Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron

I first came across Rachel Aaron while storming the local Hastings for something to read at work. The title had caught my eye several times before, but it was such a small book I was worried I would finish it too quick. Despite my reservations, I ended up getting the first book, The Spirit Thief, and I’ve never regretted it.

The characters in Aaron's books are clever and detailed without being campy, like a lot of authors end up with. The plot lines are simple, but not mind-numbingly so, and the characters come together in such unique ways that you can almost believe it was fate. The settings are unique, and the landscapes are imaginative. And let’s face it, who doesn't love walking into a world where the world can talk back when you do something stupid.

Despite all of this, I was somewhat disappointed with the third book, The Spirit Eater. Don't get me wrong, everything I loved about the story was still there, but there was a bump in the story development of certain characters and not in others. The story is written through the viewpoint of several different main characters throughout the series: Eli Monpress, the clever spirit talking thief; Josef Lichten, the taciturn warrior with the most powerful magic sword created; and Nico, a child-like girl with a demon's seed in her chest. All of these characters are interesting in their own way, but of all of them, Eli gets the least amount of story development in the series.

This isn't to say he doesn't get any story-line; you get to learn little things about him throughout the other books. It's just that Josef and Nico have been more of a focus point over the last several books, starting with The Spirit Rebellion. The Spirit Eater was almost entirely about Nico and her past and how they affect her current struggles. The Spirit War was no different - the storyline was, for the most part, told from the perspective of Josef, with little nuggets of Eli thrown in from time to time.

Now, this could be a way of highlighting the fact that Eli is going to be the real focus on the, next, and final book. But it just seems silly to have a series called "The Legend of Eli Monpress" and not have him as a focal character. In my opinion that is the problem with having a story told from multiple perspectives. When you go from person to person every other chapter, it makes it hard to sympathize with any specific one.

Anyway, let’s get to the heart of the matter: The Spirit War.

Let me first say that I loved the book. For the most part, the story is about furthering the storyline about Josef, the warrior turned thief's-aid who travels with Eli because he wants to find a challenge. He carries the Heart of War, the most powerful awakened sword ever created. What are awakened swords? Well they are weapons that have wills and souls of their own and tend to have special abilities that make them more powerful than others. In the story, Josef gets called back to his homeland, Osera, by a bounty poster that has a higher pay-out than Eli's, which irritates Eli to no end, and he and Nico decide to tag along.

The storyline, without getting into too many spoilers, is simple: The Immortal Empress (a character who has been mentioned in passing throughout the series, but never really explained) is returning for a second war from across the ocean, Josef's mother wants him to do him a favor, and the Council of Thrones (not to be confused with Game of Thrones, another story entirely) is trying to get the Spirit Court to help them in the battle to come. Needless to say there is a lot of drama, some witty repartee from Eli, and a character who just wants to destroy things in the most Hulk-like fashion imaginable. (Cause let’s face it, Sted was the most interesting thing in the last two books)

The story is told in segments from different characters, some new, but most recognizable from the past books: Eli, Josef, Nico, and Miranda Lyonette, the Spirit Courts representative chasing Eli, without much success. I have to say that the story from Josef’s perspective was interesting in certain ways because he is so quiet that it makes it hard for him to be a very likeable character. He is also so taciturn that for almost every paragraph you could just have him grunting something to someone and it would have carried the same meaning. But, that was Josef’s past, this book paints him in a much better light. The chapters involving Eli’s perspective are more revealing, but also cast him in a very poor light. Without going into too much detail, don’t expect Eli to play the hero until much later in the storyline.

My biggest problem with sharing perspectives in stories is that most times you have a problem caring about any of them. Brent Weeks Night Angel Series was like that. The story changed to so many different people that it made it hard to really connect with any of them. Rachel Aaron's stories are much better in that they spend a little more time with each character in turn, and she's spent so much time developing them that each character comes off on its own without needing the main character there to give them a leg up.

The setting takes place between three different locations: Osera where the defense location is being prepared, the city of Zarin, where the Council and Court are located, and across the ocean on the other continent, where the armada is being prepared for invasion. I had a hard time with the settings on this particular book, just because the scenes for the new island, Osera, were so dull that even Eli comments on them. But I have to say that the image of the armada being launched made up for it in spades. Let’s just say that the term “Palace Ships” aren’t just there for fun.

The story is exceptionally written, and a lot of plot holes are filled up from the previous books. My main problem with The Spirit War's story telling style is that there are no flashback points. There are people and events referred to in the book, but they are never given details about them other than "he remembered seeing that person", or "that happened back in the woods" type of details. If you have spent a hiatus waiting for The Spirit War to come out and didn't read the previous book, The Spirit Eater, then you might want to re-read it before you start. The reason is that there are a lot of details in Eater that come up in War.

The ending was, for the most part, anti-climactic, but don't let that be a deterrent. The Spirit War was the turning point for The Spirit End, which is the next book in the series. In my humble opinion, the previous books have all led up to this moment. If The Spirit Rebellion was to highlight Miranda, The Spirit Eater was to highlight Nico, and The Spirit War was for Josef, then Eli’s time to shine should be coming up in the next book, and I sure can’t wait for that.

Some of Eli's past has been hinted at and explained, but the biggest plot hole has always been about Eli's connection to the mysterious Shepherdess, who all the spirits pay tribute, and whenever Eli has had encounters with her, he has always been antagonistic to her. The next book looks to be a lot about this missing period, and the end to The Spirit War leads up to this spectacularly.

All in all, I would say that The Spirit War was an excellent book as far as the series goes, but as a standalone book, as all books should inspire to be, it was only lacking in a brief sense. Hopefully, the next book will be different, seeing as it is coming out in November, but we will have to see. I would give The Spirit War an 8 out of 10.

Below will be an Amazon link to the book, always remember, a review is just one persons opinion. This book was amazing, and I would suggest it to anyone who has been reading the series as well as suggest the first book, The Spirit Thief to anyone interested in getting into it for the first time.

The Spirit War - http://www.amazon.com/The-Spirit-War-Monpress-Novel/dp/0316198382/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1339538252&sr=8-2

The Spirit Thief - http://www.amazon.com/The-Spirit-Thief-Legend-Monpress/dp/0316069051/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339539087&sr=1-1

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