Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bastard Reaction: The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron


The Legend of Eli Monpress is an omnibus that collects the first three novels of the epic fantasy series bearing the same title by Rachel Aaron. It includes the debut effort of The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater, all of which were published back in 2010 in consecutive months one right after the other.

I was quite eager with my anticipation of The Spirit Thief. For some reason, it seemed to me to be heavily promoted in urban fantasy blogs, and I got the impression that many around thought it was going to be an urban fantasy novel, myself included. I wasn't a blogger back then, so don't think about pointing any fingers my way. There was a slight adjustment to be made to my expectations once I started reading, but after stumbling a bit, it was smooth sailing from there. But can you blame me? I mean they used a Paul Blackthorne look-a-like as a model for Eli Monpress in the cover, and we all know that he played Harry Dresden in the short lived tv-adaptation of The Dresden Files (can someone please do a new adaptation?), so it was obvious that this was going to be an urban fantasy. It's no wonder that they ended up changing the cover styles after the third book, and re-released them in an omnibus so that there would be no confusion that this is an epic fantasy. But truth be told, I liked those original covers, and my OCD hoarder side of me wishes the full series was released with the original style, my collection now feels a bit incomplete without them.

My first impression of this series was that it had a good mixture of both high fantasy and sword & sorcery plot threads, and it mixed attributes of some of my favorite reads in recent years, or it at least reminded me of some of them. If you'll excuse some of the name dropping I'm about to do, even when some would consider doing so bad form, but the character dynamic was excellent and fun resembling what is found in Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding and The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan, and also their sense of adventure. Some of the world building seemed to echo aspects found in The First Law by Joe Abercrombie, though even I can admit that I'm stretching it a bit. Also, considering the con-job aspect of some of the plot threads, Ocean's Eleven easily stood out, so by extension, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Lastly, we have one of my favorite anime/manga with One Piece with its combination of fun, funny, and serious portions to go with the adventure aspects as well as its main character's obsession with becoming the Pirate King and his bounty paralleling Eli Monpress's obsession with becoming the most wanted criminal with the highest bounty and be renown as the best thief in the world.

While I enjoyed The Spirit Thief, it wasn't as good as I was expecting it to be, ignoring the urban fantasy vs. epic fantasy shenanigans to the side. It was an extremely fun read and light-hearted, but it also bordered the line of silliness too close for my taste a few times, despite it being quite funny too. The plot in this book wasn't that strong either in my opinion. Also there were some moments of extreme deus ex machina, which I'm not fan of. Though keep in mind that much of these are impressions I got from my experience reading the first novel that first time around, and much of my perspective changed as I kept reading to the series, giving new insights to these events, in particular to some of the issues I found with the deus ex machina which had a hidden cost not apparent at the time, but I later came to appreciate it more as we learned more from Eli's circumstances.

Despite those issues, I was still anxious to continue reading the series, to the point that each book in the series was one of my more anticipated reads each time around because the novel was indeed fun and I loved the characters from Eli with his conning personality, to Josef's silent persona and deadly sword, to Nico's adolescent creepy demonic nature, to Miranda's overbearing self-righteous personality who wants to arrest all these three. The character dynamic was too good and the world full of possibilities for it not get better. I smelled the potential and Rachel Aaron made sure to reward me for hanging around.

The Spirit Rebellion began a pattern that continued on for the rest of the series of each book improving over its predecessor. It meant that each book added to the momentum of the series and that was a big plus. By the same token, each book became a bit darker, and I loved that aspect. It also introduced new plot threads, notably political intrigue and expanding the world and cast of characters. The book focused a bit more on Miranda, and through her we learned a bit more of what is a stake in their world and what they strive to protect concerning the spirits and other sorts of intrigues from a murderous and traitorous inclination. Of course, Eli and his band somehow find their way into the middle of it by pure chance and luck, or lack of it for that matter.

Finally we have The Spirit Eater with a higher focus on Nico and her demonic nature as we go about learning a bit more about how dangerous demons are and the threat they pose. There's also a higher focus on Nico's relationship with Eli, and more importantly on the nature of her relationship with Josef. We also start delving a bit into Eli's secrets, something Aaron has been careful not to reveal much of. Just like the previous novel, the world keeps expanding, new characters emerge, and adding new dimensions to the composition of the various powers of the world.

