Literature / The Spirit Thief
The Spirit Thief
"First rule of dungeons," he said with a wry grin, "don't pin all your hopes on a gullible door."
is the first of a series of books by Rachel Aaron detailing the exploits of one Eli Monpress, a wizard and a Gentleman Thief
, as well as his companions, aspiring World's Best Warrior
Josef and demonseed
girl Nico. In the world where every living thing has a sentient spirit, but only the wizards can hear them, Eli is a charmer extraordinaire
, as proven right at the start by when he escapes from a prison by convincing the door to free itself from the tyranny of nails
Eli has a goal, and that goal is to have a bounty on his head worth one million standards. To this end, he and his companions kidnap the king of Mellinor, a land notorious for their dislike of wizards, and ransom him for a modest sum of cash, plus a truly huge pledge to his bounty. However, it turns out that the king has a long-lost brother who is less than eager to see him returned to take the throne, and a Spiritualist from the Spirit Court has been dispatched to apprehend Eli before he further besmirches the reputation of wizards. And that's just the first book. Soon, Eli's, Josef's and Nico's pasts start catching up with them, and they become embroiled in a conflict of ridiculous proportions...
The series is composed of five books: The Spirit Thief
, The Spirit Rebellion
, The Spirit Eater
, The Spirit War
and Spirit's End
. The first three have been published in the omnibus The Legend of Eli Monpress
, and the last two - The Revenge of Eli Monpress
. There is also a short story titled Spirit's Oath
centering around an adventure of Miranda's before the series starts.
Contains examples of:
- A Chat with Satan: Nico ends up having these, as does any demonseed that becomes advanced enough.
- Achilles in His Tent: In The Spirit War, following Karon's apparent death, Eli locks himself up in the tallest tower in Osera and tries to shut off all the outside world and the feelings of guilt, as he absolutely refuses to let Benehime have him again. See Despair Event Horizon below for what happens next.
- Action Girl: Nico and Miranda both have no problem keeping up with their male companions.
- Adult Fear: It's not explored much, but Eli and Banage's past has this in spades. Imagine that your twelve-years-old kid runs off into the woods after a huge fight between the two of you. You brush it off, thinking that the kid will just vent its anger and come back, but... it doesn't. Not that night, not the next day, not ever, and unbeknowst to you, that's because it's been kidnapped by a goddess with too much attachment to her human toys. This quote from Banage is telling:
The day I saw your wanted poster was the happiest day of my life, because it said you were still alive.
- Agent Peacock: Sparrow, though he has very interesting reasons for it, and switches to drab colours when employing stealth rather than diplomacy.
- Alien Sky: The sky in Eli's world doesn't have stars. That's because this planet is apparently the last part of the universe not devoured by demons.
- Alpha Strike: In the fight between Tesset and Den, the former opens the fight with the most powerful punch possible, putting his entire soul into it.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The demons and demonseeds, especially in the eyes of the League.
- The world's magic revolves around entering an agreement with spirits for them to help a wizard, or by enslaving them. However, this is completely useless against demonseeds, who eat spirits. The League has its own form of anti-magic to use against demon abilties, though.
- Sparrow describes himself as an "anti-wizard", and unless he wears garish colours or they're equipped with physical eyes, spirits are completely blind to his presence.
- And I Must Scream: Being completely possessed by the Master can't be fun. Nor can being tortured by the Duke of Gaol. And of course, there's Renaud's little treat during the ransom exchange, then later with the pillar.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The best way to describe the world of the series would be "what if Shinto and its kami were real". Literally everything in existence has a spirit, and most of those spirits are extremely humanlike in behaviour. Most notable example is the Lord of Storm, whose true form is a hurricane and who can take on a shape of a man, though has problems keeping it stable when impatient.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Banage clearly tries this when he asks "Would you have done this to Eli?" while confronting Sara over how the Relay works, but she's too much of The Sociopath to care.
- Attention Whore:
- Berserk Button: All spirits will flip out and try to kill a demonseed if they detect one, especially the stronger spirits, Gin included. Josef's berserk button tends to be when Nico is in danger, and vice versa. For Miranda, it's the abuse of spirits.
