Rachel Aaron

Book 1, The Legend of Eli Monpress

Orbit (2010)

ISBN 978-0-356-50010-2

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

This is a world where every object has a spirit, and where certain sensitive individuals – those whose spirit is sizeable – can engage with those spirits. Most of those sensitive individuals work with, and through, the Spirit Council. Others … don’t. And not everyone in this world is welcoming of Spirit Council representatives; the kingdom of Mellinor positively loathes wizards. Which is a problem, because there’s a rogue wizard in the kingdom. He’s a rather good thief, and he’s just stolen their king.

There is a lot going on in this novel. There’s the rogue wizard – Eli – whose two companions have their own interesting backstories; there’s the wizard, Miranda, sent to apprehend him; there’s intrigue at the court of Henrith, kidnapped by Eli; and of course there’s the discussion of spirit manipulation that has to happen when you introduce a new means for magic. Unfortunately, this is too much for one book of just over 300 pages.

Eli, the loveable thief that I’ve enjoyed at least since Silk in David Eddings’ Belgariad series, is an amusing enough character – although he doesn’t get much of an opportunity to develop. His method of approaching the spirits turns out to be quite different from that advocated by the Spirit Council, and is quite intriguing. It’s clear that this will be one of the main aspects developed over the trilogy (the sequels are The Spirit Rebellion and The Spirit Eater). However, while there are hints of a tantalising, perhaps tragic background to Eli, there wasn’t quite enough to turn him into anything more than just a loveable thief. He aims to be the first thief with a bounty of over a million standards, which is an awesome goal, but … why? Without even a hint about of a reason for this – not even a suggestion of overweening ambition – it just feels like a pointless plot device. His companions, Nico and Josef, will hopefully develop more over the trilogy too, because while they clearly have more issues than Eli, they didn’t rise much above cardboard cutouts in this book.

Speaking of cardboard cutouts, that would be Miranda, the wizard intending to capture Eli and make him answer to the Council for misusing his talent. While occasionally torn between strict duty and higher duty, she rarely shows much more character than that of foil for Eli. Again, while it’s clear that there is great potential for her character to develop in the following books, I was disappointed that it didn’t happen here.

The plot is where this book really suffers from trying to do too much. Cut out even one of the subplots, and this would have been a much tighter novel, narrative-wise, and therefore much faster paced. Alternatively, had some of the subplots actually come together and connections revealed, the same could have happened. Instead, the stories coincided but rarely entwined, which I personally found quite frustrating.

This review sounds quite negative. This is because I finished the book feeling quite annoyed that the potential for the story had not been realised. I love the idea of objects having spirits that can be manipulated: having a fire spirit who’s agreed to work for/with you? Brilliant! Being able to talk to a door and convincing it that those iron nails are a bad deal? Awesome! But … there wasn’t enough of the magic, and there wasn’t enough of a discussion about how it could work, either. Overall, it was the plot issues that disappointed me the most though. Add another hundred pages and the plots could have been given enough space to make them really worthwhile; or, like I said, lose one and tighten the action.

If you’re looking for a fairly quick, amusing read, this will be a good book for you. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it just could have been better.