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A Reading Group Guide toThe Last Magician #2: The Devil’s Thief
By Lisa MaxwellAbout the Book
Esta’s parents were murdered, and her life was stolen. Everything she knew about magic was a lie. She believed the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she had ever imagined. Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world for revenge, and it will use Esta to do so. To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is nothing like they’ve expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink who are unwilling to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them. In St. Louis, the extravagant world’s fair hides the first stone. But an old enemy is out for revenge, and a new enemy is emerging. As past and future collide, time is running out for rewriting history—even for a time-traveling thief.Discussion Questions
1. Reread the first five paragraphs of the book and discuss how the author uses them to preview some of the book’s themes. What are some of those themes? What glimpses do we get of Esta’s character and her motivations? What do we see of her relationship with Harte, the Magician?
2. From the first page, it’s clear that one of the book’s themes is new beginnings. Name all the characters embarking on a new venture or journey. Why are they starting over? Do you think this is a positive action for each of them? Where do they find the strength and bravery to make this kind of change?
3. Who are the main characters? Discuss what motivates each of them. For example, of Esta, the author writes, “vengeance . . . stiffened her resolve and kept her feet moving.” Is vengeance the only thing that guides Esta’s actions? Are other characters also motivated by vengeance? Who are they, and what or who are they trying to avenge?
4. Why do you think stories about magic remain popular? Which of the characters’ affinities would you most like to have? Which is the most useful? The most dangerous? The most powerful?
5. When Harte says, “‘Nothing about my affinity has made me happy,’” do you understand what he means? In contrast, Jianyu allows himself “to relax into the comfort of his magic.” How do you think the other characters feel? Are they happy to have affinities, or are they burdened by them? Do they think it comes with a sense of duty and responsibility?
6. Talk about the parallels between this world’s fear and prejudice against the Mageus, and the modern-day discussion about immigration in America. Why do you think people fear and hate those who are different? How might you talk to them about their views?
7. What changed for the Mageus after the Defense Against Magic Act was passed? Do you understand why people who had been living quietly in hiding would now want to challenge the Order? What would you do if you were in their place?
8. Viola “believed that duty to family was more important than her own soul.” What causes her to change her mind? Compare Viola’s thoughts about family to Jack’s when he thinks, “There was a safety in fealty that he had failed to understand and freedom in the constraints of family duty that he had not appreciated as a boy.” Discuss the complicated feelings they both have about their families. Do these feelings impact their actions?
9. Discuss the other family situations in the book. Think about Harte and his mother, Ruth and Maggie, Cela and Abel, and Jianyu and his parents. How many of them feel like they don’t belong with their families? What kind of role do their pasts play in their current motivations?
10. “Never Enough” is the title of one of the St. Louis chapters. Talk about the many ways this phrase applies to the characters.
11. To the Antistasi, the Devil’s Thief is a symbol to rally behind. Discuss the idea of “propaganda of the deed”—taking actions that will serve as an example for others and as a catalyst for change. Do you believe this works? Can you think of examples from the real world? Do you believe the Antistasi’s motives are pure, or that they all want to “stand above the rest with power of their own,” as Ruth thinks?
12. Why do you think the author chose to use alternate points of view? Why is it important for this story to be told by multiple narrators? Did you like this technique? Explain your answer. Talk about how the story might have read if Esta was the only narrator.
13. Esta wants to kill Jack after he finds her and Harte at the train station, but Harte disagrees, saying, “‘If you kill him in cold blood, it will change you.’” Which philosophy do you think is right? Does the act of killing someone change the killer? If so, how? Do you think this applies to Viola, who can so easily stop someone’s heart? Is it a strength or a weakness to show restraint, even against someone who has done evil things?
14. Esta has “trained her whole life to be a weapon.” Viola’s brother considers Viola to be his weapon, and Ruth uses Maggie in much the same way. What might have led these female characters to feel as if they needed to become weapons? How does Viola feel about her brother? How does Maggie feel about Ruth?
15. Nibsy thinks, “Humans were no more than animals, driven by their hungers and fears. Easily manipulated. Predictable.” Do you agree with him? What scenes do you see in the book that prove or disprove his thinking?
16. Nibsy’s notebook shows him his future. Esta, too, knows something of the future and that she has “little hope of walking out of this alive.” Discuss the impact of knowing your future. If you had the chance, would you want to know yours? Would this knowledge make you braver or more fearful?
17. Esta’s affinity is weakened by the power inside Harte. She thinks she “couldn’t—wouldn’t
—allow her current weakness to be a liability.” Why is it important to Esta not to show or experience weakness? Do the other Mageus also feel this way? Do you think it’s connected to their affinities?
18. Talk about what freedom means to each of the characters. Esta thinks “she would gladly take the danger” to have the kind of freedom the Antistasi are working toward. Viola dreams of freedom beyond the drudgery of her family life. Can you sympathize with them? What kind of freedom would you like to have? Do you think freedom is something people can take for granted?
19. This book is full of cinematic scenes. Think about how the author weaves character-driven moments with action. Do you think the most important moments of character development coincide with the most climactic scenes? Explain your answer and why you think the author may have made these decisions.
20. Cela talks to Jianyu about the idea that there is something wrong with their land because “the people who were here first—the ones who truly belong here—got killed off or pushed aside, and that does something to a place, all that death and violence.” What do you think about that idea? Can you think of some examples from our world where this has happened or continues to happen, or is this idea more suited to a world with magic in it?Extension Activities
1. Who do you think is the main character in the book? Write an essay supporting your answer using details from the story.
2. Choose one of the story’s themes and trace it throughout the book. Then write an essay about how the author supports that theme through plot, character, setting, and style. Make sure to give examples from the text.
3. Harte says that Julien “taught me how important it is not to lose the heart of who you are when you’re becoming someone else.” How does this statement apply to both of them? Use this idea as the basis for an essay that compares and contrasts these two characters.
4. Choose a chapter from the book that you find especially interesting or meaningful, and rewrite it as a scene from a movie or a play. What are some of the differences you find between writing a movie or a play versus a book?
5. When Viola and Theo tried to rescue Ruby to keep her safe, she thought: “Safe?
What was safety but a cage?” Write an opinion essay about whether you agree or disagree with this statement, and why. Can you relate this sentiment to a personal experience, or one from another book you’ve read?
6. The St. Louis World’s Fair was an important cultural event. Do some preliminary research about the fair, and then choose an interesting aspect to research further. Share your findings with your class and see if your discussion helps to re-create some of the magic, innovation, and influence of the global event. Was there anything that surprised you? Does knowing the history behind the fair add to your reading of the story?
7. Observing Ruth, Harte thought, “The line between belief and zealotry was often a fragile one, indistinct and prone to crumble when examined too closely.” Define the words belief
. As a class, brainstorm a list of times in history when the link between belief and zealotry crumbled, and think about why that may have happened. Then choose an incident or time period from the list and write a report looking at the impact.Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.