- And as we see in Spirit's End, the thing that makes Eli do a complete 180 regarding Benehime (from reluctantly being her pet for forever to brutally insulting her and getting her truly angry for the first time in the series) is when she takes Karon away when he is sleeping.
- BFS: Josef's Heart of War. Though 'BFM' might be more accurate, seeing as the Heart is a mountain transformed into a sword.
- Big Good:
- Illir the West Wind, starting from The Spirit Rebellion. He considers it his job to protect spirits, so he aids Miranda and Eli, whether by sending his winds to help, passing information or putting in a good word with other wizards and spirits.
- The Shaper Mountain, once it goes Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!, is very helpful, though this is somewhat mitigated by its refusal to deal with anything that reeks of demonseeds.
- Benehime tries to force Eli into making her his Big Good, but there's a price and he knows it.
- Bittersweet Ending: Yes, the only demon left inside the sphere is Nico, the new Hunter loves his job, Benehime is defeated, power is returned to the spirits and a new age of cooperation between them and humans begins. On the other hand, all of creation is still stuck in the tiny "lifeboat" surrounded by innumerable, ravenous demons who still try to break through, and its unlikely the Creator will ever return. Unless humans and spirits figure out how to destroy destruction itself, they will forever live under the threat of demons breaking through.
- Blessed with Suck: Demonseeds. Pros: superhuman strength, speed and senses, Healing Factor, being a Shadow Walker. Cons: every spirit in existence fears you and strives to kill you, the League of Storms is hunting you down, and if you survive both of those, you will eventually be possessed and start devouring every spirit in existence.
- Blue and Orange Morality: When the hunt is on, the Lord of Storms cares for nothing else, even if the world is crumbling around him.
- Body Horror: The transformation of demonseeds into full demons.
- Bookends: The entire series both begins and ends with Eli charming a door into opening for him.
- Bounty Hunter: The Council Kingdoms are full of them, as bounties are the chief method the Council uses to capture criminals. Most notably, Josef used to be a bounty hunter before he went after Eli and the latter convinced him that he'd find better fights if he switched sides.
- Break the Haughty: Happens to Miranda to a degree at the beginning of book two, when she is arrested by the Spirit Court and breaks out, becoming a fugitive.
- Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Happens to Josef regularly, especially in his book three battle with Sted. Also happens to Nico.
- Call Back: In the first book, Miranda is furious to discover that the only book on wizardry in Mellinor's library is a greatly misleading treatise by one Mortimer Kant. In the final book, Lelbon reveals that Mortimer Kant is pen name of Illir, the Wind of the West.
- Captured Super-Entity: In the first book, the "secret weapon" in Allaze's treasury turns out to be the Great Spirit of an inland sea which had been enslaved for generations, preventing it from flooding and drowning an entire kingdom.
- Carnival of Killers: Everyone and his dog is out to get Eli and his team. Which is probably what you can expect when you're a notorious thief, one companion has a famously powerful sword, and the other is being hunted by the League of Storms.
- Chameleon Camouflage: Eli's catsuit has threads of seven different colours woven into it, and once he awakens them, they switch and move to make him blend in with the environment as much as they can.
- Charm Person: Or rather, Charm Spirit; Eli is very good at sweet-talking spirits, convincing them to do what he would like them to do. At first, this is apparently because he's quite the charismatic person, and then it's revealed that spirits bend over backwards to do his bidding because he's the personal favorite of The Shepherdess herself.
- Cerebus Syndrome: The story starts as a fun fantasy romp, but before long, there is mass enslavement, Demonic Possession, war and, last but not least, Cosmic Horror Story in play.
- Comically Serious: Josef, when paired with Eli.
- Complexity Addiction: Eli. See Wrong Genre Savvy below for when this trips him up.
- He does have something of an excuse: Benehime has promised him that she will let him go if he can raise his bounty suitably high, and to do that he needs to be flashy and well-known.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Something the Duke of Gaol is known for.
