The Spirit Thief
I don’t know what it is about the scoundrel archetype that is so consistently appealing. For my part I blame Han Solo for his part in forever ensconcing the noble scoundrel in the annals of my own youth. I’m sure there were others, your Robin Hoods and what have you, but for me the lovable scoundrel archetype has always been defined by Han Solo. Rachel Aaron’s Eli Moonpress, who debuted in last October’s, the Spirit Thief is of a similar ilk as that space pirate. Cavalier, inscrutable, and consistently full of surprises Aaron has crafted a welcome new addition to the world of loveable scoundrels.
Like many a thief’s tale The Spirit Thief opens with our disreputable hero in prison. Of course, like all talented thieves in fiction he is there because he wants to be there. The novel open’s slowly introducing a number of characters before carefully welding each of these disparate strains into a single whole that makes for one fine adventure. It seems that Eli is wanted not just by a coalition of various kingdoms but also by the Spiritualists, what passes for mages in this world. Eli isn’t just any thief, he is also a spiritualist, and his roguish ways are giving spiritualists a bad name; or at least that’s the party line. Partnered up with Eli is the swordsman Josef, who wields a magical iron sword known as the Heart of War and the mysterious and waifish Niko; whose body houses a demon. Hot on the trail of Eli is the Spirtualist Miranda who rides a giant talking dog-like creature.
Aaron has crafted a fascinating world in the Spirit Thief. A world where everything thing from a patch of moss to an ancient prison door has a spirit, a soul at its core. Spiritualists form agreements with these spirits trading a portion of their own spirit energy for the services of a particular spirit. It is a simple and fascinating little system. It requires only a tiny little of explanation and pays off with some flashy effects and some interesting relationships without bogging the reader down with exposition. Of course Eli is a bit different and his manner of dealing with spirits; one that operates on far more equal terms. This difference in how magic-users deal with spirits plays an important role in the main conflict of the story. A conflict that, as it turns out, has very little to do with Eli (despite his participation in events). Where the spiritualists broker agreements like lawyers Eli is something of a charmer and a sweet-talker while the villain of the piece takes what he wants without asking. The tensions between these different dynamics make for a fascinating addition to the action.
The Spirit Thief isn’t heavy reading. It is a bright, quick read that is never dull and offers up something new interesting or downright amusing in each scene. Aaron has crafted a number of distinct and complex characters. Eli’s motivations and goals are suspect, it seems he is playing for something more than what he says, and his past seems to be stalking him one hand and helping him out on the other. Josef plays the straight man to Eli’s more cavalier personality and his role bearing the Heart of War serves as a great little side-story to the main conflict. Meanwhile there is some real heart and depth to Aaron’s portrayal of the relationship between Niko and Josef that I wish was explored more. The audiobook is read by Luke Daniels who does a fantastic job at lending a distinct feel to each of the characters; his performance shines brightest when doing character work and his and Aaron’s style are an excellent match. If you’re look for a light fantasy adventure read I recommend giving The Spirit Thief is well worth a look in either print or audio.