Rachel Aaron is the fantasy author behind the Legend of Eli Monpress, a series that has been read and thoroughly enjoyed by Fantasy Book Reviewer Jasper de Joode. Jasper caught up with Rachel in April 2012 and asked her some questions regarding writing the series and the inspirations behind it.
I found the magic in your Eli Monpress books to be brilliant and most refreshing in its originality. What led you to use spirits as its basis?
I had the idea for a magical system where everything had a spirit years and years ago. So long ago, in fact, that I can't actually remember the genesis. Of course, once I had the idea, it wouldn't shut up. I just kept thinking about talking tables and chatty winds and so forth, but I didn't have a book to put it in at the time, so I filed the idea away. Then, a few years after that, Eli's character walked into my head and I knew the spirit world idea would be perfect for him. I mean, what better world for an overly charming thief than a world where charm is magic? So Eli started talking to the prison door and that was that.
The first three books in the series have all focussed on a different character (Eli, Josef, then Nico). Did you always plan to write the series this way or did it just occur naturally?
I always meant for the series to be 5 books, an introduction, then 4 character books with Eli's book at the very end (since his plot is also the main metaplot for the entire series). Nico's book (Spirit Eater) was actually supposed to be book 2, and I actually wrote about 50% of it before I realized I had no foundation for her plot line. So Miranda's Book (Spirit Rebellion) got pushed forward. In the end, it was an awesome change. Miranda is the straight man of the series, and her view point makes an excellent jumping off point for everyone else.
Josef's book, the Spirit War, was always the fourth book, and Eli's book, Spirit's End, has always been last.
The final two books in the series are going to be published in quick succession. I believe you are known for writing quickly but has this tight schedule been testing, even for you?
The 1, 2, 3 release was actually a bit of smoke and mirrors on my publisher's part and I can not claim any credit. The series was bought in 2008 but did not release until 2010. I spent the time in between editing Spirit Thief and writing the next two. I actually used to be a very slow writer, it was only in the middle of The Spirit War that I figured out how to write very quickly. (If anyone is interested in how I managed that, I have a blog post called How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words to 10,000 Words A Day that details the entire process http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html).
Now that I'm writing really fast, I'm actually beating my deadlines by months (and if I can actually finish the book I'm working on right now, I'll have beaten one by a year). It's a pretty good feeling!
There are few brutal scenes, and no swearing, and a generally light-hearted feel to proceedings. Did you purposefully choose to write like this, so as to appeal to a younger audience?
I didn't set out to write a book for a younger audience, I just didn't want to exclude a younger audience if I didn't have to. I could have easily added more swearing and so forth, but I didn't see the point. It didn't improve the story and it limited my audience. I wanted my books to be available to everyone. Honestly, in the beginning, it just sort of happened because I was writing the Eli books as an updated, faster paced version of the 90s Fantasy I grew up on, which were pretty clean. But once people started pointing out how much their kids loved my books, I made the conscious choice to keep the books clean.
This does not mean I pulled punches anywhere else, though. Sure there's no swearing, no sex, and the violence is not overly described (though the books do have violence), the tricky moral questions, tough choices, and character suffering are written just as they needed to be. No one gets an easy way out, especially not in the final two books. Just because kids can read them doesn't mean these are shallow, light kids books. There's a reason Eli is not 16.
The Spirit Eater and The Spirit Rebellion both had a objective or a job for Eli to complete (steal a king or break into a thief-proof fortress). The Spirit Eater however did not really have a objective of this type. Will you return to the objective-based plot in the last two books?
Eli's still out to push his bounty as high as he can, but unfortunately his plans get derailed by Josef in book 4 and by huge, huge events in book 5. We're in serious plot now, and there's sadly little time for heists. Of course, this is still Eli we're talking about, and you know he never lets an opportunity pass him by, so there's still plenty of hijinks and larceny to be had!
If you had to compare yourself to one of your own characters, which one would have most of your vices or virtues?
I always say there's a little bit of me in every character. None of my characters counts as a true author stand in, but Eli is amazingly easy to write. Miranda is fun because she's just such a stickler, but it terms of who matches me the most, sadly I'd have to say it's Sara from the Council of Thrones, which doesn't reflect well on me at all, especially after the events in the last two books. A lot of her more terrible lines are things I have said seriously. Of course, she's very much an exaggeration, but I'm a little uncomfortable that the character who I see myself in the most is one of... dubious morality. Thank goodness I have Miranda and Eli in there too!
Three books in the series have now been published. Looking back at them is there anything that you would change if you could?