- Cosmic Horror Reveal: Oddly enough, this is what the series turns into in the last book. The entire world is a tiny sphere surrounded by endless hordes of enormous, ever-hungry demons that want nothing more than to devour everything, and only the diligence of the Hunter and the Weaver stops them from breaking through.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: In book two. Josef's attempts to fight the Lord of Storms when he comes for Nico.
- Cursed with Awesome: While being a demonseed is horrible in every sense of the word, it does give you incredible strength and speed, superhuman healing, and the ability to step through shadows.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Nico, definitely.
- Deadpan Snarker: Various characters have their moments.
- Deal with the Devil: In books two and three, Nico makes one, and suffers the consequences.
- Deep Cover Agent: The Immortal Empress' Hundred Warriors are people sent to enemy countries to worm their way into the highest parts of society so that they may sabotage any attempt at resistance once the empress comes. The duty is even passed from parent to child, such as is the case with Lenette and Adele.
- Demonic Possession: What all demonseeds suffer from eventually.
- Despair Event Horizon: At the end of Spirit War, Eli, crushed with guilt over his inaction during Nara's invasion of Osera, goes into Heroic Safe Mode and lets Benehime have him. It's marked by one, short sentence.
Eli gave up.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The League suffers from this once the Master of the Dead Mountain is vanquished and the Lord of Storms leaves to become the Hunter. Alric decides that the current members will spend the rest of their natural life spans watching over Nico, just in case she gave in to her hunger.
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: In book three Eli experiences this when he attempts to infiltrate the Dead Mountain, and finds the Master strangely accommodating.
- Dysfunctional Family/ Big, Screwed-Up Family: In the fourth book, Eli is revealed to be Banage and Sarah's son.
- Dysfunction Junction: Eli is blessed (or cursed, as he might see it) with Benehime's power and attention, Josef is a remarkable swordsman with the most powerful awakened blade, and Nico is a powerfully advanced demonseed.
- Elephant in the Living Room: The first three rules that Benehime has set down for spirits are don't look at the sky, don't talk about the sky and don't talk about stars. By the forth book, this elephant in the room becomes so conspicuous, the Shaper Mountain goes "screw it" and explains almost everything to Slorn and Miranda.
- Empathic Weapon: All spirits are conscious beings in this world, and awakened blades are no different. Weapons of note would be Josef's Heart of War; Sted's Dunolg, the Iron Avalanche; Alric's Dunelle, the Last Sunlight; and Coriano's Dunea, River of White Snow.
- Enemy Mine: In the final book, the imminent threat of all the demons in the universe coming to eat the world means that Nico, Eli and Josef have to work with the Lord of Storms, and the Demon of the Dead Mountain. No one of the three groups seems particularly enthralled with this plan.
- Engineered Public Confession: Eli has a wind spirit transmit everything Adela tells Josef to the entirety of the island they're at while Josef goads her into telling "him" what she really thinks of her country and what she's done to it.
- Extended Disarming: Josef takes about thirty minutes to take off all his weapons. After he does so, he is searched by guards and relieved of at least four he 'forgot'. And even then, he refuses to part with the Heart.
- Fiery Redhead: Miranda.
- Fighting a Shadow: Part of the reason why the Lord of Storms is nigh-invulnerable and unbeatable is because his human shell is just that: a shell. His true body is the thunderheads in the sky above him.
- Fighting from the Inside: Nico and Nivel's struggle against the Master.
- Final Battle: Each book a battle break out between the protagonists and antagonists in the third act.
- First-Episode Spoiler: It's hard to talk about Mellinor without revealing it's actually a sea spirit.
- Foreshadowing: While Josef's identity as a prince may come out of the left field for some, note how in book three, he mentions having fencing tutors, something only very high-ranking nobility - such as, say, a royal family - would be able to afford.
- Friendship Moment: Quite a few, mostly between Josef and Nico, Miranda and Gin, though Eli also gets a few with Josef and Nico as the story progresses.
- Friend To All Living Spirits: Eli's talent, and partly why he's such a successful thief. It is also what makes Miranda such a good Spiritualist.
- Gentleman Thief: This is Eli to the core.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: That's when you know the demonseeds really aren't just messing around.
