Monday, 30 June 2014

Fantasy Review: 'Spirit Thief: The Legend of Eli Monpress, Book 1' by Rachel Aaron

The Legend of Eli Monpress (The Legend of Eli Monpress #1-3)Whew. {Pauses to catch breath} Well, that was a roller-coaster ride and no mistake. Action heaped on action, the same frenetic scene fragmented into half a dozen different points of view, a bunch of wildly original characters, all with their own very different agendas, and a hapless king kidnapped by a wily thief while a usurper seizes his opportunity. Can the villain(s) be defeated and the rightful king restored to his throne? Oh dear, let me think about that for a moment... But just because a book is predictable in certain ways doesn't make it dull, and this one is anything but dull.

The world is, in many ways, much the usual pseudo-medieval affair, a place of small kingdoms ruled by the power of the sword. It's the magic that lifts this out of the ordinary. Everything, it seems, has a spirit, or soul, even rocks and trees and moss and small rodents. Some humans have the power to hear the spirits of other beings, and how they deal with that is the foundation of the story. Some have the power to enslave spirits and force them to bend to the enslaver's will, which generally drives them to madness. Some choose to enter into a cooperative and mutually beneficial arrangement: the spirit becomes a kind of servant to the human, whose own spirit nourishes them. And then there's Eli, who has a different way. Then there are seed-demons, which are very scary and bordering on uncontrollable. And then there are awakened swords. I don't know what it is about sentient weaponry, but I get shivers down my spine whenever an author is imaginative enough to throw some into the mix. Here there are two such swords, and very awesome they are too.

Now the characters cover the spectrum of possibilities raised by the magic, but at times they feel a bit like ciphers rather than characters. It's tempting to say: 'The seed-demon did such-and-such...', which tells me that they never quite worked as characters. Eli is the stand-out exception to this: he's a fascinating person, with his mischievous personality and good-humoured approach to life. I liked him very much. Miranda, on the other hand, feels like a token: a seemingly powerful and feisty female character, who is easily defeated at every turn by others more powerful, who is dragged along on the final rescue mission for no obvious reason other than to be fortuitously on hand to perform one significant plot task at the very end, using an object which she logically shouldn't have had with her in the first place. When a character says: right, I absolutely have to leave all these behind - but I'll just keep this itsy-bitsy tiny one, just because, my plot contrivance alarm cranks into action. Well, it's obvious that it's going to be important, isn't it?

The final dramatic confrontation, or rather, a whole series of confrontations, is gloriously over the top in an almost cartoonish way. In real life, real humans simply wouldn't survive this kind of punishment, but somehow you just know that most of these will, albeit with the odd scrape or sword wound in need of a little light stitching. But that's OK, this is fantasy, after all. Oh, and the first part of a trilogy, so yes, they’re going to survive. For me this was almost a wonderful read, light-hearted, mostly logical, with an interesting magic system, some unusual characters and did I mention how much I like sentient swords? And laugh out loud funny. But the lack of real depth or development in the characters and the relentless pace of the action were big negatives for me, and I probably won’t finish the series. Three stars.

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