You know how when you pick out a book to read, there are certain things that you gravitate toward and certain things that make you hesitate? Well, if you haven’t heard me say it before, fantasy makes me hesitate. There’s a very fine line for me in terms of fantasy I can enjoy vs. fantasy that is just too out there for me. Another potential red flag? Picking up a book that’s a spinoff of a series I haven’t read. So for my review of Morgan Rhodes’ A Book of Spirits and Thieves, I’m going to give you my perspective as someone who a) is a little scared of fantasy and 2) has zero experience with the Falling Kingdoms series that inspired this story. (the a & 2 thing was a mistake but I kinda like it so…)
The first thing you should know about A Book of Spirits and Thieves is that it doesn’t assume you have any previous knowledge of Falling Kingdoms. When the story begins, it feels like it’s own distinct plot with its own distinct characters, and the book itself is a lot of setup. You’re not picking up where something else left off or trying to make sense of a context that was spelled out in another book, but instead are getting rich world and character-building within this story. In other words, perfect for someone like me!
The story is told from three alternating third person perspectives. The first is Crys, a sarcastic teenager whose family owns a bookstore in Toronto. When the store receives a mysterious old book, Crys watches her sister Becca reduced to a catatonic state after handling the book, which leads her on a mission to figure out the story behind the book and how to cure her sister. The second is Farrell, whose wealthy and privileged family is deeply connected to the secret Hawkspear society. When Farrell is tapped to join the “inner circle” of the society, he finds himself on a mission to learn more about Crys. And finally there’s Maddox, a boy from another world with magical powers he doesn’t quite understand. When Beca’s spirit appears to Maddox, he becomes embroiled in a plot to save his kingdom from cruel leadership and a pledge to help Becca return home.
At first I thought I might struggle with the third person perspectives, but it actually works really well here. All of the three main characters are engaging narrators with distinct voices. I had a love/hate relationship with how Farrell was portrayed; largely because he seemed to become more and more of an unreliable narrator as the story progressed, which I actually love, but can be oh-so-frustrating when you’re invested in the story! There was also a bit of an instalove situation with Becca and Maddox, but it didn’t bother me too much because the story is so big it couldn’t logistically spend too much time on romance, and because both characters were pretty sweet and innocent and I could kind of see them realistically getting mooney-eyed over each other in this situation.
The fantasy aspect of the story is mainly in the magic, so I found it to be a really nice balance of contemporary mystery and fantasy – definitely not high fantasy, as I’ve seen the Falling Kingdoms series described. There was not one moment of A Book of Spirits and Thieves where I felt confused or out of the loop, even though the plot contains some pretty complex threads. Rhodes does a really nice job of teasing out a mystery and pulling things together in a way that makes sense, but also leaving plenty of conflict for future books.
So to summarize:
Do you need to have read Falling Kingdoms to appreciate this book? Nope, it’s a total non-issue.
Do you need to love fantasy to appreciate this book? No – fantasy is just one part of this story. I’d compare it to Renee Adieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn in terms of the level of fantasy-ness, so if you enjoyed that, you’ll have no problem with A Book of Spirits and Thieves.
And on the subject of future books, you can bet I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next in this series. As to whether I’ll check out Falling Kingdoms remains to be seen, but I’m definitely on board for A Book of Spirits and Thieves.