- Got Volunteered: Eli and his companions really didn't want to get involved in stopping the brand new evil dictator in Mellinor, but have no choice, mostly because it's their fault in the first place for kidnapping the king and creating a power vacuum.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: The Lord of Storms doesn't have the word "patience" in his dictionary, and he's very quick to anger when he's forced to wait.
- Have You Seen My God?: The Creator is gone from the world, as revealed in the last book, and no one knows when or if he's coming back. He left three children with some of his powers to keep the world safe from the demons before he left, The Powers of Creation. The Shepherdess/Benehime, The Weaver/Benehin, and The Hunter/Benehar. Starts out as a good idea, end's not so well. Never leave your kids in charge of everything.
- Hearing Voices: Those lucky demonseeds again.
- Heroic R.R.O.D.: In a couple of his fights, Josef pushes his limits to the edge, and even a little beyond with the help of the Heart of War, but Nico runs headlong into this trope in Spirit War against Den the Warlord. She embraces her inner demon completely, going full-on Humanoid Abomination, becoming a sort of Living Shadow. Unfortunately, when Den is killed, Nico's arms and legs are left twisted, blackened, and utterly broken. Her coat manages to seal her in a cocoon so she can heal, but she's out of commission for the rest of the book.
- Heroic Safe Mode: Eli is stuck in it at the beginning of Spirit's End. It takes Benehime taking Karon from him with no care for the lava spirit's survival to shock Eli out of it.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: Nico considers herself to be the least valuable member of the team and despises herself to the point of being at the brink of Despair Event Horizon several times. Being a demonseed will do that to you.
- Heroic Willpower: Both command over spirits and fighting with awakened blades depends on this - Josef survives what should be mortal wounds several times because his willpower keeps him going.
- Horror Hunger:
- Humanoid Abomination: The Lord of Storms is usually a hurricane, so his human shell has its share of problems. For one, it becomes unstable and blurry when he gets emotional, and in one case as he gets impatient, he grows far beyond human sizes. Then there's the fact that he's capable of both the Flash Step and staying utterly still. His entire mind is focused on hunting, to the point that when he finally spots his quarry, Miranda calls his joy so powerful, no human would be capable of feeling it.
- I Call It "Vera": Awakened swords all have their own names (see Empathic Weapon). Spirits in general seem to, even if they can't remember.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each book is named "Spirit ___".
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: This seems to be how The Shepherdess/Benehime acts with Eli.
- Inspector Javert: In the first three books, Miranda is set on capturing Eli to the point of obsession. After she sees the Daughter of the Dead Mountain, she decides that in the light of the Myth Arc, this is petty, and abandons her quest.
- Intrigued by Humanity: Illir's fascinated by humans, and has gone to great lengths to learn as much about them as possible, including publishing books to see if literature can change people's behaviour and establishing the brokers to learn everyone's secrets.
- Invisible to Normals: Non-wizards can't hear spirits, or communicate with them. Though obviously if a table decided to up and attack them, they'd notice it.
- I Owe You My Life: Part of why Nico is so loyal to Josef.
- Jerk Ass Gods: Benehime seems to be this with her attempts to manipulate Eli, as well as her treatment of the Great Bear, the West Wind, and the Lord of Storms. Most of the time though, she's just neglectful. In the last book she tries to let the world be devoured by demons so she can live without the responsibility of being The Shepherdess
- Karma Houdini: Sara. She creates enlaved, mad spirits in replica of Renaud's sandstorm to fight in The Spirit War, her Ollor Relay was as good as Powered by a Forsaken Child according to Banage, including the spirit of her loyal water spirit, she bound another human being as a sevant spirit for many years before killing him, and probably has many more horrible acts to her name. At the end of the books, all we know if that the rivers all hate her, but with Banage rushing off to her aid, it's likely that even that won't keep her down.
- Killing Intent: People who are extremely good at killing can sense others of their kind when they're about to fight, and explicitely refer to this as sensing the killing intent.
- Knight of Cerebus: The Lord of Storms. His arrival in the third book marks the shift from episodic adventures towards the more serious main arc.
