“Eli Monpress is talented. He’s charming. And he’s a thief.
But not just any thief. He’s the greatest thief of the age – and he’s also a wizard. And with the help of his partners – a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls – he’s going to put his plan into effect.
The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he’ll need to steal some big things. But he’ll start small for now. He’ll just steal something that no one will miss – at least for a while.
Like a king.”
It’s no secret I’ve been in a massive on and off again reading slump since I hit grad school six years ago. For someone who used to be known for reading a book a week, this was incredibly frustrating, even more so when I couldn’t seem to break it for more than maybe a month at a time. Then I came across the Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron.
The library owns the first half of the series as part of a compilation novel, The Legend of Eli Monpress, but I’m only going to talk about the first book The Spirit Thief (though all five books are fantastic and worth a look).
I’ve had a soft spot for the good thief character type since my early reading days, as it appears to be a favorite trope of my all time favorite author, Tamora Pierce, who boasts at least two thief main characters across her many series (both of whom, are coincidently, two of my favorite characters in the series they appear in). So, when I read the synopsis describing Eli, I knew I had to check The Spirit Thief out.
The book starts out with Eli in prison, sweet talking the door into letting him out. Yes, you read that right, our very first scene with Eli is spent with him talking to a door, or more precisely, the spirit of the door. In this series, everything has a spirit: rocks, rivers, trees, and yes, the wood in a door. Wizards are people with the ability to talk to these spirits, and most wizards form a bond with a handful of spirits who then become their servants, who then talk to other spirits for their wizards in order to get things done.
Eli on the other hand forgoes this conventional approach and instead chooses to just be so dang charming that spirits think what he wants them to do is actually what they wanted in the first place.
Eli travels with a legendary swordsman, or more accurately, a swordsman with a legendary sword, and a girl all spirits are naturally terrified of, though the first volume doesn’t give much explanation for why. They’re being pursued by Miranda Lyonette, a Spiritualist (a fancy word for a government approved and licensed wizard) who’s determined to bring them to justice for their thieving ways.
The Spirit Thief is a fun low stakes adventure in a fantasy world that, while not entirely fleshed out in the first book, still gives the impression that it is deeper than it first appears.
Despite being the main character Eli doesn’t actually get much personal focus in the first few books in the series. He’s a main presence and the driving force for a lot of the plot (though not always the way he wants to be), but we don’t get much more than hints at his backstory and motivation for a long time. And while that’s a bit of a complaint for me, since Eli was what mainly drew me to the series, it actually works remarkably well for the story Rachel Aaron is telling.
While technically an adult fantasy book, there’s nothing in the series that would preclude it from being an acceptable read to even the younger end of YA. In fact, that was probably what I enjoyed so much about it; I’ve gotten tired of the tropes often found in current YA fantasy novels, which are my usual reading fare; there’s only so many times you can read about a love triangle and teenage queens with dark magic who must partner with an enemy but end up falling for them. But at the same time I wasn’t quite feeling all the dark, doom and gloom tone or explicit content that adult fantasy novels tend to go for. These books were the perfect balance.
There are five books total in the series: The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, The Spirit Eater, The Spirit War, and Spirits End (with two compilation volumes, The Legend of Eli Monpress consisting of the first three books, and The Revenge of Eli Monpress, with the last two). There’s also an additional short story available in e-book form which gives a bit backstory on Miranda that, while neat to know, isn’t required to understand anything in the main series plot.
Check out The Spirit Thief here: https://more.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1980240164 or the omnibus of the first three volumes, here: https://more.bibliocommons.com/item/show/2403095164
~~Brittany, Youth Services