The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron

Published by Orbit        
ISBN 978-0-3161-983-8-7         
June 2012        
504 Pages (plus sample of Spirit’s End book 5)                  
Review copy purchased                      

Rachel Aaron’s fantasy saga featuring Eli Monpress has been a fun, somewhat light adventure story thus far.  Though the stakes were quite high, the first three novels are merely a precursor to where she’s taking Eli and his companions in The Spirit War, the fourth novel.  This time around, Eli’s most trusted friend, travelling companion, and ‘business partner’ Josef the self-appointed ‘world’s greatest swordsman’ receives a bounty higher than that of Eli himself.  Surprised, Eli follows Josef along the trail to the person responsible for placing the large bounty on Josef’s head. Of course Nico, the demonseed young girl who rounds out the trio of Eli’s crew follows the duo on their journey, though through the course of it Josef reveals very little of its true purpose until they arrive at their destination. Frustrating for the characters indeed, but it helps build suspense in the novel and kept me turning the page. 

Miranda and her spirit hound are along for the ride as well, though the duo takes more of a backseat in this installment compared to their larger roles in the first three novels.  That said, although she is not on the page quite as much, her role is quite vital as is her supervisor in the Spirit Council Etimon Banage. While Eli is front and center, as he should be since the series bears his name, the swordsman Josef steps up as a character with an equal protagonistical billing.  Aaron does some interesting things with his character throughout this novel, though the best elements are handled very early.  Though a secondary storyline to Josef himself, is the effect his arc has on Nico plays an important role.  While much of her backstory was relayed in previous volumes, that foundation helps to give some of her moments added weight.

Having established her characters to great length in the first three novels, Aaron expands the scope of the story into one with a more global focus. With the characters established in previous novels, this also allows Aaron to open the novel with a flashback to one of the characters, in this case Josef, to days where we can piece together very quickly just who the character is and how Josef acquired the Heart of War – the greatest magical sword in the world.

She introduces, as the title might imply, a couple of warring factions into the mix; nations which were more or less on the periphery in previous novels. In addition to the two powers (The Nation of Osera and the reawakened Immortal Empress) on the brink of war, other powers who govern the world (The Spirit Council and The Council of Thrones) are embroiled in a philosophical conflict about how to handle the reawakened Immortal Empress.  Wars about wars, one could say.

Perhaps the most enjoyable elements of the novel were the backstories of Josef and Eli that came more into the forefront of the novel. One lays the groundwork for much of the plot of The Spirit War while the other sets up Spirit’s End which is likely the conclusion of the saga.  Though it becomes abundantly clear whose backstory fuels The Spirit War very early on in the novel, I’ll still leave that to the reader to discover.

While I enjoyed The Spirit War a great deal, I felt it was not quite as tightly told as the previous three novels.  I also felt that Miranda, who was such an integral character in the early novels, sort of regressed here to almost a one-note character.  Her interaction with Banage and her spirit hound Gin were all in line with what I’ve come to expect from Miranda, but as soon as she initially interacted with Eli and Josef, her maturity took a step back in favor of stubbornness and blind-sided frustration.

Those issues aside, I’m still very happy with the Eli Monpress series and find Rachel Aaron’s writing to be a comforting and engaging reading experience.  I am very much looking forward to reading how Ms. Aaron builds on the events in The Spirit War for I expect to be a rewarding conclusion.

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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