- Knight Templar: The League of Storms are this towards demonseeds. They believe there is no possible help for seeds, so they must die. The Lord of Storms (the League's leader), is the personification of this, though his second, Alric, is more balanced.
- Made of Iron: Tesset, who can even survive a building falling on him, Alric, because it's the nature of his League gift, Sted, for the same reason, and arguably the Lord of Storms, Nico and Josef (though Josef relies on the Heart of War for this).
- Magma Man: Karon, being a lava spirit, manifests himself as this when outside of Eli's body. Inside, he appears as a burn scar covering his abdomen.
- Magnetic Hero: Eli's way with the spirits.
- Master of Your Domain: Attaining total control over one's own spirit can allow them to shrug off, even heal, the most brutal attacks that should have killed them several times over. Tesset was able to peel off Nico's Horror Hunger-enraged demonseed with almost contemptuous ease, something Nico hadn't even thought was possible, let alone this easy.
- Meaningful Name: Benehime is a compacted version of the Hebrew Benei Elohim meaning "children of God" see Have You Seen My God? above.
- Mind Rape: The Master seems fond of employing this to force demonseeds to submit to his will.
- Mysterious Past: All three main characters, though we learn more about their pasts as the books progress. Josef being a prince especially came out of left field.
- Never Trust a Title: The second omnibus, Revenge of Eli Monpress. Neither Spirit War nor Spirit's End contain any revenge on Eli's part.
- No Hugging, No Kissing: The most prominent instance of a romantic pairing is Slorn and his wife Nivel, who intentionally isolates herself to protect everyone and dies in the third book, so they don't even interact onscreen. Between the main characters never even thinking about romance (Josef and Nico, for all of their devotion to each other, remain Platonic Life Partners) and any mention of marriage centering around politics, it almost seems as if most of the world was asexual.
- No Sell: When Tesset strikes Den with his most powerful punch, the latter doesn't as much as flinch.
- No Sense of Humor: The image that Nico attempts to portray, though Eli notices a few occasions when she seems to be fighting back a smile.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Tesset when his Alpha Strike doesn't as much as scratch Den.
- Everyone present when the Daughter of the Dead Mountain reemerges.
- One Hero, Hold the Weaksauce: Eli's ability to convince spirits to do what he wants far exceeds that of other wizards.
- Platonic Life Partners: Nico and Josef are incredibly close, extremely protective of each other, are the inspiration for so many Heroic Second Winds it's ridiculous, and even explicitly use the word 'love' in the text to realize how they feel about one another....and yet there is no hint of romantic or sexual feelings between them in the slightest.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Relay only works if water spirits are completely and totally isolated from the moment they are formed. Each spirit believes it is totally alone in its own private world, so their spirit unity allows vibrations to be passed between their parts. It's explicitly compared to locking a child in a closet for its entire life.
- Power Limiter and Restraining Bolt: Nico's cloak and silver bracelets help her suppress and control her demonseed. The prototype was made for Nivel, who has been containing a demonseed for ten years.
- Pun: Eli makes one in Spirit's End:
If you disarm me any further, I will have no arms!
- Really 700 Years Old:
- The Immortal Empress is eight hundred years old.
- Alric has been the Deputy Commander of the League for the last thousand years.
- Benehime and her siblings are five thousand years old.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Eli is the red, Josef the blue.
- Rings Of Power: Spiritualists keep their companion spirits in rings and other jewelry, so one easy way to spot this type of wizard is to count how many rings a person's wearing.
- Reluctant Ruler: Josef is forced to become the king of his country after everyone else in the line of succession is assassinated, despite the fact that he considers himself a complete failure as a nobleman and his subjects practically hate him. The moment he decides his advisors have matters well in hand, he leaves.
- The Reveal: Several, with various degrees of importance.
- The land of which the Kingdom of Mellinor now stands was once a great inland sea that's been enslaved by the first king.
- Eli's uncanny affinity for spirits comes from him being Benehime's favourite.
- Josef is the heir apparent to the kingdom of Osera.
- Banage and Sara are Eli's parents.
- The entire world is a tiny sphere surrounded by demons trying to devour it.
