Thomas M. MacKay Reviews The Spirit Thief

Thomas M. MacKay Reviews The Spirit Thief

the-spirit-thiefThe Spirit Thief
Rachel Aaron
Orbit Books (327 pp, $7.99, October 2010)
Reviewed by Thomas M. MacKay

Eli Monpress is a thief, and he would be the first to tell you that he is a pretty good one. That is not the reason the wizards of the Spirit Court have put a bounty on his head and sent one of their top troubleshooters to hunt him. Eli Monpress is also a wizard, and he is giving the wizards a bad name. He is deuced hard to catch, though. He travels with a swordsman who carries a magical sword he refuses to use, a demon-possessed girl who refuses to succumb to her demon, and the voices of all the spirits that live in every tumbled rock and growing tree. And Eli Monpress has a goal – it may not be his only goal, it may not even be his most important goal, but Eli Monpress intends to have the bounty on his head grow to be the largest there has ever been.

Of course, in order to do that he is going to have to give a lot of people pretty significant reasons to dedicate their gold to his capture. And since he is a thief, that means stealing things – and he travels to the little country of Mellinor to do just that. Mellior’s perfect because, by law, no wizards are allowed to live there. But Mellinor doesn’t have any great treasures in its treasure room worth doubling the bounty on Eli’s head, so he will have to steal something else. Something they would notice; something they would want back. Something that usually sits on the throne. Or perhaps that should be someone…

The job is going too well; Eli and his companions are a little bored. But there are three things that Eli doesn’t know. The first is that there is one wizard living in Mellinor – the kidnapped King Henrith’s older brother Renaud, denied the throne because of his wizard’s power. And with the king missing, it is Renaud’s chance to step into the royal slippers. The second thing Eli doesn’t know is that Miranda Lyonettete, the Spirit Court’s top investigator, has just arrived in Mellinor looking for Eli. But the biggest problem is that the third thing Eli doesn’t know is Mellinor used to be an inland see, and the spirit of that sea is about to be released. Before his bounty can be increased, Eli will discover that maybe boredom wasn’t so bad after all.

The Spirit Thief was fast paced and interesting. The surprises were well spaced out, unpredictable enough to be engaging, but not so jarring as to disrupt the flow of the story. While the characters were somewhat stereotypical (the taciturn warrior, the loquacious gentleman thief, the stiff necked court wizard, the mad evil wizard trying to take over the kingdom), the character development was skillfully done and the main characters were anything but two dimensional. Probably the weakest character development was of the villain himself; I would have liked to have seen a more nuanced bad guy. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by the handling of the kidnapped king, who had one of the smallest parts in the story. While he started out seeming something of a dupe, there is a moment where Henrith is talking to Miranda Lyonettete where you see him as an intelligent man who is a good judge of character and doesn’t let himself be blinded by his own prejudices. It is a surprising bit of character development in an almost throw-away character. The most interesting part of the story was, appropriately enough, the development of the various relationships between the characters, especially after Miranda reluctantly agrees to work with Eli to stop Renaud. In all, a good sign for the success of this book is that I was ready to start reading the next book right away.

The Spirit Thief, the first installment of a projected trilogy, did a good job of introducing the characters and giving a sense of back-story. It raised several questions that were left hanging, presumably to be answered in subsequent books. In fact, I’m not sure Aaron will have room in only two books to answer all the questions she has left hanging, but they don’t prevent the book from standing on its own. I would recommend this book as a great afternoon read for its fresh perspective on magic and interesting characters.


A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Black Gate Magazine #15

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Sarah Avery

I liked one of Rachel Aaron’s essays on writing process enough to give it a shout-out in my last post, but I haven’t read any of her books yet. I’ll have to check those out now. I believe she’s working on her fourth novel in this series. If so, she may have quite a while to play with those hanging questions.

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