“Better to be a man who destroyed peace than the man who saw suffering and did nothing.”
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Eli Monpress is clever, he’s determined, and he’s in way over his head.
First rule of thievery: don’t be a hero. When Eli broke the rules and saved the Council Kingdoms, he thought he knew the price, but resuming his place as the Shepherdess’s favorite isn’t as simple as bowing his head. Now that she has her darling back, Benehime is setting in motion a plan that could destroy everything she was created to protect, and even Eli’s charm might not be enough to stop her. But Eli Monpress always has a plan, and with disaster rapidly approaching, he’s pulling in every favor he can think of to make it work, including the grudging help of the Spirit Court’s new Rector, Miranda Lyonette.
But with the world in panic, the demon stirring, and the Lord of Storms back on the hunt, it’s going to take more than luck and charm to pull Eli through this time. He’s going to have to break a few more rules and work with some old enemies if he’s going to survive.
CW: emotional abuse and manipulation, suicidal ideation, violence
This is it. The end of the Eli Monpress series. The culmination of Eli’s thieving and running and planning and hiding and acting.
It is explosive.
Honestly, I couldn’t ask for more in a series finale. All along, the series has had excellent pacing, revealing character secrets along the way at a steady, deliberate pace. It’s unfurled enough at once to maintain interest, but it’s been coy as well, toying with its secrets.
But now it’s all out in the open. The truth about Sara’s work. The truth about Benehime’s negligence. The truth about the stars. The truth about the sky. The full, uncompromised truth about everything, and the consequences of leaving it buried for so long.
Every ounce of that truth ripped my heart out and then pieced it back together, one fragile piece at a time, because among the fight scenes and pitfalls and harrowing moments of no escape, there was also still hope, still a chance of things changing for the better. I think that hope, teetering on a knife’s edge as it did all the way through, is what made this so strong. I couldn’t tell who would survive or how. For that matter, I couldn’t tell who would die or how! There were surprise appearances, surprise stabbings (what books do I read that don’t have surprise stabbings though tbh?), and surprise moments of the deepest, most satisfying bonds. And moments of bonds snapping for good, too.
I think those bonds were my favorite part, too, because they just feel so open and genuine. I think that’s one of the series’ greatest strengths, the way it leans so heavily into character interactions and the bonds that they all form with one another. Miranda and her spirits, Eli and Josef, Eli and Nico, Nico and Josef, Benehime and Eli, so many more. As much as there is a plot, one that requires saving the world, it comes down in so many ways to the choices characters make in relation to one another. How Sara and Banage face each other. How Nico and the Master of Dead Mountain look one another in the eye. How Benehime, the Weaver, and the Hunter choose to interface. How Miranda and her spirits draw on one another in times of need.
Guys, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. Fully formed character relations, whether completely loving, on the verge of snapping, or somewhere in between, are my greatest weakness. It’s what I come to a story to see. I don’t care as much about saving the world as I do about the characters in it, and the reasons they have for acting the way they do. I want to understand them before I understand anything else. I want to go through a book with feeling, and characters are the surest way to do that.
And to cap things off without spoiling any details about how this plays out (I would never spoil a series finale, and this is definitely something you have to read for yourself to appreciate in full anyway), there is resolution. We see the follow-through on the choices made. We see the changes and the costs and the results in a way that makes Eli Monpress’s story feel complete without feeling like the door has slammed shut on it forever. It’s like leaving the door ajar, really: this story is over, but the door’s still cracked, and there’s a chance something very interesting is going on behind it if you’re patient enough to wait and listen and see. I don’t know if Rachel Aaron ever intends to come back to this world, but I know I’d return in a heartbeat myself if she did. I’d wait for more very, very patiently, more patiently than you might believe coming from me.
This book is a capstone on what I feel storytelling should be like. I gasped, I talked to myself a little (listen, someone was making a poor choice and I needed to reprimand them; it’s like when dads yell at sports on tv knowing the players can’t hear them, but they have OPINIONS, except for this case it’s more like horrified, scandalized whispering about how bad an oops that just was), and I even cackled a couple times where the humor had absolutely perfect pitch (usually when Eli was at the peak of his “hold my beer and watch this” impulse moments, bless his reckless, genius soul). I felt things for this book, and I already want to go back and start the whole series over again. It was fun and exciting and lively in the best of ways, and I’m sad to leave it behind. I can only hope maybe I won’t have to, maybe Rachel Aaron will come back, or the tiny fic community will explode.
But even if I do have to say goodbye and acknowledge that the story ends here, the ride was well worth it.
Ooh! And before I forget (yes, terrible timing, right at the end here, BUT), I feel like I should mention that I am incredibly impressed with the way this series has handled all kinds of abuse, from personal abuses to institutional abuses. In my eyes, this is something where it can be so easy to drop the ball, to undermine all the work that’s come before, but these books stick the landing. They look at concepts of power and agency and then they tear apart the wrongs to set something right in their place, and for a series that’s so often lighthearted, these questions find themselves right at home all the same. It’s an impressive, striking balance that I’m incredibly pleased with, especially now that I’ve seen the culmination of it all.
So, how’s that for convincing you to maybe try a series without spoiling FIVE BOOKS OF CLEVER SET-UP? If you need any more convincing, though, just let me know; I can tell you whatever you want to know. I can also tell you there’s a dog in this series who is A VERY GOOD BOY and he does not die, if you’re concerned about that. Best dog tbh. Another reason to read.
And if you’re already a Monpress fan, we should talk, because I need to know who else is out there and how you feel about the ending. And the series as a whole. And who your favorite character is. And to know that it’s not just me and my one friend who know the series at all. 👀
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