I walked into my house last Thursday and discovered a little brown package on the kitchen counter, addressed to yours truly. I gasped and grabbed it, feeling the telltale brick-like form of a book inside. I tore the package open and nearly exploded with glee at the contents. I clutched the tome to my chest and nearly hyperventilated from excitement. I had been waiting months for this book, so many months without my favorite charismatic thief in my life.
The Spirit War. Wild jade horses could not pull me away from this new installment. I tend to throw a lot of exclamations around, but trust me when I say that these books are so awesome that it almost defies description. Why, you ask? Because Rachel Aaron has found a fantasy recipe that works. Her characters are fascinating and engaging. Her magic system is absolutely brilliant. Best of all, the story she expertly weaves is completely and utterly unputdownable.
What's that you say? You haven't yet read the epic saga of Eli Monpress, thief and snarky bastard extraordinaire? I'm sorry, why do you hate awesome? How could you say no to a story that buckles a shit ton of swashes and is full to the brim with oodles of amazing characters, creatures and circumstances? No, no, it's okay. We'll fix it. Go now, to the hollowed halls of your local bookstore or e-retailer and get the beautiful omnibus edition of the first three books. Go ahead, I'll wait.
The Spirit War picks up right after the third book, The Spirit Eater ends. Stoic swordsman Josef has been called back to his homeland and Eli insists on tagging along. What Eli thinks is just the obstinate swordsman fulfilling his duty to his mother becomes all out war that nearly tears him, his group of friends and his entire world to pieces. Eli, Josef and Nico have some very difficult choices ahead of them.
Read under the cut for my full review of Rachel Aaron's The Spirit War! Careful, there will be spoilers!
The novel begins with a fascinating flashback into Josef's life and how he became the bearer of the Heart of War, the magic sword that only he can wield. Even just that brief look at his past explains so much about him. While Eli has stolen my heart (perhaps literally, he's that good of a thief), I've always had a soft spot for Josef. He tends to spend most of the books getting the shit kicked out of him by other swordsmen and hardly ever complains. This is the life he wants, he wants to be the best swordsman in the entire world. It's an obsession Eli and Nico seem confused by, despite Eli's own similar desire to be the best thief in the world.
Back in the present timeline of the story, Eli is waiting with bated breath for his latest wanted poster to come out. His bounty has increased a tremendous amount since the first novel and every new bounty poster leaves him as giddy as a child at Christmas. While his bounty this time is enough to nearly bankrupt a nation, his spot at the top of the list has been stolen by none other than Josef. Gobsmacked, Eli tries to make sense of it the best he can but Josef refuses to talk. Josef takes it relatively well and heads home to the person who placed such an enormous bounty on his head; his mother.
Titling this volume The Spirit War is incredibly apt, because there is not one person left unchanged by the battles ahead. While on the surface there is the oncoming war with the Empress, deeper down are the private wars every single character faces. Many face hard truths about themselves and their beliefs as they fight for survival. Josef wars with himself over duty and honor, as well as the odd feeling of being back in a land he had forsaken. Nico wars with herself and the demon buried deep within her, just waiting for a moment of weakness to break free and wreck havoc upon the world. Miranda is caught in multiple wars, her faith and loyalty divided as the Spirit Court digs in it's heels and refuses to fight.
The greatest war is that which Eli himself fights. The backstory with him and the Shepherdess are outstanding and show what a sick and sadistic creature the Shepherdess is. Your disgust with her grows as Eli relives how she sought to control him like a puppet and how her love is nothing but a lie. While Nara can not see this since she is blinded by her own jealousy, Eli is well aware of the Shepherdess' true self. He has spent his life running from her.
Each personal war clashes together at the end of the fast paced novel in a way that left me breathless. Almost everyone makes compromises they never thought they'd make or break oaths to themselves in spectacular ways. Eli's own battle left me nearly in hysterics and I chewed my lip bloody with worry for him. The book ends in such a way that I actually yelped when I turned the page and saw the word "Acknowledgments" instead of "Chapter". I put the book down, almost dizzy, and then immediately picked it back up and reread the last chapter to make sure I hadn't imagined the ending. I think I'm still in shock. Rachel Aaron sure knows how to write a cliffhanger!
The Spirit War is an incredible, unstoppable read. Putting it down was nigh impossible. It sucks you in from the very first sentence and leaves you gasping by the end. It's one of the best books I've read this year and I'm already eyeing it for a second round. To compress so much awesome into six hundred pages is a feat. It never dragged, it never compromised. It was just amazing, plain and simple.
I am dying to see how this all resolves. I do think I'll be able to make it until November, when the final volume comes out! Spirit's End will be the last time we see lovable Eli Monpress and his merry band of misfits. I'm going to be broken hearted to see it end, I just know it. I don't want to give up visiting his beautiful, surprising world.
All in all, you can not afford to miss The Spirit War. If I gave books ratings on a scale of one to ten, this one would go all the way up to eleven.
The Spirit War comes out today and is available in paperback and e-book wherever completely epic books are sold.