Yes, I would redo The Spirit Thief to make it more complex and to make Renaud less of a cackling evil villain. The Spirit Thief was the second book I'd ever written, and it shows in places. There are certainly plot decisions that I would not make now, but then, that's part and parcel of growing as a writer. You can see the growth just from Spirit Thief to Spirit Eater, and The Spirit War and Spirit's End are miles above the beginning of the series.
I try to make sure every book I write is better than the last one. So far, I think I'm doing it, but of course this means I can't look back at the very beginning without wincing a little. It's the same for everyone, I think. But flaws aside, I'm still very proud of The Spirit Thief. It was the book that made my dreams of being a published author come true, and it will always be my darling for that.
Are you able to give us any insights into what we readers can expect to happen in the final two books of the series?
As I hinted, things get very serious in the final two books. This isn't to say there isn't a lot of funny stuff happening, it's just that our main characters have been kicking a lot of hornet's nests and running from a lot of problems, and even Eli can't run forever. Starting in Spirit War, Josef's problems catch up with the group, and from there it's a cascade of one thing after another all the way to the end of the series. Spirit's End is almost entirely climax, it's pretty intense. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say Benehime plays a much larger roll in the final two books, and Eli is a lot less happy, though no less glib.
What are your future writing plans after the last Legend of Eli Monpress book has been published?
I have a few things in the pot, including a new series I'll hopefully be able to announce soon. Unfortunately, nothing I can talk about yet, but yeah, I'm not idle. Have no fears! In the meanwhile, I've got an Eli Monpress novella about Miranda and Gin out and I hope to have one about how Eli met Josef soon.
I know this is a tricky question… but what are your three all time favourite books?
This is a tricky question, because it changes constantly. But if we're talking all time forever, I'd have to go with the books that had the hugest impact on my childhood, being The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki (graphic novels), and The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. I've read all of these countless times and they've all had a huge impact on me over the years.
In terms of more recent reading, I've loved the Sundering Duology by Jacqueline Carey and, while this is totally not a book, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality from Less Wrong, which is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Go read the first bit now, you'll thank me. http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality
Thank you so much for the interview! I had a very good time and I hope I answered all your questions!
A big thank you to Rachel for agreeing to this interview and for the time and effort she spent producing such wonderfully insightful answers.
For further information on Rachel and her work you should visit her official website - http://rachelaaron.net/
All in all, One Good Dragon Deserves Another is an absolute treat. Though it still suffers from feeling a wee bit obviously set up in places, so much here that was shallow, unexplored or seemingly cut out in the first book is given depth, colour, and a good serving of awesome dragon fire! Whilst the first book was popcorn, this second book, though still sweet, offers so much more to get your teeth into, as well as promising much more to come.
Again there were scenes that made me grin from ear to ear and the humour that Aaron puts into Eli’s actions and dialogue is spot on and fits perfectly with the story. Eli is now one of my favourite characters in the fantasy genre. There are many questions being answered but even more being raised and I’m very curious to see how the author will maintain the suspense in the last two books and what the climax will be. Rachel Aaron has created an excellent and solid foundation in the first three books and I hope that she keeps up this high standard - using her excellent writing style and witty dialogue - to create that one big final job for Eli. The Legend of Eli Monpress is a top series, one of the very best I have ever read and The Spirit Eater is a must read.
I have read many books recently that focus more on the darker aspect in fantasy, so The Spirit Thief was a nice change of scenery. The Spirit Thief does has its “dark” moments, where there are battles between swordsman and magicians, but there was none of the gruesome/gore scenes. Instead, the use of spirit magic makes for a lighter tale that I found extremely enjoyable. The Spirit Thief's storyline feels natural and not at all forced, the dialogue and action scenes move along nicely, and Aaron throws in the unexpected that makes things that little bit more exciting. The Spirit Thief is a great opening to a new series, the character are well thought through and their backgrounds interesting. If Aaron keeps this standard up in the books that follow then the series will be sure-fire winner!
The Spirit Rebellion is a worthy sequel to The Spirit Thief. Aaron’s writing style matures well while maintaining her light-hearted touch. There is plenty of action complemented by witty dialogue and I am very curious to see how the events unfold in the following books. Aaron definitely has talent.
As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn't fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.
Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ--a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit--Julius has one month to prove he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.
He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons...
"In general, I absolutely agree with those reviews who characterise Nice Dragons Finish Last as popcorn. Its sweet, light, fluffy, and you know exactly what you’re getting, though a serving of popcorn this large will probably pall a little before you finish it. That being said, popcorn is still welcome from time to time, and Aaron’s particular brand of popcorn is well made enough to be nice."
All in all, while No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished undoubtedly had its strengths, especially in unique world building and colourful characters, the lack of tension, lack of style and plodding plot definitely brings this one down. Indeed, after the rousing triumph that was the series' second book, it feels all the more disappointing.