the Little Red Reviewer

The Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron

Posted on: April 30, 2013

the spirit thiefThe Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron

published in 2010

where I got it: the library











The entire internet has been afire about Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series for a while now, and it’s no secret I’ve a major weakness for thieves in fantasy environments, so how could I resist a story about the greatest thief ever?  The first volume wasn’t exactly what I expected, but surprises are always a good thing, right?

The infamous thief (and wizard!) Eli Monpress is certainly the focus of the story, but we learn about the world through Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette. She’s been sent to the Kingdom of Mellinor to keep Eli from stealing an important artifact.  Lucky for us, she’s rather unsuccessful in her mission, otherwise this would be a very short and rather un-fun book.

Upon her arrival at Mellinor, Miranda finds that Eli has completely ignored the artifact and has instead kidnapped King Henrith and is holding him for ransom.  Out of the woodwork steps the King’s brother, Prince Renaud, who claims the throne for himself and convinces everyone that Miranda is secretly working for Eli and against the kingdom.  As Miranda unravels what’s going on, she’ll have to choose which is more important: following the rules, or doing the right thing.

Miranda is a court-trained Spiritualist, which means she’s made binding agreements with the spirits she works with. She offers them physical protection and a portion of her own energy, and in turn she can use their magic upon request. It’s a very formal agreement, and she’d never think of using a spirit against its will, or hurting it in any way.  Wizards who go against their training, who take advantage of the strength of spirits, are known as enslavers, and should be destroyed at all costs.

Eli’s relationship with spirits is completely different. He doesn’t offer protective contracts with them, but he doesn’t force them to do anything either.  He just talks to them, almost as if they were just other people he was having a conversation with. He’s certainly not a spiritualist, nor is he an enslaver. The Spirit Court isn’t sure what to make of him.  And that’s just one reason why there’s a huge bounty on his head.  Eli Monpress, the man who steals everything that’s not nailed down, and when he wants something that’s nailed down, he convinces the nails to give him a hand.

Eli remains a rather mysterious person for most of the book. He’s a supremely talented thief, interested only in stealing things that can’t be stolen and getting his bounty higher and higher. Like most thieves, he’s in it for the long game, not the goods. He barely spends any of the money he steals, lives rather rough, and strikes me as the kind of fellow who just wants to live his life and be left alone.  He seems much more at ease talking with spirits than talking with other people.

I was certainly intrigued by Eli, but I absolutely loved his companions, Josef and Nico.  Josef is a swordsman, who carries an awakened Sword, the Heart of War.  He flat out refuses to use the spirit sword, preferring to win his duels through his own strength, not through some magical sword. But The Heart of War calls to Josef, uses him, enslaves him in a way. And then there is little Nico; a tiny, quiet little girl in a gigantic coat and heavy manacles.  She’s slowly being consumed by a demonseed, which once awakened, will destroy her soul and then begin devouring any other spirit it can reach. The only person who can calm Nico is Josef.  These two are a perfect example of side characters who steal every scene they are in.  Josef and Nico need their own books.

Miranda, on the other hand, annoyed the crap out of me. All she sees is good or bad, black hat or white hat. I get that she’s the moral voice of the story, and she does play an incredibly important role at the end, but she came off as one dimensional and incredibly self righteous.

Aaron’s writing style is light and easy to read, filled with fun dialog and humor.  There’s not much in the way of subtleties or complexities here, it’s a fun fluffy adventure story with plenty of wire-team style action, a bit too much deus ex machina, basically a fun harmless world to escape into for a few hours.   A little like reading the novelization of an action anime, maybe a Lupin III story or some such. There’s plenty of hints of political maneuvering involving The Spirit Court, The Council of Thrones, and The League of Storms, and evidence of secret patrons that I’m sure will become important later.

Quite a bit lighter than what I usually read, it’s nice to come across something I can happily recommend to friends looking for fantasy that’s appropriate for their kids, or anyone looking for a lighter fantasy read. Just because I prefer the weird creepy grimdark doesn’t mean that’s what everyone else is looking for.

The  big question is will I continue reading? More than likely, if only to learn more about Nico and Josef, and their relationship with Eli. And who knows, maybe Miranda will grow on me. I got this out of the library as the three volume omnibus, The Legend of Eli Monpress, which includes the first three books in the series, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater.

legend of eli

9 Responses to "The Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron"

Haha! I just finished this last week, but have been behind in putting up the review. I enjoyed the hell out of it – turn my brain off and simply sit back and be entertained. Yep. Eli, Josef, and Nico are the fascinating characters of the story. I also enjoyed Miranda’s spirithound, who probably had the best line of the book – something about spirits being attracted to shiny things! Great review as always.


I bought this at Christmas but haven’t read it yet. I’m really quite looking forward to it though. I can do with a nice light fantasy and it does sound fun. Plus, a thief who steals everything – come on! What’s not to love?
Lynn 😀


and he often talks to the things he steals. and sometimes caresses them. 😉


OK, if you liked the first books as much as you did, you should not hesitate to continue it. As I mentioned in my review, each installment gets better, and it gets darker by the book, so don’t worry on that account. For example, book 4 = high body count.


As Bastard says, the series *starts* fluffy but gets surprisingly complex and darker.


As Bastard and Paul say…stakes get higher as series progresses. Miranda grew on me a little, but I’m not sure we were supposed to like her completely. At the very least, the character stays true to herself and the groundwork Aaron put in place early in the series.


I’ve had this whole darn series forever…really need to get started!


alright alright! ya’ll have convinced me to give the rest of the series a go.



[…] “Quite a bit lighter than what I usually read, it’s nice to come across something I can happily recommend to friends looking for fantasy that’s appropriate for their kids, or anyone looking for a lighter fantasy read.” The Little Red Reviewer […]


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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