Category Archives: Light Novel Reviews

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #21

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 released the 21st volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

The Review

I’d thought Lawrence and Holo’s traveling days were over, especially given that they’re now proprietors of a popular inn. However, Hasekura-sensei seems to have decided that this couple’s dynamic is best while they are on the road. Thus, thanks to assistance from several non-human types, the pair is journeying again, this time to catch up after their daughter Myuri.

The combination of travel and moneymaking schemes is reminiscent of the original series, but this book retains the Spring Log format. In other words, rather than one continuous narrative, it consists of five short stories, each with its own self-contained arc. However, the first four stories follow one another so closely chronologically that they form a steady look at this new journey.

The first of the four is “Beyond the Steam and Wolf,” written from the perspective of Selim, who’s tasked with running the bathhouse in Lawrence and Holo’s absence. She is a relative newcomer to the Spice and Wolf world, and we get to know the shy, conscientious wolf a bit better as Lawrence and Holo eagerly prepare to leave the village. The perspective then shifts to Lawrence’s once they hit the road. “The Autumn Colored Smile and Wolf” pokes fun at Lawrence’s rusty traveling skills during their first significant journey in over a decade. He then gets to redeem himself in “The Colors of the Forest and Wolf,” when a lord requests their assistance in protecting a forest in his territory. The impact of human activity on the ancient landscape Holo once ruled was a constant thread in the original books, and this story revisits that issue. Then the first leg of their journey ends with them handling the repercussions of Col and Myuri’s activity in “The Eggs of a Journey and Wolf.” This fourth story is a lovely throwback to the original Spice and Wolf tales in that it involves economics (futures trading in herring eggs) and conflict with a religious institution (a young priest who apparently aspires to be just like Col), but it also works in a new element. Preceding Spring Log tales have Lawrence and Holo seeking ways to preserve memories of their days together, and this story introduces a new means for doing just that. An added bonus is that Holo is so desperate to attain it she refrains from her gluttonous ways for once.

The final story in the collection, “Another Birthday and Wolf,” is a brief flashback. Written from Col’s point of view, it chronicles a party celebrating the tenth year of both the Spice and Wolf bathhouse and Myuri. Most of it is Col preparing Myuri for her grand entrance. To be honest, it strikes me as odd that a young man of around twenty is dressing up the ten-year-old girl instead of her mother or another female. At any rate, the interchange makes it very difficult for me to take a romantic Col/Myuri pairing seriously.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, six black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Holo and Lawrence begin a new journey! Fans of the original series will get to enjoy Holo and Lawrence essentially reliving their younger days on the road. They have the vibe of an old couple rather than the insecurity of their unmarried selves, but the stories present a nice blend of travel and moneymaking.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina Vol. #01

There are a range of witches depicted in literature nowadays – good, bad, sexy, terrifying. But how about a witch wandering around with no particular goal in mind? This is the subject of Jougi Shiraishi’s light novel Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

What’s your favorite story? Does it have a hero who slays a dragon and saves a princess? Or a child of prophecy destined for greatness? Well, my favorite story is a little different. It’s the tale of a witch who travels the world, seeking nothing in particular. With no quest of her own, she’s free to wander wherever the wind takes her, adding a few pages to the story of whomever she meets before setting off on her next adventure. At the end of her travels, the witch takes on an apprentice who will one day begin her own journey. And so the cycle continues, or so the story goes. Now, the witch who starts the story anew…who could she be?

The Review

Elaina may be a witch, but she’s not an ugly old hag. As a cute girl in her late teens, she’s definitely in the moe category. But despite being a genius at magic, she uses her powers mainly to fly herself via broomstick from place to place.

No, this isn’t a witch on a quest for magical items or seeking to improve her skills or any other concrete goal. For the vast majority of the story, Elaina’s magic merely shortens her travel time. She doesn’t even really use those powers to make a living, which strikes me as truly odd. Despite having the ability to fix broken items, transform herself into animals, manipulate tools, and fight off several mages at once, the way she earns money when she runs low on cash is bogus fortune-telling. As such, the magic aspect of this story is nominal, except for a couple of flashback chapters about Elaina’s witch apprenticeship. (Even then, her motivation for undergoing that training is because her mage parents require her to become a full-fledged witch before they will allow her to travel.)

