Fantasy Review: ‘The Spirit War’ by Rachel Aaron

With truly horrible covers and very little publicity, the first three books of Aaron’s series flew completely under my radar for a long time.  It wasn’t until they were put together in an omnibus, The Legend of Eli Monpress, that I discovered this very fun series.  Eli Monpress is the greatest thief in the world, and his ultimate goal is to get enough notoriety to have the largest bounty ever placed on his head.  He is doing so in a world were every thing has a spirit, with some people having the ability to persuade or control them for their purposes.  After a fairly cartoonist first book, the quality in book two went up, followed by a third book that took the story down a much more serious path.

Which leads to The Spirit War, forth book in the series.  While the series isn’t turning into a dark tale and has kept some whimsy, this book defiantly keeps the more serious tone, with stakes that are higher than ever.  The heist plot lines are gone, and while Eli and his crew still have the skills needed to be great thieves, those skills are now needed to save the world.

While Eli is still  present, this time the story is more focused on Josef, the swordsman of the group, who is called back home to take his place as Prince of an island nation, surprising his friends in the process.  Of course Nico(the third member of the group) and Eli have no choice but to follow along, where they soon find themselves helping prepare for war against the Immortal Empress, ruler of half the world.

This is not a complex book, reading more like an adventure tale.  The joy in it come from the three main characters slowly learning a new piece of each others past, enormous clashes between spirits, and the different way’s the groups less lawful skills come in handy in each situation.  As a continuation of the series I can’t recommend this book enough to people who are yearning for fantasy that is fun and less grim than the average series.  The ending was the best of the series, even if it ends with a cliff-hanger.  With an epic confrontation brewing, the ending would have seemed too simple if Aaron hadn’t done so well in showing what a sacrifice was needed to make it happen.

Some small things hold the book back.  Intrigue is not a strong point, and the first third of the book suffers from trying to include it.  All the politics and betrayals were way too easy to spot, i knew who was going to cause problems almost from the character introduction.  And as unique as the “everything has a spirit” angle is, it is often conveniently forgotten to advance the plot. 

Pros: Tries to be fun, good banter between characters, a strong ending.

Cons: The spirit angle has constrained the author in some ways, and the politics truly are cliched.

4 stars.

Unrelated to the review, but for discussion only.   Did anyone else who read the book see possible illusions/homages to Feet of Clay by Pratchett or The Black Company by Cook?

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