Tuesday, 19 October 2010

‘The Spirit Thief’ – Rachel Aaron (Orbit)

Who was it who said ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? Probably some guy trying to sell a book with cover art ‘skilfully’ rendered by a two year old playing with their first paint set; or Mark Charan Newton when the initial artwork was first displayed for ‘The Book of Transformations’. One of the two ;o)
The thing is though; you can’t help but judge a book by its cover. Unless you know a little bit about the story in advance, the first thing you’re going to see is that artwork on the bookshelf and your initial impressions can’t help but be influenced by it. Take Rachel Aaron’s ‘The Spirit Thief’ for example. When my copy arrived I was immediately reminded of the cover art for K.E. Mills’ ‘Wizard Squared’; cover art that really put me off reading that particular book (although the blurb did its part there as well). You see what a book is up against here? Cover art is more important than you think!

Despite this though, I ended up giving ‘The Spirit Thief’ a go as the blurb suggested a quick read and this happened to be just what I was after. I’m glad that I did. ‘The Spirit Thief’ may not be a number of things (and may be a little too much like some other things) but one thing it definitely is, is a lot of fun.

Eli Monpress is a man with a plan which involves him not only being a wizard but also the greatest thief of the age. The plan is to get rich very quickly and with the help of his two companions (a master swordsman and a deadly demonseed) he’s ready to kick things off. Step one is to increase the size of the bounty on his head by stealing the King of a small country. Easy enough you would have thought... Eli would have thought so as well, it’s just typical that others have designs on both King and country at the same time...

The first thing that occurred to me, when I read the blurb, was how much the concept of  ‘The Spirit Thief’ reminded me of ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ and this feeling stayed with me throughout the book. It’s hard not to make comparisons when the plot is centred around a wise cracking master thief (plus long suffering companions) who is after that elusive big score... While Aaron is very much telling her own story here, you can’t get away from the fact that Lynch got there first a few years ago and set a standard. The big question then is how Aaron makes her tale distinctive from Lynch’s. The answer? Well, she doesn’t really...

 ‘The Spirit Thief’ is the classic ‘heist gone wrong’ storyline where the improbably good looking anti-hero has to somehow make good without being caught by the law or killed by the even bigger villain lurking in the wings. That’s all it is though. We’re looking at a book that’s only three hundred and ten pages long here so you could say that there isn’t a lot of room for it to be anything else. There certainly isn’t the room to give anyone, other than the leading characters, the kind of depth that would make the book a lot more engaging. Same deal with the country that the book is set in. There is only really time to get the vaguest sense of the background but nowhere near enough time to actually get to engage with it. If you’re like me and like your imaginary worlds fully realised then you might want to bear that in mind here.
There is a very good reason for the relative shortness of the book (I’ll be coming onto that in a second) but the flip side of this is that ‘the Spirit Thief’ doesn’t have time to breathe and become fully immersive. Maybe I’m being a little too hard and we’ll see more of the world building elements come to the fore in future instalments?

Despite all of this though, I actually had a great time reading ‘The Spirit Thief’ and am looking forward to picking up it’s sequel (‘The Spirit Rebellion’) as soon as I can. ‘The Spirit Thief’ is one mad roller coaster ride of a book that flies along almost faster than you can read it. I’d say that Aaron stripped things down a little too much but the end result is still a lean read of a book that flows along more than nicely, certainly smoothly enough to keep the pages turning for me. The book flows so smoothly in fact that Aarons evident ability to write a gripping action sequence is emphasised by how well the main narrative flows into these passages. One minute you’re skipping through the plot quite happily, next minute... bang! Aaron throws you into some monumental battles, all based around a magic system that is easy to get to grips with and (at the same time) offers some intriguing possibilities for both this book and future instalments. Aaron also throws enough curveballs into the plot that, although it has been done before, you want to keep reading just to see how it all pans out.

While the supporting characters do come across as more than a little two dimensional, Aaron does take time to flesh out her main characters a little more; infusing certain of them with a wit that made me chuckle more than once. When Aaron decides to go to work on a character, she’s more than able to make them engaging characters that you want to follow. Having finished ‘The Spirit Thief’ and got a feel for Eli Monpress, I want to be around for the next book and see if I’m right about his motivations. Whether I’m right or wrong, he’s still going to be a great character to follow in the meantime.

‘The Spirit Thief’ may not do anything new but is a lot of fun and a guaranteed page turner. I’m looking forward to the next book...

Eight and a Half out of Ten


Unknown said...


I'll second your thoughts there, Graeme: I did exactly the same thing when my review copy of The Spirit Thief came through. Glimpsed its cover, deemed it an eyesore of urban fantasy proportions and shelved it, thinking the dreadful art symptomatic of the novel itself, with nary another thought.

Then an email came in from Rachel a couple of days ago - after I wrote her book up for The BoSS and summarily, I'm ashamed to say, dismissed it - asking me to give it a quick once-over in spite of the cover... and now this, from you... why, I think I might just have to dig my copy out! Fun, you say? I like fun! :)

Stefan said...

It's just what you said - a fun novel. Nothing deep, nothing new, but a lot of fun. I didn't love it, but I was definitely entertained enough to keep reading. I reviewed it over on fantasyliterature.com, am now reading the sequel, and have the bound manuscript of the third book on the shelf.

ediFanoB said...

Your review is a validation of my decision to order all the first three books in The Legend of Eli Monpress series.
I ordered the books based on information
from following blogger
The underrated Falcata Times over at Falcata Times

Kristen over at Fantasy Cafe

Mihir Wanchoo over at Fantasy Book Critic

Liz from My Favorite Books

John Ottinger III over at Grasping for the Wind

In this case did not waste time to think about the cover. But I must admit that I occasionally buy books just based on nothing else as the cover. I try to avoid it because a cover does not tell you anything about the content.

SQT said...

((Raises hand)) Yep. I judged it too. I'll have to give this one a chance. Glad you reviewed it.