Reading Realms takes a look at Book Four of the Eli Monpress saga: The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
Eli Monpress is vain.
And he's a thief.
But he's a thief who has just seen his bounty topped and he's not happy about it. The bounty topper, as it turns out, is his best friend, bodyguard, and master swordsman, Josef. Who has been keeping secrets from Eli. Apparently, he's the only prince of a rather feisty country and his mother (a formidable queen who's every bit as driven and stubborn as he is) wants him to come home and do his duty, which means throwing over personal ambitions like proving he's the greatest swordsman who ever lived.
Family drama aside, Eli and Josef have their hands full. The spirit court has been userped by the Council of Thrones and someone calling herself the Immortal Empress is staging a massive invasion. But it's not just politics -- The Immortal Empress has a specific target in mind: Eli Monpress, the greatest thief in the world.
The Spirit Thief is the fourth book in the Eli Monpress saga and by this point, you definitely want to have read the prior books. From book one until now, the series has slowly built from somewhat self-confined stories, adding layer upon layer to build something more epic. Don't let the series name fool you either; though Eli Monpress is one of the stars of the series (you'll only get that pun if you are a reader) he is hardly the only one. His partners Josef and Nico as well as Miranda, the spirit court mage he seems to always butt heads with, have roles just as large as his own. In fact, although the book bounces around as events unfold around the world, for the first three quarters of the story, the star is Josef.
As the cover blurb says, it's revealed to us that he is in fact a prince and that is the part of his past he has always run away from. Now with the Immortal Empress on the march to conquer the piece of the world that fought her off decades ago, he is called home. Josef, Eli and Neco head to Josef's homeland and get mixed up in a lot more than they had hoped.
Though the time spent in Osera (Josef's homeland) thrusts them into a bit of court intrigue and backstabbing, in this action adventure story things never get too bogged down. Readers expecting mysteries to be dragged out for books at a time will be surprised to find them wrapped up for good or bad as the bigger story pushes forward. The best thing is that even if a reader guesses the result of a plot line, there is always more and it's usually not something anyone would think.
Osera rests at the first place the Immortal Empress and her fleet will cross as she moves toward their kingdoms and the upcoming battle brings most of our players together for the climax. Miranda, who has had her own share of adventures through the first half of the book, joins them as well as enough characters on both sides of the good and evil spectrum to give us some outstanding battles by the end.
Although the invasion of the Immortal Empress is the driving force of this novel, it's still only a piece of a bigger pie. From Miranda's earlier encounter with the Shaper mountain, to the clash between the Spirit Court and the Council of Kingdoms, to Nico's newfound spirit sight, we find out more and more of the workings of spirits and how they work with the rest of world. Throughout the background of all the books so far we've gotten a glimpse of what may be leading us to the final novel: Spirit's End, due out at the end of the year.
Eli Monpress has always been a bit of a carefree and roguish personality and the novel started with that same tone. However, as the story grew deeper and darker with each book, the tone has slightlly changed. Eli is still mostly that charming and fun-loving rogue, but it seems much more a front now as everything around him builds toward that darker end. He still gives us plenty of smiles as he works with Josef early in the book, but by the final clash everything is as serious as it should be.
Battles take on the epic feel that they should for the amount of power being slung around by this point in the story. Magic use has grown from somewhat of a rarity in the first book (rare in the story, though not in the world) to playing a larger and larger role in each subsequent book. As it should, magic in the world is done using spirits, and spirits are essentially what this saga is about. Aside from individuals like Miranda that are just powerful mages pushed to their brink, it is also dealing with individuals that are practically demigods. What is most impressive is how well the author deals with this power. Where some stories might fall apart if too much magic becomes involved, here is seems a natural part of the story and world and the results of the battles are both amazing and tragic.
If you are a reader that enjoys fast paced action adventure stories like The Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks or stories built around great characters like Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, then you would like Rachel Aaron's work. The Spirit War is out now in oversized paperback and the earlier three books have been collected into one oversized paperback under the title The Legend of Eli Monpress if you want to get caught up on the story.
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