The Legend of Eli Monpress is a reminder of the very thing that makes me a fan of fantasy stories. Fun characters you don't mind spending the time with, a cool world full of possibilities, a sense of magic and wonder, and just like it's main character, the series has plenty of charm. But more importantly, it's a story that at its core doesn't pretend to be more than it is, and no matter what the mood I was in, reading The Legend of Eli Monpress was always a good idea. I could've been reading a novel that could be considered the best by a landslide for the year, and I probably would've put it down in favor of reading the newest installment of this series. Can't explain it much, it's not a perfect series, other than I really enjoyed spending time in Eli's universe.

Don't want to get ahead of myself, but the sequel to this omnibus was my favorite read of last year. The Legend of Eli Monpress is a series that is appealing to a wide variety of ages, which is why I highly recommend this omnibus to just about anyone despite it maturing and going darker after each book, and this omnibus should be a safe bet for those interested in buying a gift for someone who's an avid reader. Also be aware that this series has been finished and completely published, so it's the perfect time to sit down and marathon the full series. Not a hard thing to do as this is an easy book to read, and a page turner to go with it. This debut effort by Rachel Aaron is responsible for one of my favorite series of recent memory (truth be told, all series to me are of recent memory, but why spoil the fun?). Do yourself a favor, and just find some time to sit back, relax, forget about nitpicking for a few hours in your day, and just have fun with a fantasy series that is capable of reminding us about some of the good things of reading in this genre. Whatever Rachel Aaron's next project is, she can be comforted that this Bastard will surely be eager to give it a read.

Buy The Legend of Eli Monpress from The Book Depository
Buy The Spirit War from The Book Depository
Buy Spirit's End from The Book Depository

For more information on Rachel Aaron and this series, please visit her website, blog, and follow her on Twitter.

14 comments:

  1. Oh shit. Seriously? Damn, I've got to get and make time for this series. Really sounds highly on the potential side of being my favorite. Shit...*looking at stacks* Well, to hell with you Bastard! Damn.

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    1. Without a doubt this series should be a priority for you, and I think you being a big fan of Michael J. Sullivan certainly heightens the chance of you loving this series.

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    2. That and I loved Abercrombie too. I still have to read the third book in his first series, damned time, and get the new ones. But yes. I've got to get this somehow.

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    3. Well, as I mentioned, the Abercrombie mention was a bit of a stretch.

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    4. That's okay. I really like the sounds of it too though.

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  2. Interesting review and I come away with the sense that this is something that I might like, though perhaps not love.

    Meanwhile, I notice the link to The Book Depository and was wondering about them. I've never dealt with them, but have heard that their packages aren't always well-protected. I'm very big on books arriving in as crisp, clean and new as shape as possible (I wish that books sold online could be shrinkwrapped, though I know it won't happen) and wonder what your thoughts are on them in regards to this? Thanks in advance for any feedback you can offer.

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    1. Sometimes they're not well packaged, sometimes they are... so considering what you say, I say avoid them.

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    2. Okay, thanks again.

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    3. That said, it's my understanding that if the books don't arrive pristine, they're happy to exchange it... but the process could be a hassle, particularly since they're shipping over-season (assuming you're in the States).

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  3. All this time I've seen The Legend of Eli Monpress and I didn't realize it was an omnibus. If you learn something new every day...

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    1. It's an omnibus AND the name of the series. So now that you know, go get yourself a copy.

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  4. You are right the covers have a completely different feel to them! I like the new cover better. Too bad I have the old - still haven't gotten around to them - picked them up during Borders closeout. Believe me when I say I didn't even read the book description just into the basket it went.

    Am I SPAM this time? I say I'm more sweet than salty baby!

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  5. I've been meaning to get to this series. Looks fun and light, and full of everything I enjoy. Some fluff that turns out to be more than just fluff, you know?

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    1. I know, even more discerning readers than me seem to have enjoyed the series more often than not, so I think it could be a safe bet for you.

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