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The Spirit Thief (Legend of Eli Monpress) by Rachel Aaron
Review by Liz de Jager
Orbit Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780356500102
Date: 07 October 2010 List Price £7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Just released in the UK as an Orbit paperback original, The Spirit Thief is a high spirited romping fantasy début by US author Rachel Aaron. Books two and three will follow in subsequent months and no doubt secure Ms. Aaron prime time shelf presence ... and not due just to the fortunate accident of a surname beginning with double 'a'! Our US colleague Mel Jacob reviewed the Orbit US release in last month's issue and so our own Liz De Jager humbly offers a take on the UK edition... which is the same book, of course!

"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. "

The opening sequences of The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron reads like the start of a crime caper, complete with roguish thief pulling off the impossible: stealing a king. Add to that the powerful, yet straight-laced authority figure Miranda sent by the Spirit Court (effectively the high council of wizards), to capture the thief and bring him to justice, and we have the makings of an unusual fantasy novel.

As well as some unusual elements there are some fantasy staples here too, namely a scary swordsman who has an even scarier sword called 'Heart of War' and a young woman called Nico who is even more of a mystery than the swordsman Josef or their thief compatriot, Eli Monpress. This trio are friends, no one is the boss, and it makes for interesting dynamics as the story unfolds.

Eli is a very easy character to like. We receive the minimum amount of information about him but those snippets we are privy to are neatly placed to make us wonder about him and his colleagues. Miranda is by far the more open book here, and she gets a bit annoying by being a tad high-handed and a bit know-it-all in some instances, but the author (thankfully) never lets this progress to become truly irritating.

When Eli steals the king of Mellinor, he has no idea the scale of trouble he is about to unleash. Waiting for just such a moment is the original heir to Mellinor, Prince Renaud, a ruthless wizard of incredible power who has been set aside in favour of the younger son (the current king). Key here is the knowledge that being a wizard is not a good thing in Mellinor.

Prince Renaud puts his game in play, using his own powerful will and magics and pretty soon, the crime caper The Spirit Thief started out as develops into a full scale attempt to restore stolen King Henrith back to his throne and somehow apprehending Prince Renaud before he destroys the entire kingdom with his quest for power.

Reluctantly, Miranda, Eli, Josef and Nico have to join forces in order to accomplish this. There are several other plot strands that weave themselves in and out of the narrative but there is a sense of a bigger game in play, especially where Eli is concerned.

The Spirit Thief is genuinely good fun to read. The narrative flows easily and we are given some great characters to explore. What is frustrating however is that there should have been more of this novel. It ended far too soon and yet to be fair to the author, the story is told and it is told very well indeed. It gallops along at a great pace and although the characters each have various set-pieces dedicated to them, it is Eli who the reader thinks about as the novel nears its end. What exactly is his story?

As a fan of the genre I know that some readers are turned off by the size of some novels and the innumerable books in a series. In that respect The Spirit Thief is a perfect starter novel for a novice - someone who might like to read some fantasy but might feel unable to grasp some of the basic concepts, or world building, or the long declarations about magic, or the notion of tackling multiple books in a given series.

A further thought about younger / reluctant readers: I was also conscious that The Spirit Thief could be read by younger readers too – the violence is never gratuitous and it is free of innuendo or risqué conversations. It will work well for readers who are keen to try something different to Harry Potter, Darren Shan or even Skulduggery Pleasant, especially if they are interested in finding something a bit more grown up and don’t want to sacrifice any of the pacing or action and adventure.

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