Read more about The Spirit Thief on the Orbit website.
Buy The Spirit Thief on Amazon.
Learn more about Rahcel Aaron by visiting her website.
It took me about four hours to tear through my signed copy of Rachel Aaron’s new fantasy caper, The Spirit Theif. Starring Eli Monpress, the world’s greatest wizard thief, Aaron’s book will put you in mind of David Edding’s Redemption of Althalus and Scott Lynch’s atmospheric The Lies of Locke Lamorra.
Eli, his sword-swinging comrade Josef, and the shadow-stalking demonseed Nico, conspire to kidnap the King of Mellinor, an old kingdom well known for its hatred of wizrds. With a bounty on his head of 20,000 gold standards, Eli is one of the most wanted criminals among the Council Kingdoms. And he has hatched his daring plot not for the ransom he will be paid, but to raise that bounty even more. In order to reach his goal of 1,000,000 gold standards, kidnapping a king may be the pettiest of the crimes he plans to commit.
Opposing Eli is the formidable Spiritualist, Miranda Lyonette, assigned by the Spirit Court to hunt down and bring to justice this rogue mage, before he brings a bad name to all wizards. With her ghosthound mount and her rings full of servant spirits, she sets out to rescue the king and capture Monpress before the kingdom of Mellinor collapses in shambles.
Rachel Aaron weaves these two sides together with a deep, dark secret, and a clever twist on the idea of the anti-magic kingdom. You’ll have to read the book to find out what the twist is, but I promise you it’s worth it.
Now, on to the specifics:
All fantasies are made up of four components: the characters, the plot, the world, and the magic system.
1. Magic: Rachel Aaron’s magic system is a unique blend of elemental magic and the idea that everything in nature is possessed of its own soul. Think Japanese kami, elemental magic, and contract spirits all rolled into one. Now, contract magic is one of my favorite systems , and I liked that even within that strict framework, Aaron left room for various paths to power. While the powerful Spirit Court emphasises fair exchange, and duty to spirit and human alike, there are other ways to control this power, and most of them aren’t very nice.
2. Plot: If you’ve read any capers before, fantasy or otherwise, you pretty much know how this goes. The clever thief arrives in town with a carefully crafted plan and a desire to thumb his nose at authority whenever possible. Of course, no plan is perfect, and even the best strategies rarely survive the first engagement. But that’s okay. If everything went according to plan, there wouldn’t be much of a story, would there? Well, both Eli and Miranda’s plans go drastically wrong and the most exciting part of this book is discovering how they clean up the mess. No one makes it through unscathed.
3. Characters: I mentioned Locke Lamorra and Althallus earlier. I’d say this book leans much closer to Althalus, with a light heart and a willingness to play around with the cliches of the genre. Monpress is witty and charismatic, and frequently takes time out to joke with boulders and whisper sweet nothings in the ears of nearby trees. There’s a fine line between magnificent bastard and mary sue, and Eli keeps a foot planted firmly on either side of it. On the bright side, you get the clear feeling that these characters existed before the book began and will still be gallivanting through the lands long after it ends.
4. World-building: Now we get to the only real disappointment I had with the book. I’ve heard it said that fantasies live or die by their world-building, and while I appreciate Aaron’s desire to keep the story moving, I felt the novel lacked the weight of history that really brings a fantasy together for me. The characters may have existed before this story began, but I can’t quite be sure that the world did. Aaron does bring up historical events, and one of them is even integral to the progression of plot. But I felt she relied a little too much on the generic tropes of fantasy, and this means the world didn’t have the living, breathing indivdualism you find in many works. Before you say, well, it’s light fantasy, I’d like to point out that Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Lynch’s Locke Lamorra have very similar stories, but I get a strong sense of the past and present and the way things are outside of the protagonists tiny little section of the world.
All that said, if you enjoy light fantasy and grand capers that move all over the world, I’d definitely recommend reading this book, and I plan to read the rest of the series, too, if I can get my hands on it. It’s very clear to me why this novel got published, and even though I think the author is still maturing, I look forward to her future work.