Rachel Aaron: Eli Monpress

Under another recommendation I just went through the first four books of The Legend of Eli Monpress.

The setting is a medieval-ish fantasy world with magic and (un)surprisingly modern and North American morals and customs, so pretty standard fare. The magic is interesting, in that everything is based on manipulating the spirits that inhabit things; you either con, force or negotiate them into doing things you want them to do.

The titular main character, Eli Monpress, is the greatest thief in the world, or at least he wants to be. He and his two sidekicks wander the lands, and while ostensibly stealing things for their own reasons, end up generally doing a lot more good than bad. Then there are their enemies, or in some cases frenemies, similarly motivated by their ideals, and of course a few caricatured villain or two bent on destruction. That being said, at least a few of the antagonists actually have pretty decent motivations, even if no characters are really all that deep.

The most significant drawbacks are the Marty Stu aspects, and how conveniently everyone always ends up in the same place at the same time, or has rather unlikely connections. They also introduce a number of metaphysical aspects that will become relevant later.

On the upside, the first three books which can be purchased as an omnibus edition, are actually quite passable pop-corn reading in the vein of a good high-energy caper tale. The effortless prose, clever events and interesting characters make up for the shortcomings, and I’ll give them a three and a half out of five. I found them more enjoyable than Nice Dragons Finish Last; Ms. Aaron does not do self-pitying characters well.

The fourth book, The Spirit War, takes the world and begins to go further into the level of gods and creation and total war. While I appreciate the unique and interesting way the world is set up, and the many questions that are raised about how it came to be what it is, it just did not flow nearly as well as the previous three books. Where they made me stay up a bit too late, and insisted I carry them with me to dinner, this become at times almost a bit of a chore. The plot was just not as interesting, despite being a lot more significant, and when very powerful beings begin to use their powers in the context of war, it just always seems like the people getting killed, maimed and destruction is just a backdrop, and that does not sit well with me. The book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, although the primary threat to the world will get resolved in the end. I’m not sure whether I’ll pick up the next book. Two out of five.

Rachel Aaron: Nice Dragons Finish Last

This book was another Amazon recommendation. The setting is alternative future urban fantasy: magic has returned to earth, and a lot of mythological creatures have awakened from their slumber and have re-arranged some of our way of life and cities to be more to their liking.

The origin story is a bit weak, and it’s quickly glossed over; otherwise the world seems pretty standard urban fantasy fare with monsters, dragons, fae, vampires, nature spirits and humans working magic. In her other books Ms. Aaron is known for world-building, though, so there may be a bit more to the world than meets the eye.

The protagonist is a young dragon that has been cursed to remain in human form until he can prove himself. This is because he’s a Nice Guy and doesn’t live up to draconic greed and ruthlesness. Luckily he meets a girl that appreciates him for his inner chivalry and things go from there.

The setup sounds cliche-laden and saccharine, and some of the self-pity-parties and teenage romance were over the top. The protagonist is supposedly 24 years old, but his behavior would befit a teenager. I’m hoping that at least some of it is intentional, and there’s more interesting character development to come.

My reason for optimism here is the plot. As it progresses, more and more layers and underpinning machinations are revealed, and I was fairly impressed by the end. The dynamics of the protagonist and his love interest, aside from the Marty-Stuisms, are both fanservice and yet unexpectedly refreshing in that the girl appears to be the more ruthless and morally flexible half of the couple.

The prose is decent, but not excellent or particularly noteworthy, the pacing is good, and the plotting is competent with some nice hints of future things to come. Some of the plot seems like it’s a “starter adventure” to introduce the characters and setting and the actual events are secondary to the ultimate goal, but seeing good intentions and cleverness win out over brute strength is nonetheless pleasing.

In summary, the characters are neat once you get over the excessive timidity of the protagonist, the plot is kind of clever, and there is plenty to hint at interesting future installments. Here the sum is greater than its parts, and I enjoyed the read a fair bit and will pick up the next volume once it’s out.

Three out of five.