The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress (Book #4 of 5)
Genre: Fantasy, high fantasy
Published: June 2012 by Orbit (UK and US)
A new-found favourite, The Spirit War was a fantastic penultimate volume in The Legend of Eli Monpress, a series which just kept getting better.
The Spirit War continued to expand on the worldbuilding and develop the main characters; this time with more focus on Josef. Back in the earlier books, there was a mention of the Immortal Empress, who appears to have dominion over a significant part of the world. Here we learn that her spectacular rise to power came from the very same omnipotent source that would have availed Eli with even more given his current status as “the favorite”, if he had not decided to reject it and cut himself loose. Well, as loose as he can be, which is not entirely. To say anything more than this will be a spoiler, so I will refrain. We also finally get to see more of the political power behind the Council of Thrones and the Spirit Court as the return of the Immortal Empress in her conquest of the entire world will require no less than a united front of the military and the wizards to contain.
While Eli remained as the main protagonist which the overarching story revolves around, he does not dominate the narrative. The key characters around him are given equal, if not more, development and growth as they increasingly find a firm footing within his story. Even the supporting characters, both old and new, have roles to play and are skilfully woven into various threads leading into the larger narrative that was being revealed.
Josef’s birth-right could have been handled in the most cliched manner but Rachel Aaron did not make it easy for him. I cannot say that I am a huge fan of Josef the swordsman (nope, he’s nothing like Hadrian Blackwater) but I don’t dislike him either. If nothing else, his absolute trust in Eli and extreme care and concern for Nico, made him a compelling character. And his direct and blunt demeanour can be quite refreshing, and funny, at times. Especially in comparison to his wily and cunning companion. Nico’s continuous struggle with her demonseed possession came to a most intriguing and disturbing development in this chapter of the story, just before we arrive to the cliffhanger ending.
Miranda, on the other hand, is beginning to annoy me with her self-righteousness. There are moments where she struck me to be a sympathetic character, but the moment she encounters Eli and his cohorts, she becomes positively unbearable. I think the only aspect of her character which I love without exception is her incredibly strong relationship and bond with her ghosthound, Gin. I get that she has taken oaths and is duty-bound to protect all the spirits in the world – but for goodness’ sake woman, please take a chill pill!
The stakes are significantly higher as we approach the final book of the series, and the pace is unrelenting. Even the light-hearted tone of the story has taken a a bit of a turn as Eli is increasingly backed into a corner to embrace the powers that he did not want as the world falls around him, placing all that he loves in mortal danger. That cliffhanger ending that I mentioned earlier played out exactly what I feared would happen and my aching heart went to my throat the moment the ball was dropped. If I didn’t already have the final book already in hand, I think I would have gone into some serious flailing and hysterics.
Review originally written in 2018.