The meat of the stories, then, is the places she visits. Elaina calls them “countries,” but they are more like medieval city-states. Each is ruled by a monarch, but they are enclosed by protective walls and can be fully explored in one to three days. Every chapter focuses on a different country or an in-between village. Because Elaina is a traveler, we get to explore these countries and villages alongside her, and each place is unique.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say each place has its own particular brand of weirdness. From the country that persecutes ugliness to the country awash in counterfeit currency to the country literally divided into two because its king and queen can’t compromise. Some episodes are humorous: others are mysterious or sad. However, these anecdotes tend to highlight the worst of humanity–stupidity, avarice, hate, deceit, indifference.

The opening chapter, “The Country of Mages,” left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. I believe the author’s intent was to make a story in which Elaina inspires a lonely mage. However, Saya’s behavior is definitely the stuff of creepy stalkers (I don’t care that it’s coming from a cute girl, psychopathic behavior is psychopathic behavior).

On top of that, Elaina’s commentary on the people and places she encounters is mostly snark. Because her snark isn’t particularly clever or insightful, it just makes everything seem that much more unpleasant. Given the disdain she expresses throughout most of her travels, I have to wonder why she bothered leaving home at all.

Extras include the first four pages printed in color, five black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

The title of this book is accurate. Its chapters chronicle the journey of a wandering witch named Elaina. However, the actual content of those chapters don’t form a cohesive narrative, and the main character Elaina doesn’t have enough personality to make engaging commentary on these disjointed and often dark anecdotes.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?) Vol. #01

Fantasy series are full of royalty, and those characters are often noble, incompetent, evil, or ambitious. But how about a genius prince who is plain lazy? That’s the protagonist of The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?). Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Prince Wein is ready to commit treason. And who can blame him? Faced with the impossible task of ruling his pathetic little kingdom, this poor guy just can’t catch a break! But with his brilliant idea of auctioning off his country, this lazy prince should be able to retire once and for all. Or that was the plan…until his treasonous schemes lead to disastrous consequences-namely, accidental victories and the favor of his people!

The Review

This series’ long-winded title is somewhat misleading. The main character, Wein Salema Arbalest, is a prince and a genius, but his country, the Kingdom of Natra technically isn’t in debt. The kingdom doesn’t owes money to others; rather, Natra is lean on industry and resources. Ergo, the demands on the country’s leadership are high but the material benefits are few. Wein, however, is naturally lazy, bears no idealistic notions, and has had a taste of the good life during his studies abroad in the Earthworld Empire. As such, his dearest dream is to sell out his country to the Empire that he might live out his life in ease and luxury.

The title might also lead one to think the story is of trade and negotiation, similar to Spice and Wolf. Although Wein’s first act after being named Prince Regent to stand in for the ailing king is a peacetime discussion with the Earthworld Empire’s ambassador, the majority of the plot concerns military strategy and tactics and the resulting geopolitical consequences. (Even that initial discussion with the ambassador concerns the terms of an agreement allowing Imperial troops to be stationed within Natra.)

Sounds like serious stuff, but even though everyone around Wein is serious and takes him seriously, Wein is a comic character behind the scenes. He’s constantly trying to ditch his responsibilities, and only the fear of a coup and his longtime friend and aide Ninym (the one person who knows his true nature) keep him in line. He’s also got a sister complex and is a bit of a perv (a tone which gets incorporated into the artwork). If the series was turned into an anime or manga, it would undoubtedly include fanservice elements.

As annoying as I found the breast references, this plot was engaging. Interestingly, it reminded me of another Yen Press title, Tanya the Evil. While one is a fantasy and the other is an industrial-era isekai, both have heavy strategic, tactical, and political elements. Tanya and Wein have vastly different personalities, but they are similarly deemed model patriots when in truth they’d dump their responsibilities given the chance. And the running joke with both is that their brilliant schemes to attain the easy lifestyle continually backfire.

The main weakness of Genius Prince is that, unlike Tanya, its cast tends to be very one-dimensional. Aside from Ninyim and Wein, characters have little nuance. They’re all evil, all loyal, all idiot, or all victim. Also, even though Wein’s father remains king, he never appears throughout the several months worth of events.

