In July of this year, I had the immense privilege of getting to read an advance copy of Rachel Aaron’s The Spirit Thief, the first in a new series entitled The Legend of Eli Monpress, about the self-proclaimed greatest thief in the world who may also be its greatest wizard, as well, and I found myself delighted by Aaron’s highly entertaining and extremely intriguing cast of characters, as well as her extremely clever and unique magic system. As I explained in my previous review, in the world of Eli Monpress, “everything has a spirit, and by everything, I mean everything. Animals, trees, plants, yes, but also fire, water, pots, pans, beds, doors…A wizard is someone who can communicate with these spirits…The average wizard will form a willing, master-servant relationship with a number of spirits, who will do his or her bidding in exchange for the ability to feed off of the wizard’s energy. Naturally, there are also wicked sorcerers, who misuse their power and enslave spirits into serving their will, often shattering their minds in the process.
“Eli Monpress is in a different category all together. The reason he is such a brilliant thief is that he doesn’t keep spirits as servants or slaves. Rather, he has charisma in spades and a knack for talking to spirits and convincing them to help him out, making this practically impossible task seem almost easy and effortless, to the disbelief and consternation of other wizards.” Eli travels around the countryside, performing jawdropping feats of thievery, along with the master swordsman, Josef Liechten, who wields the known world’s most powerful Awakened sword (meaning it is constantly conscious, as opposed to other spirits who usually remain dormant until a wizard speaks to them), and Nico, a young girl who houses a demon within her, capable of destroying spirits and tearing the world apart, if it is not kept in check. The first novel documented Eli’s clash not only with a wicked ruler but with Miranda Lyonette, a Spiritualist, aka a wizard who does things the “proper” way, upholding the law, and who is thus dreadfully opposed to his way of life, but nonetheless found herself reluctantly allying with him to fight the aforementioned despot.
There is only one negative side effect to my having had the opportunity to read The Spirit Thief in July–namely, I had to wait nearly two and half months to get my hands on the second volume in the series, whereas the majority of other readers were able to procure The Spirit Thief on October 1st and will only have to wait until the 25th of the same month to get the sequel, The Spirit Rebellion. Granted, two and half months isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things, but I read a lot of novels in a year, so by the time The Spirit Rebellion arrived on my doorstep a few days ago, it might as well have been a lifetime since The Spirit Thief. Before opening it, I even vaguely toyed with the idea of rereading the first, in order to freshen my memory, but I didn’t really have the time, so I plunged into the second novel and found myself instantly acclimated back into the wonderful world of this truly fantastic series. It took no time at all for me to recall the characters and situations of the first volume and to feel at home again.
As with the best sequels, what makes The Spirit Rebellion work so very well is that it immediately picks up the blocks of the first story and builds upon them further, not only in the sense that each character is still feeling the effects of The Spirit Thief‘s events, but that Aaron uses the groundwork established in her debut novel and improves upon it here. In The Spirit Thief, Aaron introduced us to her series’ central conceits, and in The Spirit Rebellion, she runs with them, mining even more depth from the implications of a world in which objects are sentient, and unveiling character nuances and revelations that require knowledge established in the first book to appreciate fully. She also incorporates further hints regarding the series’ more shadowy mythology, revolving around beings that may or may not be deities interfering with the lives of the mortals. As with the first novel, however, this story, set in an epic fantasy world, remains down-to-earth because the characters are so very human and relatable. Eli may act like a broad cartoon at times, but this showmanship is very much an outfit he wears to impress. Underneath his swagger, he is a deeply kind individual, much more caring than he cares to let on and seemingly much more caring than the majority of Spiritualists with their moralistic laws and proper decorum. The novel is also full of tantalizing clues regarding Eli’s background, and we get to meet at least one person who was crucial in his evolution from young boy wizard to the dashing rogue he is today.
Returning to the concept of further developing the series mythology, in The Spirit Rebellion, Monpress’ world feels richer and the personified objects even more human than before. Although it never felt like merely a simple gimmick, the spirits seem even more like legitimate, thinking beings here than in the first novel, and I’m not sure if it’s because Aaron’s skills have developed even further, if it’s because I’m more accustomed to this world than I was, or a combination of the two. She seems to be getting more and more creative with the potential of this concept, incorporating some fantastic twists on it over the course of the novel. In one unexpectedly moving scene, the treatment of a metal door at the hands of a villain actually caused me to wince in sympathy, which alone should indicate what an excellent writer Aaron is. And by the end, I found myself wholeheartedly cheering on the actions of things that don’t usually perform actions in anything outside of a Disney or Muppet movie, and yet Aaron presents it in so captivating and convincing a light, it never feels silly or childish, but, again, deeply moving and exciting. It actually made me appreciate the inanimate objects in my day-to-day life in a way I hadn’t in the past. For example, would my computer be more inclined to do what I ask of it if I asked it gently, instead of berating it every time the rainbow wheel appears?
The novel also has a number of deeper thematic nuances, which, again, build upon what was set up in The Spirit Thief. One feature that unites the various characters of the novel is that almost each major character is, to some extent, at odds with him or herself. Eli is a cocky show-off and thief, but also surprisingly moral and tender. Miranda is a by-the-books Spiritualist who, as in the first novel, finds herself at odds here with the lessons that her order has taught her, whilst in pursuit of doing what is right. Josef struggles with not wanting to be defined by his magical sword, and Nico is in a battle with her inner demon over the dominion of her own body. As the novel reaches its conclusion, each character will be one step further on his or her journey of self-discovery.
I truly enjoyed The Spirit Thief. I flat out love The Spirit Rebellion. It’s so gratifying to see such a fantastic debut evolve into what is so far such a stunning series. If I had any minor complaint, it would be that, in the past two novels, Josef and Eli were separated for the climax, Josef battling a foe by way of a lengthy sword fight, and in future installments, it would be nice to see the two uniting for the conclusion rather than seeming to follow their own separate (though related) storytelling paths. Other than that quibble, though, I have nothing but praise for The Legend of Eli Monpress, and I can’t wait to see what further truths we learn of him and his compatriots in future adventures.
The Spirit Rebellion is being released by Orbit Books on October 25th. The third in the series, The Spirit Eater, is due out on November 30th.