Behind the Book: The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell’s The Last Magician is a time-traveling romp of epic proportions. Fans everywhere found themselves panicking over the cliff-hanger and will soon be snatching up copies of the sequel, The Devil’s Thief. In this book, the cast carries on trying to save magic by trying to find four elemental stones scattered across the continent. This spellbinding sequel is sure to delight fans, and we’re delighted that Lisa answered our questions in this Behind the Book post!

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What inspired you to write a series about saving magic in a world that has almost lost it completely?
Strangely enough, when I first pitched the idea of a magical thief to a former editor, the book wasn’t necessarily about saving magic. But the editor was nervous about the idea because she said, “America isn’t really a magical place.” Which got me to thinking… She was kind of right. America doesn’t have the same cohesive and deeply magical mythologies that somewhere like Great Britain has. There are a lot of reasons for why that’s the case, and I decided that I wanted the series to play with that history and create a backstory to explain some of those reasons…and maybe dream of a different future.

In the first book of the series, The Last Magician, the main character, Esta, must travel back in time to New York City in 1902. What made you pick that particular time and place?
It took me a while to figure out where and when Esta’s story was, but turn-of-the-century New York ended up being the choice because of all that it offered. At that time, the city and the whole country was really on the verge of modernity: there were still places in the city that used gas lights but places were also already electrified, there were horses and streetcars side by side. It was a moment where change was happening every day, so changing the future was possible. And of course, it was a place where so many different people and nationalities were being brought together in fairly tight quarters. There was just such a sense of possibility, for conflict and plot and everything, that it seemed perfect. Plus, the island of Manhattan gave me a natural way to contain the Mageus. In 1902, there was only one bridge, and there were limited ways on and off the island, which was ideal for the Brink.

And in The Devil’s Thief, they go to St. Louis and the World’s Fair in 1904. Was there something in particular that drew you to that era?
I decided on St. Louis first. As the gateway to the western part of the country, it really represented a new opportunity for Esta and Harte. The choice of 1904 came once I realized that it had hosted a World’s Fair. So much was happening in the city and at the exhibition that it seemed like a really exciting setting to place the characters. In 1904, the country was also just starting to become a country. Before the turn of the century and before the railroads connected everything, there wasn’t really a sense of America as a whole—individual towns were kind of separate from each other. So in the Fair, you get to see all of those forces starting to come together, kind of a world stage for the events to unfold upon.

Esta is strong, independent and, at times, fearless. Is her character based on anyone you know?
She’s based on many people I know, but no one in particular. Luckily, my life is populated by women who are strong in a lot of different ways, but I can’t say I know anyone like Esta. Mostly, I wanted to write a character who is so strong and completely badass, because I thought it would be fun to see what she could do—and what the limitations of that strength would be.

Is there any significance to the fact that the item Esta has to steal, and the key to keeping magic in the world in The Last Magicians is a book?
Of course! So much of the series is historical and plays with the way the past turns into the present. But people who study history know that history is written by the victors, right? Writing itself—literacy and the ability to read and write—are powerful forces throughout history. There’s something about inscribing a history or a story or a spell that makes it more powerful because writing has the power to stabilize a moment. Really, the magical object couldn’t have been anything but a book. And as readers will learn in The Devil’s Thief, the book itself—how it was created and written and used—is complicated and has real effects in the world and on the characters.

Are you already at work on your next book? What can we expect to see from you next?  
I’m hard at work on the third book in The Last Magician series. I also just sold a middle-grade fantasy tentatively titled Xavier T. Fletcher and the Keeper of the Rend. That should be out in 2020.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Too many… I risk death each night from the toppling tower.

I have a ton of research books on my nightstand right now. City of Dreams by Tyler Anbinder and Greater Gotham by Mike Wallace. I’m halfway through Jesmyn Ward’s amazing Sing, Unburied, Sing, and I just started Akemi Dawn Bowman’s heartbreakingly lovely Summer Bird Blue. I also have a couple of upcoming releases that are up next: Olivia Hinebaugh’s The Birds, the Bees and You and Me out on January 22, 2019 and Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns out in May 2019.

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Lisa Maxwell is the author of The Last Magician series and Unhooked. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, and has a Ph.D. in English. She’s worked as a teacher, scholar, editor, writer and bookseller (at Little Professor Book Center in Alabama). When she’s not writing books, she’s a professor at a local college. She now lives near Washington, DC, with her husband and two sons. You can follow her on Twitter or learn more about her upcoming books at Lisa-Maxwell.com. Pick up The Devil’s Thief (on sale October 9) at your local Half Price Books store and online at HPB.com.

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