Lisa Maxwell takes tropes to a new level in The Devil’s Thief, cementing the concept that including tropes can work when executed well. (Minor spoilers)
When describing The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell it’s difficult to pin down where to start. From its usage of time travel, multiple strong female characters, unique magic system, and plot twists, Lisa Maxwell managed to start a series so strongly that the easiest way to describe it is a mash up of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Gangs of New York, and the Prestige.
Full of dangerous secret societies akin to the Freemasons, warring gangs ripe with those who have magical affinity, and an invisible wall called the Brink that traps said people with magical affinity within the confines of Manhattan is just the beginning of Maxwell’s usage of popular tropes that she expertly manages to make anew in the first book of the series.
Tropes in media often refers to overused plot devices, but that doesn’t mean that tropes are bad. In an age of fanfiction and TVtropes, I often use tropes to describe a book or tv show people to get them to read or watch said piece of media. Every type of media uses tropes, though most don’t call it that.
They can be anything that can be tagged on Archiveofourown, like ‘enemies to lovers’, ‘fake relationship’, ‘amnesia’, or something as fun as ‘sharing a bed’. TVtropes has extensive and specific names for every sort of trope imaginable, which I have gone down a rabbit hole in searching for various ideas and characterizations various times.
While reading The Devil’s Thief the usage of tropes caught my attention because while they were more subtle in The Last Magician, The Devil’s Thief had more specific tropes within it which I particularly enjoy reading.
Everyone has their tropes that they like and dislike, and The Devil’s Thief just so happens to have some of my favorites, all of which were perfectly executed throughout. You know you’ve done a good job with a trope when it makes the reader scream, gasp, or laugh with glee with its inclusion.
Minor spoilers below!
5 Fan Fave Tropes in The Devil’s Thief
1. ‘Brought down to normal’
Time Travel is a major part of the series, with the main character Esta Filosik’s affinity being able to manipulate time, amplified by a magical stone imbedded in a cuff that she wears called Ishtar’s Key. The cuff is an ancient artifact that is one of five stones that are imbued with Mageus, or magic.
While her power works perfectly fine in The Last Magician besides the fact that her Ishtar’s Key breaks, leaving her stranded in 1902 unless she finds the key in the current time, Esta finds herself practically powerless in The Devil’s Thief. Her powers are weakened, finicky, and volatile.
Like a string about to snap, she can barely hold onto time like she used to, leaving she and Harte in 1904, two years after the events of The Last Magician, making it all the harder to find the four missing artifacts needed for the book.
2. ‘Kiss in order to hide’
While on the run in St. Louis in 1904, where Esta is a wanted fugitive due to her exploding a train in 1902 on accident in order for her and Harte to escape (thanks to her not-working-correctly powers), she and Harte end up kissing in order to avoid capture.
This may be one of my favorite tropes, just because of how implausible I think it would be in real life. I had a discussion with friends about how this could actually be used to hide versus it being a plot device to get to characters to kiss and while I think it would bring more attention to the characters, it was pointed out to me that when you see two people kissing in public you tend to look away from them instead of stare at them directly.
Because of this, you don’t really look at the people who are kissing. So, in a way, I suppose it would work. Either way, this popular trope works in fiction and I smile every time it appears. Of course, when you add in the other tropes happening in the book at the same time, it gets even better.
3. ‘Can’t have sex, ever’
In the aftermath of The Last Magician, Harte has awakened what was in the book. This being has the power to not only possess Harte, but it wants Esta for itself. Possession is a trope as well, but I want to talk about the fact that every time Harte and Esta get near each other or kiss, Harte has to hold back the demon inside him that wants Esta.
Of course, Harte doesn’t explain why he is being hot/cold with Esta, leaving her confused and their already thin thread of trust frays even more. One of my favorite tropes ever, due to Pushing Daisies let’s be real, the fact that Harte and Esta can’t get physical or an ancient being could break free and wreak havoc on the world is pretty epic.
Not only can Esta not use her powers properly, but Harte is being possessed by a demon and they are alone in another city and time period, unable to kiss without Harte barely holding onto his sanity.
I live for it.
Crossdressing isn’t a new trope, by all means, with it going back to not only Shakespeare who used it so often that it was probably one of his own favorites, but was common in Greek and Roman theatre as well. It isn’t, however, used often in literature.
Julien Elitnge is probably my favorite of the characters introduced in The Devil’s Thief. A friend from Harte’s past, Julien not only gave Harte his stage name, but taught Harte how to act like someone above his own station, as well as how to charm a crowd. I instantly fell for Julien and his sass and charisma.
Along with Julien, Esta crossdresses for most of the book while hiding from the Jefferson Guard in St. Louis, who track down those with affinity. By dramatically cutting her hair off, to the chagrin of Harte, Esta transformed into a passable male.
She wore trousers, which women didn’t do during the Victorian Era, making it harder to pick her out of a crowd. Harte commented multiple times that she was barely passable because of her soft features and how she acted and walked, but Julien gave her some pointers and she managed to pull it off for most of the book.
5. ‘Enemies to lovers’
The end all be all of tropes, Enemies to Lovers is probably one of the most popular, and in The Last Magician Esta and Harte were most certainly enemies. With an undercurrent of tension throughout the first book, they didn’t trust each other at all during the events of The Last Magician all the way until the finale when Esta saved Harte from falling to his death off of the Brooklyn Bridge with the Book.
The attraction was there from the beginning, but with both of them not trusting the other and the fact that both of them keep their cards close to their chests means that the tension between them was palpable.
Going from enemies to reluctant allies to having feelings for each other over the course of two books while also adding in the trope of not being able to kiss and refusing to admit their feelings for each other, I wait with baited breath for the third installment to see how this ‘will they won’t they’ ends.