(Warning – this post starts with a general rant; skip down a couple of paragraphs if you’re only interested in reading about “Spirit’s Oath”.)
I am really glad I decided to get a Kindle last year; by now, I really wouldn’t know what to do without it (or some other e-reader). There are some things, however, that annoy me horribly about it and chief among those are region locks, i.e. that some e-books are available for buyers in the US or UK but not in Germany, even as paperbook versions are freely available. This, as you might be able to imagine (or might not have to, if you own an e-reader yourself) is highly annoying and to me makes absolutely no sense at all.
Yes, I know that the reason for this is supposedly that e-book rights for a specific publishing house are limited to a specific region, but how is that supposed to make a difference – as it quite obviously is exactly the same for paper books. Author A sells the US rights to his novel to publisher X and the UK rights to publisher Y, and I still can easily order both the US and the British paper books. Author A sells the US rights to his novel to publisher X and the UK rights to publisher Y and I can order neither the US nor the British e-book – how is that supposed to make any sense? There are, of course, translation rights, but they quite obviously do not affect sales of the book in its originial language, so we’re left with no good reason at all why I should not be able to buy the e-book in Germany.
And as if that was not already absurd enough, Orbit (a publisher, by the way, that I hold in high regard for its excellent SFF program) has managed to top it. Back in 2011, they started a series “Orbit Short Fiction” presenting short stories and novellas by several of their authors. Now, their web site tells me that “Orbit is an imprint of Hachette Book Group in the United States and Little, Brown Book Group in the United Kingdom” so you’d think that they would make sure that their e-books would be generally available… well, you’d have thought wrong, because for quite a long time the books were only available to buyers in the US, with a laconic note on their web site that they’d be released in Europe “soon”. After that finally happened in July 2012 (definitely not my idea of “soon”) I thought that at least subsequent releases would be available immediately – which of course turned out to be very naive of me, as I found out when I recently tried to buy James A. Corey’s “Gods of Risk”… and it was not available in Germany…
Anyhow, end of rant. After waiting for five months after its US release in February 2012 I finally could buy this novella by Rachel Aaron a month after Spirit War was released. I put off reading it until a strategical halfway point between that and the release of Spirit’s End in November (and btw, and somewhat unrelated – can anyone explain to me why there apparently won’t be a single e-book edition of that novel but only an omnibus edition with Spirit War? Not that I mind giving Rachel Aaron my money (or my firstborn child, for that matter, if it would get me to read Spirit’s End sooner) but this seems like a blatant rip-off by the publisher which has me potentially very cranky. And okay, I admit it, that was even more rant. But I’m going to stop now, honest, and write about the novella).
“Spirit’s Oath” is a prequel novella to Rachel Aaaron’s Eli Monpress series and takes place four years before events in the first novel. Eli himself does not figure in it at all, except for one oblique reference (that I’ve noticed) that you’ll miss if you have not read at least as far as The Spirit Rebellion. Instead, it is all about Miranda Lyonette and how she first meets her ghosthound Gin, during an attempt of her family to salvage their finances by marrying her off to a nouveau-riche. As everyone who has read the series will easily be able to imagine, those plans do not sit well with Miranda at all who would much rather follow her vocation as a Spiritualist, and as a result quite a bit of hijinks ensue.
The novella is very much in the spirit of The Spirit Thief, the first novel in The Legend of Eli Monpress, i.e. it is lighthearted fun and not yet tinged with the darkness that creeps into later novels in the series, and for all its shortness it has the full measure of the wonderful charm that seems to inform all of Rachel Aaron’s writing. The pages just fly by under a constant soundtrack of chuckles, chortles and delighted squees on part of the reader, and my only niggles are that the novella wasn’t a novel and that Spirit’s End is not out yet.
The novella also showcases how moralistic a writer Rachel Aaron is – and I do not mean that she is preachy (which she is very much not) but that there is a very strong ethical stance in all of her writing – there always is an emphatical insistence on respect towards others, no matter how alien they are, how strange their customs or how foreign their way of life. And this is what in the end unites Miranda and Eli, too, no matter how far apart they are in other things – they would never use their power (and both possess a considerable amount of it) to forcefully impose their will on those weaker than themselves. In fact, the whole magic system of the series is based around this concept, opposing those mage users that persuade and reason with Spirits to those that would force and enslave them. That aspect might not be obvious among all the immense fun reading The Legend of Eli Monpress is, but it is always there and plays a large role.
“Spirit’s Oath”, then, is a very nice addition to The Legend of Eli Monpress that fully lives up to the rest of the series; and while not necessary for following the main story line, I can’t really imagine anyone who likes the series not wanting to read it (unless they hate Miranda and / or Gin, but surely such people do not exist?). It also stands very well on its own and would make an excellent introduction for anyone who wants to dip their toe into the series’s waters without wanting to immerse themselves into a whole novel (or even three of them, with the omnibus). In short, there is absolutely no reason not to get this delightful novella (if Orbit lets you, that is. Grrr….)