The nice thing about reviewing books is that you get to see how far authors have come. One of the most interesting things is finding out that authors aren't who they say they are. Nothing nefarious, but it was super interesting to find out that J.K. Rowling was writing under a pseudonym, though not surprising considering her first, "Adult" novel tanked in comparison to the Harry Potter books. I hear a lot of grumblings about that. The fact that her success skyrocketed by writing under a man's name wasn't lost on a lot of people out there. I won't get into that, because it has nothing to do with being a man or a woman considering she wrote under the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling in the first place because she thought boys would be more likely to read a book written by a genderless writer than as Joanne Rowling. The fact that you can look up and see that she doesn't actually have a middle name is the real tell and the fact that success after the first book was phenomenal means that boys really didn't care.
But, I won't be going on about Rowling in this review. I feel she goes on enough about herself for any reviewer to really need to get any words in edgewise. This time I'm going to be giving a short flash review for The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron. I only bring up the fact that you don't really know an author until some time has passed, because it's not until you find that they have been writing under a pseudonym that you get a real look at what makes that author tick.
For those that don't know and likely haven't gone through my previous works, I've reviewed Rachel Aaron before. She's a great author, phenomenal in her craft, and there is a second series out there that I had no idea of because I didn't find out until recently that she's been writing as Rachel Bach as well. It shouldn't be surprising. Plenty of authors do it, Stephen King had his own foray into pseudonyms, as well as Erin Hunter who is a pen name for a collaboration of authors. Nora Roberts, a very well known author wrote under the name of J.D. Robb, despite the fact that shes one of the most well known authors of fiction in the world. I blame publishers for this, The fact that you're excellent in your craft means nothing when you're stuck in a genre for the rest of your life.
Considering the fact that Aaron, who wrote a superb series of books in a fantasy genre and then made the dive into Science Fiction, (two completely different genres in my opinion,) makes the switch all the more confusing, until you realize that Aaron was secretly including elements of Science Fiction into her series the whole time and just never let it slip until the later books.
The Spirit Thief is a fantasy fiction short (no epic fantasy for this series, a dedicated reader could probably finish it in a day and a half,) about the main character, Eli Monpress and companions who travel a world where every living thing has a spirit, though not every one is awake and willing to speak with people around it. Eli and his companions begin each book with the intent of stealing something impossible, because Eli wants to have the highest bounty in the world rather than for any financial gain.
So with that being said, The Legend of Eli Monpress is a fairly good series that focuses between several characters, including the titular character, Eli Monpress, a thief who is trying to get the biggest bounty in the world. What are his motivations? Or those of his companions? Well, Aaron does an excellent job at pacing her books so that you get very minimal amounts of backstory each book. Mostly through flashbacks at the beginning of the story that focus the theme of each characters motivation for the short amount of time they are the focus, Aaron gives out just enough to make the characters come alive without dragging exposition around behind her like a a bum leg in the sand.
This, matched with the adventures of each book, none of which exactly going the way they think make Eli and his companions the lead in anti-heroes in a world where grimdark has removed any connection between being a mass murderering scumbag and being a relateable, sympathetic character who just happens to be a little bit of a jerk. The fact that each character lives their lives by singular motivations that have nothing to do with the others gives the feel of Cowboy Bebop to it. It's a common trope in fiction, usually where bounty hunting or private investigating comes about. Give just enough information about each character to give them spice and differentiate between them without making them stale too soon into the plot. It can be aggravating at the beginning of a new series, but patience is definitely a virtue when Eli Monpress is concerned.
That being the case, The Spirit Thief is no perfect book. Similar to many first in series, it suffers from the Unknown Capacity Syndrome. That is, the story begins with you not knowing everything that's going on and plugging along as though you do. Little bits are revealed as the story goes on, but the fact that characters make little comments about the others is very much like being introduced to a group of friends who have known each other for years and make little inside jokes that 1) go completely over your head, and 2) wouldn't make sense anyway if they did explain it. The nice thing about the Eli Monpress series is that Aaron doesn't even attempt to bring you in on the jokes. If you want to know what is going on with each character, then buck up and get the next book in the series. You'll get it all eventually.
The secondary problem is one that I fell into as I went further into the series, and is fairly common in a lot of series and that's that the characters are very forgettable. An early description in the series may tell you what each character looks like, but they are more identifiable by the items they carry than anything else. Eli himself is completely forgettable because the books cover may show you what he looks like, but each book begins with him being amorphous. As a thief this is all well and good, but by the end of the series try thinking of his companions as anything other than the guy with the REALLY big sword and the girl with the CREEPY cloak and you'l be a better person than I am by far. At one point she described one of the characters having black hair and I had to do mental arithmetic to remember if this was new information or if I had just imagined her having blonde hair prior to that.
Given a rating system, I'd give The Spirit Thief 4 out of 5 as a series, but only 3 out of 5 for being a stand alone novel. The fact that you have to read the entire series to know what's going on with the characters dulls the excitement of having a story, but the fact that it invites you to read the series as a whole makes it more fun than having information spoon fed you. Altogether it has the feeling of having a busy parent try to tell you bedtime story without the aid of a work of fiction. It doesn't mean they're cheap, it just means they want to give you something original. Don't worry, they love you and want to do right by you, and they'll get better with time.