Author: Rachel Aaron
Publication Date: October 2010
Eli Monpress is talented. He’s charming. And he’s a thief.
But not just any thief. He’s the greatest thief of the age – and he’s also a wizard. And with the help of his partners – a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls – he’s going to put his plan into effect.
The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he’ll need to steal some big things. But he’ll start small for now. He’ll just steal something that no one will miss – at least for a while.
Like a king.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 of the Eli Monpress
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher, courtesy of BEA 2010
Why did I read this book: Both Ana and I have had The Spirit Thief on our radars for a loooong time, and we were thrilled to scoop up ARCs at BookExpo America this year. And, in an attempt to keep some semblance of order with our sprawling TBRs, we decided to hold off on reviewing this title until its release date.
Eli Monpress is the world’s greatest thief, and the most dangerous of his kind – for he robs not for money or fame, but out of sheer love for his chosen vocation. For reasons unbeknownst to anyone, Eli and his crew – swordsman Josef (who wields the Heart of War, the most powerful magical sword in the world) and Niko (a demonseed girl whose grasp on her slipping humanity is tenuous at best) – have undertaken a crazy heist. Eli has taken a sensational new approach to thievery by kidnapping the king of Mellinor and holding him for a bizarre form of reverse ransom in an attempt to boost the bounty on his head to an impossibly high one million golden standards, simply because it has never been done before (or so we are led to believe).
Things aren’t so simple for Eli and his crew, however, as unforeseen complications rear their ugly heads. His incredible heist goes awry when the king’s exiled wizard brother steps into the picture, hungry for the power denied to him because of his ability to exert his will upon the spirits that are in every worldly creature. With the Spirit Court’s young Spiritualist (a type of wizard that works strives to maintain balance between humans and the spirits of the world surrounding them) Miranda hot on his trail, and a power-crazed usurper running Mellinor, Eli has his hands more than full. But, as the world’s greatest thief, it’s a challenge he and his crew are willing to accept.
The Spirit Thief is nothing if it isn’t fantastical fun. Fast-paced and action-filled, with just the right amount of sass and verve, I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Aaron’s debut novel. The Spirit Thief plays with familiar tropes – the nimble uncatchable thief (and his motley crew), an idealistic and powerful (if brash) young wizard/spiritualist, courtly politics and family jealousy – and manages to pull the story together by virtue of sheer forward momentum.
The story is simple; a classic job-gone-wrong yarn, but with enough twists and developments to keep the plot speeding along and keep readers engaged. Ms. Aaron has a keen eye for plotting and a narrative voice that is humorous and engaging without feeling forced or obnoxious. I loved the idea of Spiritualists and the divide between wizards who would “possess” other spirits, versus those spiritualists that seek balance rather than force nature to their will (I was reminded of Princess Mononoke with the Great Spirit in one of the final climactic scenes – which is cool because I love that anime, but…I’m digressing). Of course, Eli is neither spiritualist nor possessor, but something other – which is only hinted at in this book, but sure to be explained further in subsequent installments.
On the character front, however, things are a little less satisfying. We get a cursory introduction to each of these characters, and each are assigned general characteristics (Eli is cheekily humorous, Josef grim, Niko quietly demonic, Miranda feisty, etc) – but they never get any deeper explication. Each of these characters are undeniably interesting, and I enjoyed their interactions (the bickering team dynamic, the reluctant teaming up of the thieves with Miranda to accomplish a greater good), but they all felt a bit two-dimensional. Also, some of the action sequences (the sword fight between Josef and Coriano, for example) felt a little awkward and protracted – but that could just be personal preference.
These criticism aside, The Spirit Thief has more than enough positives going for it, and I’ll definitely be back for the next two books in the series. If you’re in the mood for a fun, light-hearted and action-filled fantasy novel, look no further: The Spirit Thief awaits.
Notable Quotes: From Chapter 1 (a little on the long side, but it’s the perfect introduction to the wily Eli):
In the prison under the castle Allaze, in the dark, moldy cells where the greatest criminals in Mellinor spent the remainder of their lives counting rocks to stave off madness, Eli Monpress was trying to wake up a door.
It was a heavy oak door with an iron frame, created centuries ago by an overzealous carpenter to have, perhaps, more corners than it should. The edges were carefully fitted to lie flush against the stained, stone walls, and the heavy boards were nailed together so tightly that not even the flickering torch light could wedge between
them. In all, the effect was so overdone, the construction so inhumanly strong, that the whole black affair had transcended simple confinement and become a monument to the absolute hopelessness of the prisoner’s situation. Eli decided to focus on the wood; the iron would have taken forever.
