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A Reading Group Guide to The Last Magician
By Lisa MaxwellAbout the Book
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. 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.Discussion Questions
1. A prologue is often used to give background information and/or to grab readers’ attention with the opening scene. What details about the story did you learn? Did it pique your interest and make you want to read the rest of the book? What questions did it bring up?
2. What do you think is the primary genre of the book? What are some of the subgenres? How can stories that blend several genres or subgenres create more interest for the reader?
3. Discuss the different settings in the book—both the “wheres” and the “whens.” How many were there? Did you find the plot more challenging to follow because setting wasn’t only dictated by location, but also by time? Esta thinks “The only way to go was forward.” Why doesn’t she think about going back in time when it’s possible for her to do so?
4. The author provides rich detail about the world she’s created: the theater, the Strega, the Brink, and the Haymarket. How much of this detail is imaginary, and how much is based on how life really was in 1902? How can the distant past seem fantastical or imaginary, even when you’re presented with facts from the time period?
5. What were your impressions of Esta and Logan when they were introduced in the first theft scene? Did you like either of them? What did their partnership on this job tell you about their personalities? Their relationship?
6. When did you first suspect that Esta was a time traveler? Can you name some clues given in that first scene? Why is Esta’s ability to travel through time important to the plot and/or theme? What time period would you visit if you had that ability?
7. Discuss Esta’s ability to manipulate time, and the intriguing idea that time is attached to place. Can you name places you’ve visited with a strong sense of history, where you could almost sense the layers of time? Can you name other books that feature a character time traveling without using a machine?
8. When Esta meets with the Professor, she thinks: “But he never did anything unless he was already sure how it would turn out.” Taking risks—or not—is one of the major themes of the book. Which characters are risk takers, and why? What’s the difference between carelessly taking risks and thoughtfully taking risks?
9. Trusting someone with your secrets is one of the biggest risks that can be taken. When Esta is deciding whether or not she should save Logan, she thinks: “Never reveal what you can do. It was one of their most important rules.” Harte’s profession is also based on keeping secrets. Why are Harte and Esta able to share some of their secrets? Which characters have secrets they are not willing to share?
10. When meeting with Dolph, Harte thinks: “He always did manage to find out the very things a person wanted to keep hidden.” Discuss how different it is to share your secrets than to have them stolen from you. Harte’s magical gift is that he can read people’s thoughts. What are the moral implications of this gift? What are the dangers? Would you use this gift if you had it?
11. Would you agree that trust is one of the novel’s themes? If so, discuss which characters extend trust to another and which are betrayed: Jack/Harte; Harte/Esta; Esta/Dolph; Dolph/Nibs. At one point, Harte determines to “trust no one but himself.” Discuss the consequences of making that decision.
12. Why does Harte believe that the theater is a perfect place for Mageus to hide? Do you agree with him? What are some stereotypes about “theater people”? Is that community more accepting of differences? Why?
13. Why do you think the author chose the city of New York as the setting for the story? Why did she choose to include some real historical New Yorkers in the story? Can you think of other books and movies set in New York? Can you suggest reasons for the allure of that particular city? How different would the story have been if it had been set in another city?
14. The Order are prejudiced against the immigrant Mageus, calling them “maggots” who “need to be eliminated.” The author writes of “the heady sense of righteousness that can only come from belief in purpose.” Draw some parallels from this attitude to some real historical times. Why are people so afraid of anyone who seems different from them? Why, in history, have there been repeated times of suspicion and persecution of immigrants? Do you believe, as Dolph says, that the Order and the Mageus have “more in common than we have differences”? Consider the the fact that the Order were once immigrants themselves.
15. How do you feel about the character of Nibs/Professor Lachlan? Do you understand his motives? Does the author succeed in making readers sympathize with him when he talks about his hard early life? Looking back, what were the clues that he was living in both times? Did you trust him when he was helping Dolph?
16. Dolph says, “There never was much of a line between science and magic.” Do you understand what he means? Can you give some examples of modern science or technology that would have seemed like magic in a past historical time?
17. Discuss the role of motivation as it applies to some of the characters. What is Esta’s primary motivation for wanting to see her assignment through to the end? Is at least part of her motivation due to her feeling of guilt for having changed history? How do their families motivate Harte and Jack in different ways?
18. Jianyu says to Dolph, “People do all manner of things when fear drives their hearts.” Give some examples from the book that prove him right. How effective is fear as a motivator? Extension Activities: Writing & Research
1. On the opening page of the story, the author says, “But then, people usually do miss what’s right in front of them.” Write an essay about the role of preconceptions and prejudices in this book and how it relates to theme, character, and plot.
2. The ending of the book seems to suggest there will be a sequel. If you agree, create an outline of what you think the major plot points will be.
3. Choose one of the intriguing chapter titles from the book and use it as a writing prompt to create an original short story.
4. Research and write a report on any of the real New Yorkers, or New York places, that appear in the story.
5. Choose one of the characters in the story and write an essay examining the way they exhibit one of the story’s major themes.
6. The Brooklyn Bridge has an important role in the book. Write an essay on its symbolism in the book. Can you include other examples of bridges used as symbols?
7. At one point, Dolph tells Esta: “No one can survive on their own.” Write an opinion essay supporting or opposing this statement.
8. Choose a time period in history when a culture or nation struggled with immigrants and write a report about that struggle.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.