Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.
Yen Press has recently released the twelfth volume of this series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).
Back Cover Blurb
To obtain a map of the northlands, Lawrence and company leave the Kingdom of Winfiel and return to Kerube. Seeking out a silversmith of notorious reputation, they are introduced to the beautiful Fran Vonely who offers to provide what they seek. However, Fran’s map comes with a price-in exchange, the party must travel with her to a village where an angel is said to have alighted and discover the truth behind the legend. But what of the rumor that a witch lives in that very same village?
Lawrence and company leave the island kingdom of Winfiel for the port city of Kerube. It’s only been a matter of days since the narwhal incident, but that misadventure seems a distant memory with Kieman pleasantly greeting Lawrence at the Rowen trading house with news of Eve’s latest profit-making success. However, the one our travelers have returned to seek in Kerube is not human but a being of Huskin’s kind.
Holo’s encounter with the Great Sheep of Winfiel in Volume 10 brought to the forefront an aspect of Holo of which Hasekura-sensei hitherto only gave brief glimpses. Volume 12 continues delving into the particular dilemmas of legendary spirits with Huskin’s fellow sheep Hugues. Unlike Huskins, who survives in the fields as a shepherd, Hugues has made a life for himself in town–as an art merchant.
It seems a strange occupation for a sheep, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. After Holo has her fill of teasing the faint-hearted Hugues (who has nowhere near the fortitude of Huskins), he shows the three travelers his merchandise. The paintings are ostensibly of saints and other religious figures, but the true subjects of his collection are the backgrounds–ancient forests, hills, and waterways. Most of these landscapes, where spirits like Holo and Hugues once thrived, no longer exist, and those that remain are rapidly being destroyed by human activity. In commissioning such paintings, Huskins strives to preserve a small piece of the world that once was, and it is a reminder that Yoitsu, as Holo knew it, might not exist.
Even so, she’s determined to find her homeland. Through Hugues, they meet the silversmith Fran Vonley with whom they strike a peculiar deal. She agrees to draw them a map to Yoitsu if they travel with her to investigate a village’s seemingly conflicting stories of an angel and a witch.
Once the setting changes to the village of Taussig, the story very much takes on the flavor of their sojourn in Tereo. A search for clues put Lawrence and company in the midst of a village contending against outside forces, and Fran, like the clergywoman Elsa, is the determined young heroine who has a mission she must see through.
Some of the text is confusing. Like many previous volumes, there are sections of dialogue where it is unclear who is speaking. In a couple places, it seems like wrong names were inserted. As such, understanding the Taussig conflict, which is predominantly a religious/political one, requires some mental effort and a bit of rereading. Fortunately, it is much easier to comprehend than the narwhal deal in Kerube and does manage to come to a tidy end. In addition, Hasekura-sensei also lays the groundwork for future stories with the rumors swirling about the north. Before, Lawrence and Holo traveled with the Church/pagan struggle in the backdrop. Now, the powerful Debau Company is emerging as a player looking to profit off the northern lands, and it seems like it will only be a matter of time before their activities directly affect Col’s or Holo’s homelands.
This light novel includes the title page, four illustrations, and the table of contents printed in color as well as seven black-and-white illustrations and a world map.
Though a new merchant gets introduced in our Spice and Wolf world, this volume is less about the marketplace and more about man’s impact on an all too quickly changing world. As Holo continues to seek to Yoitsu, an encounter with another ancient spirit forces her to consider what she might find at the end of her journey and her options in a world dominated by humans. Speaking of humans, their search for Holo’s homeland leads not only to the unraveling of a legend’s mystery but also presents a commentary on the very best and worst of humanity. So there’s not much of an economics lesson, but we do get to witness the desperate measures people resort to when major forces clash.
First published at the Fandom Post.