Friday, March 11, 2011

The Spirit Thief Legend of Eli Monpress

I stumbled across a series of audiobooks a few months ago that looked intriguing so I put them on the-to-be-listened-to shelf and forgot about them. I was still immersed in a history audiobook at the time and couldn’t think about listening to anything else because it was so damn good.

When that tale was told I was left somewhat bereft, because when a story that good ends, one that had captured my attention and imagination for so many days, there’s a sense of loss when it’s over. Isn’t there supposed to be more? Why isn’t there more? I want more.

So in want of something more I sifted through the waiting pile and decided to jump genres and head back into some fantasy. I can’t help it, I geek out on a good epic fantasy, because hey. DRAGONS. ‘Nuff said.

The Spirit Thief captured my attention by mentioning that the main character, Eli Monpress, was a thief and a wizard in the description. And he’s decided to kidnap a king. Good start.

And it was.

The Spirit Thief, The Legend of Eli Monpress, by Rachel Aaron, is a fun, quick witted, clever fantasy with plenty of adventure.

The type of magic Ms. Aaron has crafted is one I’ve not encountered before in all the years I’ve been reading/listening to fantasy and it’s a wonderful concept. The interaction with the Spirit world is well thought out and, in keeping with the rest of the book, fun. Especially Miranda’s relationship with Gin, her Spirit Hound. I wonder how I can get one of those because he would be one cool pet!

The world is credible and doesn’t stray much from the high fantasy renaissance type expected but that certainly doesn’t detract from the antics of Eli and his companions.

I like that the language is current and does not get all Middle Ages formal. Some may find that a little out of synch with the world, but it fits the characters and story.

So here's what you get when dive into the tale with Eli Monpress, The Spirit Thief.

Eli Monpress wants to become the most wanted thief in the Council of Thrones. Or at least he wants his bounty to be the highest one possible, his goal of one million gold standards, a pretty high price for his handsome head indeed.

To this end, Eli decides to kidnap the King of Mellinor and ransom him for some gold and the promise of a large bounty. Eli lets himself get captured and then escapes his dungeon cell by convincing the door spirit to let go of the iron holding onto the door. Right there I was hooked. He talked the door into letting him go! Eli, while not a Spiritualist, is a skilled and clever wizard, who finds that he can coax and cajole the spirits to do his bidding with guile, charm and some slick conversation. It helps that the spirits see something bright and shiny within Eli that draw them to him and being the thief he is, Eli takes full advantage of it.

Along with him for this adventure, are his companions Josef, a taciturn master swordsman who is in possession of the greatest awakened blade in the land, The Heart of War. Josef has a conflicted relationship with this great sword and wants to earn the title of greatest swordsman without relying on the magic that thrums through the Heart of War, even as it is his to utilize. This predilection to go it alone almost gets our earnest swordsman killed.

Nico is not without her own brand of magic, even if she is mysterious and a little dark. She can flit through shadows at will and for a tiny young woman, she has supernatural strength. She is Josef’s shadow in all things and seems to require his guidance and protection despite her talents. Her devotion to Josef is evident and his faith in her complete which makes this the deepest relationship in the series of books so far.

Heading to Mellinor to capture the errant wizard for crimes against the Spirit Court is Miranda Lyonette. The Spirit Court cannot tolerate Eli’s blatant disregard for the rules of conduct between human and spirit and he defies those rules with every action, not to mention his penchant for stealing whatever captures his fancy. Miranda is a strong Spiritualist, guided by her utter commitment to her spirit oaths and determined to bring Eli to justice for his crimes.

Things get a little complicated when Eli and team kidnap Henrith the King and his exiled brother comes back to claim his rightful place, while professing the desire to save King and Kingdom from the hands of Eli Monpress.

Except this Pretender King is a Spirit Enslaver, who was banished from Mellinor for being a wizard in a land where wizards are unwanted and the only thing he really desires is finding ancient artifact within the families treasury to dominate Mellinor and rule over it with an iron fist. He’s a little bitter about his banishment.

Miranda and Eli, along with Gin the spirit hound, Josef and Nico, end up in a reluctant partnership to take back Mellinor from the Pretender King and manage to wreak some havoc in the process of cleaning up the situation.

All in all, it’s a wickedly fun romp of a tale, either in paper form, or in the audiobook version, which I enjoyed immensely.

