4.5 stars. Seriously...almost 5. Maybe 5. Okay, why not? It gets 5. I have such mad love for this book, I can't even say. I was a bit skeptical when I picked it up, I admit it. The cover seemed...a little strange when I first saw it (but now I adore it because the guy is SO Eli...), and I wasn't sure quite what to expect.
But. Oh. My. Gosh. I was starting to feel a little depressed, when a number of the books I've read recently (that were published recently) just kind of left me dissatisfied and irritated. I wasn't quite sure what
I wanted, but I think I just found it. Eli Monpress is such a bundle of endearing contradictions I want to just hug him to pieces. Part angel, part imp, part rogue, part hero... Plus, can I just say that I absolutely LOVE a story where characters have various jaw-dropping powers but you'd never think it to look at them? When well-handled it can be so...delicious. And this book definitely delivers for me on that score.
I think another reviewer pointed out that one of the reasons this book stands out (meaning, getting strong reactions of both the positive and negative variety) is that, in a sea of gritty-for-the-sake-of-grittiness fantasy novels, packed full of obscenity and profanity and everything else just to prove how GRITTY the world is, this is a lighthearted, witty, fresh novel that totally sets its own standard and then happily rises above it.
And honestly, I'm a little sick of the dismal depressing milieu and characters in some of those books. So, I guess I really just love -- for lack of a better word -- the spirit
of this novel. I adore the characters, from charming, roguish Eli to the mysterious and kind of creepifying Nico, to the deeper-than-he-looks swordsman Josef, to hot-headed and duty-bound Miranda. And the spirits. Oh my, I just loved the interactions between Eli and the spirits. I will say as I got near the climax of this book, that I started having some anxiety issues...it felt like Miranda would be the one being the true and final hero in the end, and that would have made me rather disappointed and disenchanted. But then at just the right moment, the story shifts around in a way I'd never have expected, and it was more wonderful than I could have hoped. Excellent.
There were a few minor editing problems I noticed throughout, such as a character standing up when they'd just stood up on the previous page, or someone dropping something only to have it kicked out of their hand a few sentences later. But those things can be beastly hard to catch. And they certainly didn't detract from the loveliness of this story. I was delighted from beginning to end. Fast-paced, intense, charmingly narrated... I started this book a little before lunch and couldn't put it down until I finished. Brava, Ms. Aaron. This is hands down one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. The sneak peek at the next volume wasn't nearly enough... I'll be out hunting for Book 2 tomorrow.
Last note -- I notice some reviewers take a harsher view of this one because of characterization (or, in their view, lack of complex characterizations), or fluffy plot or whatever. That's fine. I think there's a lot more to these characters than face value...and yeah. An evil bad guy who isn't actually a misunderstood good guy at heart whose cruel upbringing has made him twisted and confused? I'm not complaining.
Some novels are crafted to draw attention to the complexities of human nature or a plot tangled and twined as seaweed. Some stories are meant to amuse, enchant, and entertain. A good yarn, the kind of stories the old skalds and scops would weave...the kind of larger-than-life story you tell your friends sitting around a campfire. Some of the best beloved movies are that variety too. Princess Bride, anyone? I think expectations might have a lot to do with how people receive a story like this. Look, you don't look at that guy's impish face on the cover, and read the light-hearted blurb on the back, and walk in expecting Dostoevsky. It's delightfully absurd and exaggerated and verging on parody...and I LOVE it.