The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron

“Fight the sword at your throat, admiral, not the sword in the sheath.”

The Spirit War Cover

Goodreads || B&N || Rachel’s Twitter

Eli Monpress is vain. He’s cocky. And he’s a thief. 

But he’s a thief who has just seen his bounty topped and he’s not happy about it. The bounty topper, as it turns out, is his best friend, bodyguard, and master swordsman, Josef. Who has been keeping secrets from Eli. Apparently, he’s the only prince of a rather feisty country and his mother (a formidable queen who’s every bit as driven and stubborn as he is) wants him to come home and do his duty, which means throwing over personal ambitions like proving he’s the greatest swordsman who ever lived. 

Family drama aside, Eli and Josef have their hands full. The Spirit Court has been usurped by the Council of Thrones and someone calling herself the Immortal Empress is staging a massive invasion. But it’s not just politics — the Immortal Empress has a specific target in mind: Eli Monpress, the greatest thief in the world.

5 STARS

CW: violence, slavery, death of a loved one, suicide, emotional abuse and manipulation

By the fourth book in a series, you’d hope all the backstories are coming to light, the stakes are rising, and the problems getting harder and harder to solve. You really would.

Thankfully, the Eli Monpress series knows how to deliver on all counts, and The Spirit War left me with my mouth hanging open and my phone in hand so I could text-yell at the friend who recommended the series to me (you know who you are, and you did the right thing, you wonderful monster). It brings you so close to feeling like everything is going to be okay, and then suddenly leaves you dangling on the edge of panic, because no one is all right, the situation is getting worse, and the final book is just around the bend.

It’s a pre-finale just the way I like it: stressful in all the best ways, with a few moments of heart-wrenching emotional tenderness that make me want to consume fluff fic for hours.

(Fun fact: this series has only seven fics on Ao3. ONLY SEVEN. TOTAL. I CANNOT CONSUME FLUFF FIC FOR HOURS BECAUSE THERE IS NOT ENOUGH. IT’S TRULY TRAGIC IN THE WORST WAY.)

Anyways, this time around, we follow Eli, Josef, and Nico into the heart of Josef’s past, where we get some amusing moments (turns out Eli is very miffed when his closest friends so casually upstage his own bounty, even by only a little), but also plenty of moments that had me biting my nails, moments that made me understand why these characters have become the way they are, and moments that made me worry if these characters had a future. Traveling along a plot line that starts at a royal homecoming and veers towards war in which there is no hope of anything but defeat will do that to you.

Josef is especially the focus for once, since we finally get the chance to visit his homeland and make sense of why he left. He’s not as confident in all things despite how unshakable he’s proven himself so far, and yet he’s rock steady all the same. He’s a mystery of a man, capable of weakness and immense strength at the same time, and I truly appreciate his inability to be anything but straightforward. It plays so nicely off of Eli’s casual silver tongue, having this character who speaks his mind at all times, politeness be damned.

Eli’s backstory takes full shape at last, too. And it hurts. I figured it was terrible, given what we’ve glimpsed so far, but this book finally peels back the curtain and reveals the gravity of his situation, especially in respect to Benehime. And because it does that, every choice Eli faces, and every choice he makes, become so much heavier. You get the full effect of the man behind the casual conman’s mask, and you also get a sense of how damned stubborn Eli is, how much purpose and principle he stands by. Funny thing, a conman with morals, but Eli has them in spades. Just not in places that would keep him from being a thief.

And of course, we get more of Nico, too. Not as much, since we just left behind The Spirit Eater, which placed her front and center along with the bulk of her history, but she does some incredible things, and I fall a little more in love with her each book because she stands her ground against the impossible in ways that delight and horrify me in equal measure. She carries a unique burden in the form of her demonseed, and how she handles it with such determination and resolve is beyond me. She might just be in strong competition with Miranda Lyonette to be my absolute favorite of the bunch, though just about everyone is in strong contention for that title (which goes to show how amazing the character depth is!).

Speaking of Miranda, she doesn’t have as much of a showing in this book, at least not until the end, but she’s as stubborn as the rest of our main characters, and she has so much compassion for her spirits, her friends, that I love her completely. She’s the perfect example, I think, of lawful good, bordering on neutral. She so tightly clings to the rules of the Spirit Court, but she makes every move with the well-being of the world and its spirits held at the forefront of her mind. It’s a single-minded determination that more often than not yields results, and I also love the fact that she’s powerful for it. She’s powerful and for the most part respected for the talent and power she wields. Those who disrespect her are by and large antagonists, and it’s so nice to see a woman in power who does the right thing as much as she possibly can, who isn’t vilified for it by the arc of the narrative. She’s compassion and ambition stitched together as one, and I love it.

At the end of the day, The Spirit War is something of a tense masterpiece, bringing war to the doorstep, and paving the way for the final book in the series to tie all the threads up nice and neat, to bring everything to a roaring conclusion. I loved every bit of it, even the standard Josef fight scene where he gets mortally wounded and still wins the fight because he has the Heart of War (his fight scenes are very samey, though this one had a fun element at the end!), and I still can’t believe the way it ended, the way I actually gasped aloud and immediately started reading Spirit’s End instead of taking a break because it was so awful and incredible all at once. There’s no longer any emphasis on Eli being the best thief in the world, but that’s because there’s bigger problems at hand, and this series is handling them masterfully.

 

So, think you’re ready to take the plunge and pick up the Eli Monpress books? If it’s any comfort, despite it being some 1.7k pages altogether or so, it is a finished series, so you can definitely go at your leisure! Plus, its strangely small fandom means it’s unlikely you’ll run into spoilers (though you’re in trouble for fanfic unless you’re out here like me, writing your own), and the people you do find in the fandom are probably as excited as you are to talk with someone else who FINALLY KNOWS THE THING.

Or maybe you’re a seasoned Monpress veteran, and I’m just preaching to the choir here. Either way, let’s chat!

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