Then I realised that the damn wily and charming thief has also stolen something precious from me. There is an empty space where my heart used to be as I bid goodbye to my favourite thief. Can I pledge a huge bounty to capture him alive please?
This final volume started with a Prologue from young Eli’s perspective and what made him decide to become the world's greatest thief with the highest bounty ever on his head. The last missing piece of his backstory leading into the scene I've been dying for following the cliffhanger in the previous book.
The series is indeed Eli’s story and the overarching central plot belongs to him in spite of the cast of main characters who play significant roles and have more than their fair share of the narrative. In fact, the only grouse I have about this series is what I deem as insufficient amount of airtime from Eli himself; every time he appears, the scene somehow brightens and I am drawn further into the story. He is more than willing and contented to take a backseat to his companions, Josef and Nico, in the heroics and heavy-lifting department. Even Miranda had more occasions to shine with her magical prowess. However, it is the sheer audacity of Eli’s plans and ideas that no other person can even begin to imagine nor have the guts (or perhaps idiocy) for that the world ultimately hinges its survival on. This is also not to say he did not place himself in danger while the rest carried out his audacious plans.
Coming from the Heartstrikers series, I noticed that Rachel Aaron has a knack of starting a tale on a relatively light footing and then progressively building upon the story, the world and the characters to end with an epic flourish where the entire world is imperiled. Straight off the bat from the ending of The Spirit War, things are getting seriously wrong. Spirits are panicking all over the world with rivers flooding the cities and towns, and trees and forests ripping themselves apart causing earthquakes and unintentionally killing humans nearby.
The creation myth behind the world and all the answers to the questions and mysteries arising from past books are revealed and tied together in this instalment and the underlying tone of the story becomes quite grim in dealing with demons and darkness, hunger and madness. The climax of this finale is long with loads of action and full-blown displays of power, which I appreciated given the end-of-the-world magnitude of the stakes at hand.
Another aspect of this series which I really liked was the lack of romance, or rather the absence of a forced or hate-to-love romance. It is so easy for the story to end up with Eli and Miranda falling in love, an occurrence which I was initially worried about. That’s not to say that there is no love in the narrative. There is the love between Josef and Nico, which in my view transcends romantic love. There is the love between unlikely friends although Eli and Josef will never admit it openly. Then there is the love and loyalty between a Spiritualist and his or her spirits to whom they are inextricably bound by oaths of power and service.
The spirit magic was one of my favourite elements in this series. I am pretty sure many of us fantasy lovers have imagined what it would be like having mundane everyday items being able to talk. This was the inspiration behind this magic system created by Rachel Aaron. Half the fun is having a supporting cast made up of gullible doors, fliratious trees, restless winds, gossipy household knick-knacks, grouchy rivers, and amongst lots more, a bossy sword. Underlying the magic is the message of free will and choice, a thread running from Eli’s story to the oaths of the Spiritualist and the abhorrent practice of Enslavement.
Although one might find that the whole affair wrapped up just a bit too neatly at the end, sometimes I do need this kind of storytelling. It’s a sweet breath of fresh air that is exactly what I was hoping for right now. A fast-paced light-hearted fantasy that delights with witty humour and an engaging story that grows with its great characters.
With Julius Heartstriker and Eli Monpress, Rachel Aaron has created two awesome and atypical main protagonists that I adore and has thus become my first favourite female author. Come to think about it, these two share a common trait - their ability to talk!