The Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron [The Legend of Eli Monpress #1]

  • TITLE: The Spirit Thief
  • AUTHOR: Rachel Aaron
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 7th October 2010

Don’t be discouraged by the terrible cover…!

The Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron, is precisely the reason why I am so tired with dark, gritty fantasy it hurts. Sometimes you want to read a “meaningful” story that tackles grandiose issues—and sometimes you’re sick and tired with constant and dated examinations and re-examinations of the human condition that you’re ready to hurl the latest offering of grimdark to the wall. That’s where books like The Spirit Thief charge in with a flurry of trumpets and a white charger to save the day. Thank the gods for series such as The Legend of Eli Monpress and for authors like Aaron.

Books like this remind you that not every epic/high fantasy offering has to be doom and gloom and death and rape and issues and politics and… well, every single little, gritty issue that has permeated the SFF scene for so long that it’s become what Sam Sykes (thinking-man’s author and general totally-right-about-most-things guy) has deemed “literary kitty litter”.

The first book in the Legend of Eli Monpress omnibus that I’m working my way through is a damn, damn good read that is fun, funny and exciting. I’d say that it’s cliché, but I’m not sure that just because something has expected or traditional tropes and themes it can be whacked with the cliché stick. It’s inventive and original and acts as a brilliant start to what is shaping up to be a fun and thrilling series that offers a new adventure with each book.

Eli Monpress is a thief, he’s also a wizard and he’s also extremely good at what he does: he’s a better wizard than the Spiritualists and a better thief than most thieves. With his companions, the swordsman Josef and his mysterious tag-along Nico, who can move easily through shadows and seems to set the spirits Eli can talk to on edge, as a team, they are almost unstoppable. Almost, thinks Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette, sent to apprehend Monpress from the kingdom of Melinor, before he can steal Gregorn’s Pillar; a fabled artefact that, if Eli were to steal it, could mean trouble—as well as a darker stain on the name of wizards and further mockery for the Spirit Court.

However, within the court of Melinor and the history of its royal family are buried dark secrets that could threaten the kingdom and the Spirit Court far more than the greedy ambitions of a single thief who has no care for the Pillar the Spirit Court is certain he’s in Melinor to steal. Fortunately, Eli is interested only in money and in upping the princely bounty on his head. But there are those in Melinor who are interested in the Pillar, and with unsavoury motives—those who know its secrets and wish to exploit them. With dark wizardry afoot and the devastating art of enslaving in use, both Miranda and Eli might find themselves both caught up in something bigger than they ever imagined.

With a king having been kidnapped—though that might be Eli’s fault—and with a plot to steal the kingdom from its absent king—that isn’t entirely Eli’s fault—Miranda finds that Eli and his antics are the least of her worries. With her faithful ghost hound Gin and her bound spirits that serve her readily and easily, she must uncover the truth of what is going on and just what mysteries surround the Pillar. But she must do so before the Pillar’s secrets fall into the wrong hands. With time of the essence and the reported murder of the king pinned on her, her movements aren’t as free as they were and she might find she benefits from Monpress’ special brand of conduct.

Alongside the fight for Melinor, a battle of rivalry and honour between Awakened Blades and their wielders rages on the sidelines, with Josef’s Heart of War eager for blood. All the while, a Demonseed stirs more strongly in the whirling chaos and it’s all Eli can do just to keep his plan on the tracks, let alone to prevent disaster at every turn.

But with the spirits—much to Miranda’s disbelief and confusion—Eli need only ask, and if he can keep his head above water and tread the current, he might just come up trumps, as always—or, if Miranda has anything to do with it, he’ll be hauled back to the Spirit Court in irons to answer for his crimes and face judgement.

Eli Monpress isn’t the best wizard in the world for nothing, though, and with some luck and some Monpress charm, he might just stay one step ahead of the shackles, and help save a kingdom to boot.

The Spirit Thief is an example of enjoyable storytelling; a true display of a writer having fun with her characters, her world and her story. There is nothing groundbreaking about Eli Monpress—but there doesn’t need to be: it’s a great adventurous romp of a yarn and it satisfies the need for some wizarding, “magic”-swording, and good old classic adventuring. Overall, it’s a massive success and achieves precisely what it sets out to accomplish.

It’s corny and sometimes cheesy—but that’s likely from an anime-fan’s perspective, where absolutely everything has already been done once—and it doesn’t matter one jot. It’s also a fantastic book and well worth a read. The Spirit Thief doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should its readers.

This is exactly the kind of fantasy story I’ve missed reading lately, and I’m happy and proud to say I’m hooked on Eli Monpress: if you’re in need of something a little lighter, a good-natured adventure that doesn’t make the world seem all dark and hopeless then Eli is your man. Charming, witty, funny and with its heart and soul in just the right place, The Spirit Thief—man and book—will be right up your street and won’t disappoint.

5/5

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