The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
Date: October 1st 2010
Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress #1
My rating: Vacation by the beach
This book is, as the blurbs suggest, a lighthearted romp through an interesting magical world.
In a twist on the common elements-that-relate-to-magic and/or magical talents, such as fire, earth, water, and wind, every thing in this world has a magical spirit. Universalism for magicians? At any rate, humans can enslave, bargain with, or make servants out of spirits of things such as rocks, sandstorms, wind, trees, birds, etc. Spirits can see each other, but humans are blind. The people best able to manipulate spirits are called wizards, and there are some political structures involved. Obviously, there are good wizard practitioners (spiritualists) and bad (enslavers). Wizardry seems to consist of asking or ordering spirits to perform their natural functions. E.g., a sandstorm is dangerous, fire burns, water douses, etc.
In this world, the plot follows a man who, for reasons that are vaguely explained, has the ability to coax just about any spirit to help him. He is a thief with an ambition: to become the best thief ever known. To do this, he steals not a priceless artifact or a treasury full of gold, but the king of a small nation. The story opens with the theft, and follows the thief and his companions, the wizard sent by the spiritualists to capture him, and occasionally the baddies. The thief’s scheme is ridiculous, and scoffed at by the other characters, but the danger is real, when a usurper uses the confusion to try to take the throne. A small, unimportant-seeming detail becomes the basis for a decent plot twist at the end, and the showdown between good and evil is satisfying.
I enjoyed this airy fantasy. The thief is delightfully talented and eccentric, the spiritualist sent to capture him is amusingly exasperated, and the thief’s companions are intriguing, and hint at darker aspects of the world (as in, spirit-eating demons) that keep this light novel balanced. The world-building is solid, if not detailed, and the characters’ interactions with animated “inanimate” objects are amusing (for other talking objects, read Piers Anthony). The tension between the main characters is good. I really enjoyed the final showdown between the thief, the government, and the wizard sent to capture the thief. The only thing I found distracting was the author’s tendency to switch between the thief/spiritualist perspectives to that of the thief’s swordsman companion.