The Last Magician, Lisa Maxwell (Simon Pulse 978-1-4814-3207-8, $18.99, 500pp, hc) July 2017. Cover by Craig Howell & Cliff Nielsen.
The Last Magician is billed as YA and its chief protagonist is a girl in her late teens, but Lisa Maxwell doesn’t write down or pull many punches. Only after reviewing Belcher did I notice how the dialog sidesteps around Anne Bonny’s favorite word, while allowing an occasional “shit.” Although most of the action takes place in Manhattan, the first 70 pages flit between timelines (across a span ranging from the present to the late 19th century) in chapters with distinctive storylines.
Maxwell deftly turns the miscellany into a central narrative set in 1901, without diminishing its richness. Players and viewpoint characters include a wide variety of thugs (gangsters and politicians, along with some more covert elite controllers) and an underclass of unconventional magicians (both natives and immigrants) whom their enemies deride as “maggots,” and imprison in Manhattan with a spell-wall called the Brink.
Main protagonist Esta is a young thief from a modern band of time-traveling criminals, ruled by an enigma known only as the Professor. While they all have unique magical gifts, hers makes the subtlest and most productive use of time. The Professor knows its full value when she sends her back to 1901 with this imperative: “Find the Magician…. And stop him before he destroys our future.” Over the course of the book, her mission gets tangled up in two heist plots (both aiming to steal the Brink’s true power source: artifacts and a book). This allows familiar archetypes like Thief and Magician to reveal notably human faces – and their inner selves.
Faren C. Miller, Contributing Editor, worked full-time for Locus from 1981 to 2000, when she pulled up stakes and moved to Prescott, Arizona (a “mile-high city” not as widely known as that one in Colorado) with the man she subsequently married, Kerry Hanscom. She continues to review SF, fantasy, and horror — enjoying, analyzing, then forgetting all the details on a regular basis — and hopes to keep doing it for many years to come. Author of one fantasy, The Illusionists (Warner 1991), she is working on another which she’s confident will be finished before the next millennium rolls around.
This review and more like it in the October 2017 issue of Locus.