The Legend of Eli MonpressI first encountered Rachel Aaron on Twitter, and wrote a response to her posts here under the title, “Not A Practice, But A Game.” Since then I’ve had the good luck to read The Spirit Thief, the first in her The Legend of Eli Monpress series. It made me feel young again in all the best ways, a light-hearted adventure story perfect for long summer evenings.

The Spirit Thief is a grand dessert for those tired of the grimdark smorgasbord. It features heroes who are not only capable, but likable, villains whose cruelty doesn’t need to be hammered home with outrageous acts of violence, and a charming animistic magic system which lends itself to a swift and humorous (though only rarely comical) tone.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a mainstream fantasy hero who appeals to me as much as Eli Monpress, the quick-witted thief who uses empathy and charm to sway spirits to his will. This puts him at odds with both the Spirit Court (a guild of mages who contract with the spirit world for a power exchange) and the Enslavers (rogue magi who dominate those spirits). He is joined in his capers by Josef, the world’s greatest swordsman; and a young demonseed, Nico, of whom we learn very little in this first book.

To that point, we see little backstory for any of the characters. However, the story was quick and engaging enough to keep me more interested in their present troubles than their past adventures. I will expect to learn more in slow reveals through the next books in the series to keep me invested in their lives, and based on reviews of those books, I’m not concerned.

The plot of The Spirit Thief is straightforward, with hints of a wider mystery and overarching plot to come. This could be a flaw in a less well-written book, but again, the pacing, characterization, and sheer charm of Eli kept me involved.

My sole issue with the book came where it aimed for straight comedy as opposed to light-hearted adventure. That’s a question of personal taste, but those moments smacked to me of the formulaic laughs you see in films trying to appeal to both parents and children alike. They are few and far between, but each time, I was jolted from the otherwise enjoyable world Ms. Aaron has created for our enjoyment.

I highly recommend The Spirit Thief to any fans of high fantasy, high adventure, or light-hearted capers. It would be especially high on my list for any parents whose children are transitioning out of Young Adult fiction.