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.
TW: non-consensual contact, including attempted assault, and non-consensual mind-reading
This book has checked all the boxes of things I love. It has time travel. It has thieves. It has magic. It has a knife-wielding lesbian (who I’m just PRAYING gets a happier and bigger role in the sequel because she’s my favorite of the supporting cast). Basically, it had everything I adore, and I was hooked.
I will say now that this book might not be for everyone. It does get all time travel bent of out shape weird, and on top of that it’s 498 pages in hardcover. If you’re not a long, twisty read kind of person, this may not be your cup of tea. But if you’re like me, and you’ll do anything for a good story with teens, found family, magic, and stealing things, I think you’ll have a good time.
The best part of the book for me was probably the way the POVs were handled. Balancing more than one POV is tough, and somehow, Maxwell balanced, like, five or six that I can think of? Esta, Harte, Dolph, Nibs, Viola, and Jack I believe all got a POV, and I may have missed a couple others that got quick, single bursts of POV fame. That’s hard. I’ve tried it. I’ve yet to make it work. But somehow, all the different POV chapters bring the plot together fantastically, and it shows all the characters through each other’s eyes. You get to see the best and worst of them all, and it makes the dramatic irony so much sweeter when you know all the pieces that the characters don’t (and then they still surprise you!).
Also, the setting was fantastic. Set primarily in the very early 1900s New York, it doesn’t shy away from the not so glamorous parts of the city, especially where magic users, the Mageus, are concerned. It’s not pretty in 1900s NYC. It’s not kind. And with Esta’s mission to steal the Book (oh yes, capital letter intended), it’s super dangerous. But somehow, it’s also still home in a way for some of these characters.
AND THE PLOT. Okay, so sometimes it took a little extra careful thought to follow, but I think that’s just the nature of this being a time travel story with lots of relevant POVs to follow. Nearly every character is moving chess pieces of their own making across the board, not everyone is who they supposed to be, and deception is really, truly the name of the game. And of survival, in some instances. It’s supposed to be complicated, and it was like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle. I had the fuzzy outline and some center pieces, but once it started to click, it was INCREDIBLE to see the big picture!
Really, my only disappointment is that I (maybe as usual; I’m so picky) didn’t like the romance. Keeping it as spoiler free as possible, there was too much non-consensual mind-reading, as I’ve listed in the trigger warnings, and it made my skin crawl. At least Esta kept calling him out on it, getting absolutely furious when he did that or kissed her without her say-so, but when she’s ultimately so attached to him that an endgame romance is probably likely? Yeah, I really don’t love that. At all.
I think I just want more healthy couples in the books I read. Enemies to lovers who are really just teasing rivals and not people who do things to hurt each other. This certainly wasn’t the worst romance ever, since some of the rivalry aspects were delightful, but those other bits had me unsettled.
Other than that, though, I was totally enamored with this book, and I’m soooooooo excited for the sequel. It’d be a spoiler to say where it’s set, I think, but it’s coming out in October, and I can’t WAIT. I think it’s going to be as high stakes and exciting as the first one, and the more time traveling and thievery I get out of it, the better.
Have you read The Last Magician yet? If so, what did you think of it?