In the prison under the castle Allaze, in the dark moldy cells where the greatest criminals in Mellinor spent the remainder of their lives counting rocks to stave off madness, Eli Monpress was trying to wake up a door.
Why I read them:
I love young adult fantasy and that new genre, Paranormal Fiction. It has been a bizarre experience to watch a genre appear, knowing that while I was haunting the library in my teens, devouring shelves at a time and railing against the well stocked science fiction shelves, there is now an entire section dedicated to my tastes. Unfortunately, it turns out that although these would be perfect if I was still 16, I’m not and some of them are TERRIBLE . I grew up on the beautifully balanced stories of Tamora Pierce and Patricia C. Wrede, I still reread my Tanya Huff and Sherwood Smith and my personal bookshelves have only the books which I’d borrowed enough times that it was easier to just own them. I’m picky.
But when I’m feeling blue, or overextended, or a little lonely, I want that easy slide into a book where the plot pulls you along, adventure waits on every page, and yes, there might be a princess and a pony. I scoured the shelves, even picking up the occasional romance novel (even the back blurbs were so bad I had to put them down) and avoiding the more blatant Fiesty Investigator Speaks in First Person because those never go well.
Finally I found one with an intrepid thief and a prose style which didn’t immediately make me want to frown. Bonus, it has a Sorceress and her talking giant dog, which is no princess and pony, but pretty damn close.
Why it is Enjoyable:
I read in the back of the first book that the author had based the stories around a Dungeons and Dragons character of a thief whose goal is to be worth a One Million <Currency> bounty. This makes a lot of sense, as the RPG character elements infuse each page. Unlike Raymond E. Feist, where you can hear the dice rolling on the page as the plot fights orcs and goblins, Rachel Aaron has created character archtypes who are fun and funny and engaging, and has given the books enough of them that you don’t really mind that none of them are particularly deep. The thief is the THEIFIEST and insouciant and has a bit of a checkered past and a couple of secrets. The swordsman is committed only to the Fight and to Getting Fightier! The sorceress is The Most Noble and Rule Abiding. The enemy is a super evil Demon and his acolyte is brutal and nasty and seriously has no redeeming features. But though they are archtypes, they aren’t caricatures. You care about them, want them to succeed and want to see what new element is going to be on the next page. It has a Spirit Dog Gin who is loyal and loves pigs and a bear headed shaper who lives in the woods on a moving head with chicken legs. Seriously, these are fun. I mean come on, in the fist book Eli Monpress (our theify theif) steals a king! (which, ok, sounds obviously like kidnapping [kingnapping] when I write it there, but in the book everyone is all …ooo, snap, we thought he was coming for gold!)
I came up with an elaborate food analogy for these books. They are sandwiches. Not gourmet sandwiches, but good quality, reliable, satisfying ingredients between planks of bread. Lots of your favourite things put together in a tasty way. They are better than pure popcorn books, which while delicious are sometimes regretted, and you can eat them on the run.
As a bonus, there is no series slide happening here. Each book is as enjoyable as the one before, each adventure as much as a romp, and although you learn more about the world and the characters as the series progresses, it doesn’t get cumbersome.
Why world building is Important:
Propping up the enjoyable antics of our cast of misfits and the sorceress who is determined to catch them is a system of magic which provides all sorts of plot elements and interest points. Everything is imbued with Spirits, from the mold and the mist to the mountains and the seas. Spirtitualists, (or wizards, but calling them that is seen as so very uncouth) make pacts with the spirits for their aid, demons devour them and are feared by all, shapers awaken them and place them into superior blades and certain thieves appear to sweet talk them into all sorts of trouble.
The world system is simple but flows seemlessly throughout the stories, and the events of the books keep in mind that the world is not like our own. When a ruler is OCD and in the midst of a reign of tyranny? Well, the spirits may be under that tyranny as well. If a wizard goes mad, that can mean trouble in this world and the next. Big plot points and little ones feed into the magic system and it is a pleasure to see. The fact that this isn’t the same pseudo-medieval fantasy setting adds to the fun and discovery and off-sets how the characters could be a couple of keywords.
Why I don’t love the covers:
It should surprise no one that there are Serious Trends in publishing when selecting covers. These covers fall squarely into the paranormal fiction trend of BIG FACES of PRETTY PEOPLE looking SOMETHINGISH. I do not love them. I think they are a touch garish. I mean, they are pretty people and I like the monochrome, and at least they aren’t of women in impossible poses, but they make me feel conspicuously non-literary when I read them. I much prefer the other trend, the one of silouetted items, even if the Twilight covers use them.