Review: Spirit Thief – Rachel Aaron

Time for another book review (remember these are back to back since I flipped last weeks short story with the review that was supposed to be two weeks ago). I’m unhappy to have ended up with a book getting a fairly negative rating. Hopefully, that just means that the next one will be amazing, as that would fit the pattern so far.

Review:

I’m really not sure what to think of Spirit Thief. I wandered into it looking for a lighthearted adventure, after several long sloughs through more serious and dire books. At first, it seemed I’d gotten it. The charismatic main character has shades of the silly sort of eccentricity found in some of the best written lighthearted characters. The story had an engaging, well put together flow that you could easily get lost in enjoyment of.

Then it took a turn for the darker, more serious, and freaky. Demons and battles to the death and sociopath wizards trying to murder countries. The happy-go-lucky main character ended up feeling quite out of place, particularly with the hints that he was so much more but boringly unable to be anything but mediocre. The occasional moments of humor or unexpected twists were just barely enough glue to keep the whole thing a cohesive whole, rather than two entirely different plots and settings badly stitched together. To create a comparison most fantasy readers will likely get by this point, it felt like someone attempted to jam the relatively lighthearted tone of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and the darker tone of “HP:Deathly Hollows” into the same shortish book.

I admit, part of the reason I’m unsure what to think of the story is quite unfair of me, I was looking for lighthearted, had been recommended this on that count, and it seemed like it at first…only to crush that expectation and leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth. But that was on account of my own pre-exisiting expectation, and therefore not fair to count. So I’ll endeavor to strip that mental baggage out, and cover the good and bad bits a bit more clinically.

If I were rating just the first half of the book, it would get a high rating indeed. The setting is interesting, and includes a unique magic system that is both clever and fascinating in the extreme. The major characters are all well-written and positively leap off the page with vibrant personality. Even the plot showed signs of an amusing and interesting bigger picture. It was enjoyable, hard to put down, and overall a very promising start.

Sadly, however, I’m rating the whole book, and in the second half the novel’s sins started. New characters were tacked onto the story, who were both unneeded and painfully shallow, lacking the vibrant personality of Eli, Miranda, and even King Henrith. Worse, a total tone change began infecting the book, fingers of dark machinations and casual evil quickly staining a previously humorous and fun setting. The change wasn’t gradual, but jarring, virtually from one page to another looking like the author had lost her bottle of prozac or been dumped by the playgirl model she’d been happily dating.

The new characters never got better, getting instead worse as they fell agonizingly into the abyss of cliches. The stubborn obsessed swordsman refusing to use his power in want of a challenge, the cruel obsessive evil of a banished prince, the dark cruelty of a lurking off-seen manipulator, the misunderstood dark power that only wants for a hug. The latter half of the book looked more like a bad, cliché fanfiction than the amazing originality of the first half. If it wasn’t for the continued high-quality of the Eli and Miranda characters, I’d swear it was a different author altogether. It felt all to much like what happens when an amateur writer realizes that they don’t have an actual plot and self destructs trying to shoehorn something in. Which is doubly odd, given that there was the good foundation of a plot in the story already.

In the end, as the book wrapped up with a ridiculous and mood killing deus ex machina moment, which was painfully easy to see coming (and if it was halfway through the book, rather than replacing what should have been the climax, would actually have been fine) I was left with the bitter taste of ashes in my mouth. Even ignoring my original desires for the book as best and fairly as I can, I just can’t see anything but a case of either panicky self-destruction from the writer, or a desperate attempt to create a series instead of a stand-alone (Tragic, if that’s the case, as a series of stand-alones would have probably been the best solution). Almost worse than all the rest was a horrible case of sequel baiting, as nothing of any importance is actually resolved, leaving the book feeling half-finished at best. Having taken a glance at the general outline of the following books in the series, it seems like more of the same, only worse, and I’m highly unlikely to read them.

Final Rating Breakdown:

Setting: 9/10

Characters: 6/10

Plot: 6/10

Overall: 7/10

Score Adjustment for Misc:

+1 for Amazing and Detailed Magic System

-1 for horrible cliched everything in second half

-1 for tone mismatch

-1 for feeling unfinished. Shortish nature combined with nothing significant getting resolved and the bad placement of a deus ex machina with no explanation(“buy the sequel so you can find out!” Sort of baiting).

 

Final Score: 5/10

Personal Recommendation: Honestly? Don’t read it. If you’re looking for lighthearted there are better options, if you’re looking for serious there are better options, if you’re looking for unique magic there are just-as-good options.

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