I’m not sure there are words to describe how much this book delighted me. I’ll try very hard, however.
The Spirit Thief is the first in a planned series about the adventures of ne’er-do-well Eli Monpress and his ragtag band of merry thieves. Well, less merry and more dour ridiculously powerful thieves, but nonetheless his little band. Eli has, at least as far as this book suggests, one goal in life–to raise the bounty on his head to 1 million gold standards. Which, as one character helpfully points out, is more than all the money in the entire world.
What starts out as a simple heist quickly became a tangled web of long held grudges, deceitfulness, and murderous intentions. I would accuse Eli of having bad timing, but I’m not sure even that is enough to cover just how horribly wrong everything almost turned out. I’ll give him credit, however; he is unfailingly optimistic that he can turn things around given enough time.
Eli is, regardless of anything else, a very special person. He defies all conventions of being a wizard (or “Spiritualist”) as a thief and kidnapper. When the kidnapped King Henrith awakens, one of Eli’s first conversations with him is to ask how King Henrith is enjoying the kidnapping so far and whether there was anything he thinks could change.
Eli’s companions, Josef and Nico, are equally complicated people. Josef is a master swordsman who won’t consider drawing his magical sword for reasons of pride (“How will I become stronger if I rely on you to win my battles?” Josef says to his sword’s spirit). He does, however, have such an impressive amount of pointy weaponry that I was swooning, half in love with him just for that. Nico, meanwhile, looks like a starving waif of a child, swathed in an enormous black cloak that feels alive to the touch. She’s actually just the human shell for a “demonseed,” or an unawakened demon. Her powers are equally devastating, though her presence alone is enough to terrify spirits into a bloodlust rage.
And then there’s Eli. Eli who communes with spirits as if they are no different than any other being. Who whispers and croons to them, seducing them into doing what he wants enthusiastically. Miranda, a high level Spiritualist sent to capture Eli (or at least thwart his plans), observes as he does the impossible. Over and over and over again.
This isn’t to say any of them are immune to failure or get everything right all the time–their failures are pretty spectacular and involve a lot of collateral damage, but the three of them could easily do much worse than try to raise the bounty on Eli’s head through harmless kidnappings and “impossible” thievery.
At first The Spirit Thief is something of a farce. Alerted to the danger of Eli’s escape from his prison, King Henrith is rushed around for his safety. Giving Eli a perfectly good chance to enact his plan. For several chapters the book is full of banter as everyone tries to adjust to the kidnapping of the King. And then the meat of the plot is unleashed in the form of an enemy of the throne with a very deeply seated hatred for Henrith, Mellinor, and quite possibly everything else. Almost justified, really, if, you know, Renaud wasn’t loonbird crazy.
I would have loved to know more about what it was like for Renaud growing up in the castle, his mother basically sheltering him so no one knew about his magic (which is forbidden in Mellinor, even in the royal family). Did that help to make him the sociopath he is? If Mellinor had been more receptive to Spiritualists, and given Renaud the training he needed, would he be a better person? I enjoyed Renaud; he was the extreme opposite of Eli (with Miranda in the middle), but he had a very one-track mind. Single focus–complete and utter dominion over all spirits–and I wasn’t quite sure why. I assumed it was because he was a crackpot, however.
The lay of the land changed continually throughout the story. One plot was hatched, foiled (or interrupted), so a new one began, which then changed as new variables presented themselves, and so forth. Aaron’s ability to juggle all the changes that happened, often quickly and in the span of a page, without confusing me (the reader) did not go unappreciated. There never seemed to be a moment when the plot stopped so that Aaron had a character “catch the reader up” on what was going on. Everything just flowed, the ripples barely more than that. The one hitch was when Miranda was detailing the differences between a “wizard” and a “Spiritualist,” or at least the differences in how the people of Mellinor viewed those with magic. It was interesting, but a huge block of information just sitting in the middle of a plot point, and it distracted me.
From the way this book ended, and the sample chapter given about the next book, The Spirit Rebellion (due out in November), I’m eagerly waiting to find out what happens. We meet, and learn, about an enigmatic character called Benehime who favors Eli and apparently gave him something. I’d love to know more about her, and the group she more or less is the patron of (The League of Storms). It’s a happy thing that Orbit is releasing the first three books in back-to-back releases (Book 3, The Spirit Eater is due out in December), but that also means the next two will be that much longer to wait for.