- Benehime wants to destroy the world she's supposed to protect.
- Revenge of the Sequel: The second omnibus is Revenge of Eli Monpress.
- The Runaway: Eli Monpress ran away from his home when he was twelve because of the pressure his father was putting on him, though the catalyst for his escape was a massive fight the two of them had, which ended in the kid going off into the woods and never coming back.
- Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!: As the most powerful spirits see Benehime becoming more and more neglectful, they eventually begin breaking thr rules to force her into acting like she's supposed to.
- Shadow Walker: Demonseeds such as Nico can use shadows to travel long distances, even taking others with them, though this leaves them and their passengers at the mercy of the Master of the Dead Mountain.
- The Sociopath: Sara has several qualifications. On a reread, pay close attention to her first conversation with Miranda when she's talking about wanting to 'examine' how Eli works. That's her own son she's talking about.
- Stalker Without a Crush/Stalker with a Crush: Benehime towards Eli. It's hard to tell the difference, honestly. Did we mention she's also a Yandere Physical God?
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: The Immortal Empress survives the finale of the fourth book, only to be unceremoniously killed off by Benehime in the first chapters of Spirit's End.
- Super OCD: The duke of Gaol is obsessed with having total control over everything in his duchy, up to and including the weather and the cobblestones in his city.
- Taking You with Me: In the last book, Nico grabs hold of the Demon Of The Dead Mountain as she is falling out of the world and drags him along with her. This particular instance of Taking You with Me is probably the Crowning Moment Of Crowning Moment of Awesome for the series, because by pulling him out of the world, Nico knows she won't die, but will be in absolute nothingness, slowly growing more and more hungry until she is completely insane just like the rest of the demons, and will be like this for all of eternity. She even tries to resist when Josef pulls her back in, because she believes she is too dangerous to live in the world.
- Talking Your Way Out: Our first introduction to Eli has him doing this.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Josef thinks this is being done to him in the forth book. It turns out the poison was in the candles rather than the food.
- Think Nothing of It: Miranda genuinely believes the ideals of the Spirit Court, so she's occasionally surprised when people behave as if she's done something extraordinary when she upholds those ideals.
- To Be Lawful or Good: Miranda faces this dilemma in book two.
- Took a Level in Badass: Nico, after mastering the demon. Josef, after becoming one with the Heart of War, Miranda at the end of The Spirit War, once she becomes the Rector Spiritualis and the Lord of Storms in the final book, upon becoming the Hunter.
- Undying Loyalty: Technically Eli, Josef and Nico are all undyingly loyal to each other, but the latter two are especially of note. Miranda and her spirits also regularly put their life on the line for each other.
- Villain with Good Publicity:
- Prince Renaud, thanks to some shrewd political manipulation, plays Mellinor like a fiddle by his second day in the office.
- The Immortal Empress is practically worshipped by her subjects.
- Adela is beloved by people more than her country's rulers.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Josef and Eli.
- "Wanted!" Poster: Eli, Josef and Nico each have one, but Eli takes great pride in his. We find out why in the final book.
- Waif-Fu: Nico is terribly thin, due to the demon's constant need to feed, but it's also what gives her incredible strength.
- Worf Barrage: Tesset's most powerful punch gets a whole long paragraph of build-up, and then another paragraph to describe the aftermath. It doesn't even make his opponent flinch.
- World's Best Warrior: Josef strives to become the best swordsman in the world.
- Worthy Opponent:
- Coriano and Josef, at least from the former's perspective.
- The Lord of Storms has been looking for one for five thousand years and is overjoyed when he finds out that Josef can match him.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Eli occasionally makes the mistake of thinking that his opponents are as sneaky or roundabout as he is. In the second book he at first assumes the Duke of Gaol will try to bribe or trick him into revealing his stash of stolen items, instead of just torturing it out of him. In the fourth book, he pulls Osera's Spiritualist aside and slyly asks him to send a message to Zarin, only to be flabbergasted that no, Spiritualists don't have secret communication methods kept hidden from outsiders.
- Yandere: Benehime in a nutshell. That goddess is scary.