He ran his hands over it, long fingers gently tapping in a way living trees find desperately annoying, but dead wood finds soothing, like a scratch behind the ears. At last, the boards gave a little shudder and said, in a dusty,
splintery voice, “What do you want?”
“My dear friend,” Eli said, never letting up on his tapping, “the real question here is, what do you want?”
“Pardon?” the door rattled, thoroughly confused. It wasn’t used to having questions asked of it.
“Well, doesn’t it strike you as unfair?” Eli said. “From your grain, anyone can see you were once a great tree. Yet, here you are, locked up through no fault of your own, shut off from the sun by cruel stones with no concern at all for your comfort or continued health.”
The door rattled again, knocking the dust from its hinges. Something about the man’s voice was off. It was too clear for a normal human’s, and the certainty in his words stirred up strange memories that made the door decidedly uncomfortable.
“Wait,” it grumbled suspiciously. “You’re not a wizard, are you?”
“Me?” Eli clutched his chest. “I, one of those confidence tricksters, manipulators of spirits? Why, the very thought offends me! I am but a wanderer, moving from place to place, listening to the spirits’ sorrows and doing what little I can to make them more comfortable.” He resumed the pleasant tapping, and the door relaxed against his fingers.
“Well”—it leaned forward a fraction, lowering its creak conspiratorially—“if that’s the case, then I don’t mind telling you the nails do poke a bit.” It rattled, and the nails stood out for a second before returning to their position flush against the wood. The door sighed. “I don’t mind the dark so much, or the damp. It’s just that people are always slamming me, and that just drives the sharp ends deeper. It hurts something awful, but no one seems to care.”
“Let me have a look,” Eli said, his voice soft with concern. He made a great show of poring over the door and running his fingers along the joints. The door waited impatiently, creaking every time Eli’s hands brushed over a spot where the nails rubbed. Finally, when he had finished his inspection, Eli leaned back and tucked his fist under his chin, obviously deep in thought. When he didn’t say anything for a few minutes, the door began to grow impatient, which is a very uncomfortable feeling
for a door.
“Well?” it croaked.
“I’ve found the answer,” Eli said, crouching down on the doorstep. “Those nails, which give you so much trouble, are there to pin you to the iron frame. However”—Eli held up one finger in a sage gesture—“they don’t stay in of their own accord. They’re not glued in; there’s no hook. In fact, they seem to be held in place only by the pressure of the wood around them. So”—he arched an eyebrow—“the reason they stay in at all, the only reason, is because you’re holding on to them.”
“Of course!” the door rumbled. “How else would I stay upright?”
“Who said you had to stay upright?” Eli said, throwing out his arms in a grand gesture. “You’re your own spirit, aren’t you? If those nails hurt you, why, there’s no law that you have to put up with it. If you stay in this situation, you’re making yourself a victim.”
“But . . .” The door shuddered uncertainly.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem.” Eli gave the wood a reassuring pat. “And that’s enough for now. However”—his voice dropped to a whisper—“if you’re ever going to live your life, really live it, then you need to let go of the roles others have forced on you. You need to let go of those nails.”
“But, I don’t know . . .” The door shifted back and forth.
“Indecision is the bane of all hardwoods.” Eli shook his head. “Come on, it doesn’t have to be forever. Just give it a try.”
The door clanged softly against its frame, gathering its resolve as Eli made encouraging gestures. Then, with a loud bang, the nails popped like corks, and the boards clattered to the ground with a long, relieved sigh.
Eli stepped over the planks and through the now empty iron doorframe. The narrow hall outside was dark and empty. Eli looked one way, then the other, and shook
“First rule of dungeons,” he said with a wry grin, “don’t pin all your hopes on a gullible door.”
With that, he stepped over the sprawled boards, now mumbling happily in peaceful, nail-free slumber, and jogged off down the hall toward the rendezvous point.
You can read the first two chapters HERE.
Additional Thoughts: As I’ve mentioned before, The Spirit Thief is part one of a planned
trilogy series. Book 2 is already available, and Book 3 will be released at the end of the month.
For excerpts and information on these two titles, check out Rachel Aaron’s website HERE.
Rating: 6 – Good
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