Luke Daniels does an excellent job narrating, mixing up the accents and vocal arrangements for the different characters. He brings Eli, as well as the rest of the crew, alive in such an amazing manner that it’s hard to turn off the car when I get home.

The Spirit Rebellion and The Spirit Eater are just as wonderful, with new secrets revealed and a gathering darkness on the horizon for the Council of Thrones, and Eli no doubt, as the stories progress.

After the enjoyable hours listening to all three books, back to back, I'm really anticipating the next two in the series as they become available.

Monday, February 7, 2011

To be or not to be...A Witch

I always wanted to have magic powers and spent a considerable amount of time during my early adolescence imagining that my mother’s New England lineage included some connection to the Salem Witch trials and that deeply buried family secrets kept me from my true calling as a witch. My imagination has always been my very best friend.

Alas, there were no hidden witches in my family tree nor latent talent to shoot a spell from my fingers tips, but that wish for magic still hovers in the back of my head. Maybe someday…

In the meantime, I immerse myself in well written stories about witches and magic and what it might be like be so equipped.

None of the scenarios that were concocted in my brain ever included being a member of a family of powerful hereditary witches and NOT having Talent myself. This is exactly the situation that Tamsin Greene finds herself in in Once a Witch by by Carolyn MacCullough. Tamsin is a high school student, whose family of witches has command of innumerable Talents yet she herself lacks a Talent of her own. It’s hard being the family outcast, looked on as odd and pitied, and Tamsin tries to escape it by heading off to boarding school, where she is able to live apart from her Talent heavy family, most specifically her sister Rowena, whose upcoming wedding is sending the family into a tailspin.

One night, while working at the used bookstore, a strange man arrives seeking Rowena's help in locating a family heirloom. One of Rowena's talents it Finding and Tamsin lets him believe she is the witch he came seeking. She thinks she can help this man, Alistair, find what he is looking for and show her family what she can do without any Talent to call her own.

With the help of an old childhood friend, Gabriel, who lends his own Talents to Tamsin's subterfuge, Tamsin and Gabriel embarks on a whirlwind adventure of time travel, magic potions, a long held family secret and a shocking discovery that causes Tamsin to reevaluate herself and her family.

This story picks right back up again in the second book, Always a Witch, and immediately plunges Tamsin into a series of challenges that threaten the very fabric of the Greene family. Finding that the sinister Alistair had been in her home and taken possession of one of her relatives in an effort to unearth knowledge that will help him bring about the ruin of the Greene family, Tamsin realizes that she can’t sit idly by and let the Knight family threaten her family’s survival any longer and must do something drastic against the wishes of her family.

With her Grandmother’s dark warning casting a pall over her efforts– that Tamsin will have to make a crucial decision that could destroy her family- Tamsin embarks on dangerous time travel to Victorian-era New York. Once there Tamsin manages to spy on the Knight family by posing as a maid in their creepy and horrifying mansion, where she learns that they will do whatever they feel is necessary, including torture and killing, to escalate their family power base. Knowing that she has to stop them somehow, and get her family-in-the-past to heed her very important warning, Tamsin, along with Gabriel at her side, faces monumental obstacles and life changing action.

Once a Witch and Always a Witch are excellent middle grade books or for anyone who truly enjoys a tightly plotted story line that moves along with adventure and suspense, strong lead characters and a little romance that does not detract from the main arc of the tale. Tamsin is a likeable and scrappy heroine who is not afraid to kick some butt and maybe ask questions later. Tamsin has a slightly skewed sense of humor and a cynical bent but for all that she’s an engaging lead for this story over the two books. The sweetly developing romance she has with Gabriel is nice part of the books and offers insights about acceptance and expectations. Her relationship with her family undergoes significant changes in the two stories and shows a great depth of character growth for Tamsin and her relationship with her sister Rowena. There are a number of secondary characters to keep track of which causes some confusion at first, but many of them slide into the background by the second book.

The action moves at a brisk clip and transitions nicely from moment to moment. Tamsin’s big decision was shocking for me as it came at great cost to herself and the vision she had of herself and her place in the family.

And the books the physical books? They sure are pretty.

All in all I really enjoyed Always a Witch and will definitely pick up a copy when it is available for sale in August. Highly recommended.