THE SPIRIT THIEF by Rachel Aaron — a Review

I first learned of Rachel Aaron (blog, twitter) through Twitter. Not only did Aaron communicate with her readers and fans, but I have found her blog to be a great read for people who want to know more about her or the ways she writes fantasy (10,000 words a day!). Through her website, I was able to win copies of THE LEGEND OF ELI MONPRESS (an anthology of the first three books in the series) and THE SPIRIT WAR (the new fourth book in the series). So I started reading THE SPIRIT THIEF, the first book in the anthology.

And I loved it. THE SPIRIT THIEF is an excellent example of what light fantasy can be. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the subgenres of fantasy, I’m not using “light” in some dismissive way, as if it was a cream puff beach read. It’s just not an epic fantasy, with a cast of thousands and the future of the world or universe hanging in the balance. Instead, THE SPIRIT THIEF is focused on a few people, with a tightly woven plat that advances at a good pace, taking place in a world that readers will enjoy learning about.

At the heart of the book, you have Eli Monpress, the world’s greatest thief, whose ego equals the size of his talent. Oh, and he’s also a wizard, capable of charming a door off its hinges. You see, in this world, everything has a spirit that a wizard can charm, persuade, or enslave. But I digress. Monpress also travels with a swordsman of incredible talent who carries a powerful sword that may not be exactly what everyone thinks it is and a demonseed, a woman with her own terrifying powers and secrets. Together, this crew decides to kidnap a king. Out to stop them is Miranda, an emissary from the Spiritualist Court. A talented spiritualist, she rides a ghosthound who is larger than a horse. Of course, in a fantasy story involving a thief, crimes, and magic, nothing goes to plan.

There are many reasons to start reading THE SPIRIT THIEF. It’s part caper story, part sword and sorcery, and part comedy. All in all, a great fantasy novel. Aaron writes with heart and humor, and while that may have you thinking of Terry Pratchett, Aaron’s humor is more about fun and sarcasm, instead of wit or a comedy of manners. Additionally, THE SPIRIT THIEF doesn’t want for plot like some of Pratchett’s stories.

Although I wrote earlier that this wasn’t a beach read, I did take it on vacation. And I couldn’t really put it down. I brought it to the pool, I read it while brushing my teeth, and I hid behind it when family members gave me “the look.” Towards the end, there is a little bit of a deus ex machina type of situation, yet Aaron handles it in a way that I suspect it will play a part in the later volumes of the series instead of being a one-time “get out of jail free” situation.

If you are looking for a change up while waiting for the next gritty, epic fantasy book by George R.R. Martin or Brandon Sanderson to come out, give THE SPIRIT THIEF a read. I think you will discover that you may like light fantasy every bit as much as epic fantasy.

<EDIT: Sorry. I can’t believe I forgot this. Throughout the book, Aaron displays a talent for simile. They are beautiful, creative, and sharp. Yet, they never take away from the story. It’s a unique skill that many writers could learn from and many readers will enjoy.