Despite that, the story is an entertaining, easy read. Whereas Tanya delved into details to the point that it was a real slog, Genius Prince does a good job presenting information in a clear fashion that doesn’t bog the pace.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, ten black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

A military narrative takes a comic tone as a prince regent’s best efforts to rid himself of his kingdom backfire into one brilliant victory after another. The plot involves quite a bit of strategy and geopolitics, but it keeps the parameters simple, so it’s easy to comprehend. That combined with Prince Wein’s behind the scenes outbursts makes for an entertaining story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 4

Holo and Lawrence of the  Spice and Wolf light novel series have reached their happy ending, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 4. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Rausbourne, Winfiel Kingdom’s second-largest city, is on the verge of boiling over. Col and Myuri have come to this bustling metropolis at Heir Hyland’s request-but as soon as they land, they find themselves caught between heavily armed tax collectors and mercenaries hired by the local merchants association. The stakes are high when it becomes clear that Rausbourne’s troubles are simply one part of the wider conflict between the Kingdom and the Church, which has actually worsened due to Col’s deeds as the Twilight Cardinal.

If nothing changes, it’ll be only a matter of time before fighting breaks out. Right as things start to look their bleakest, Lawrence’s old archrival Eve Bolan offers a convenient lifeline. Will the fearless miser turn out to be friend or foe? Either way, Col has no choice but to dive into a three-pronged standoff between the Church, the Kingdom, and the merchants!

The Review

After their detour in Desarev, Col and Myuri finally arrive in Rausbourne, where Col’s supposed to report to the noblewoman Hyland. Unfortunately, their boat hasn’t even docked in the city port when Col’s taken into custody by the Rausbourne Tax Collector Association, an incident which immediately triggers a confrontation with the local traders’ association.

Col’s activities in the North haven’t gone unnoticed, and the deeds of the Twilight Cardinal have emboldened the Rausbourne tax collectors to get belligerent with the local religious authorities. On the surface, it looks like another Kingdom backed foray against the corrupt Church. However, the tax collectors are backed by Heir Klevend, a royal upstart out to usurp the throne. Additionally, the clergy are holed up in the cathedral, unwilling to engage anyone, but they don’t have to fight because merchants and their mercenaries are facing the tax collectors for them.

This is a situation with multiple actors, not all of them obvious, and their motivations aren’t what you’d immediately assume. The bulk of the story is Col and Myuri getting to the heart of the conflict and discovering more layers than they imagined. While the complexity makes it interesting, it’s not a light read. Having to keep track of how everyone is connected and why was a real mental workout.

While the original Spice and Wolf arc was sparing with its nonhuman characters, Col and Myuri seem to encounter a new nonhuman with each leg of their journey, and here it’s Sharon, the head of the Tax Collector Association. Heir Hyland, whom we haven’t seen since the early part of Volume 2, returns to the story, and we get a real blast from the past with the crafty merchant Eve arriving in Rausbourne. It’s because of the unique connections Col and Myuri have with these individuals that Col’s able to get a grasp on the situation, but watching the different personalities interact is pretty fun, too. Col may be a mild-mannered guy, but he attracts strong females. Despite his intentions of celibacy, one scene in particular with Myuri, Eve, and Hyland seems awfully like a harem situation.

Hasekura-sensei does a good job interweaving Winfiel politics, economic opportunity, and a defensive religious organization into the plot. There is an aspect I found troubling though. Along with the Church’s financial corruption, this volume adds the sin of sexual impurity. Basically, most priests had affairs, so much so these illicit relationships were an open secret. To make it worse, when they abandoned their lovers and children to rise in the church ranks, the Church deliberately and knowingly altered records to erase any inconvenient relationships.

Despite his desire to reform the Church, when Col meets one such priest, his response is less indignation and more along the lines of, “Well, he had his reasons.” Weirder is that another pastor, who himself is one of these illegitimate children, is in love with a woman, and the solution is to settle the pair together in a monastery dedicated to raising orphans rather than having the pastor find work that doesn’t require celibacy. Given that no one seems capable of following the celibacy rule, it seems odd Col never questions its necessity. At any rate, if the Church gets any more rotten than this, Myuri may be right that it’s better to destroy and build something new rather than to clean house.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, eight black-and-while illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Our travelers arrive in Rausbourne to find it teetering on the brink of war. The Twilight Cardinal’s actions have spurred people to openly challenge the Church, but an armed conflict might just bring the Winfiel Kingdom to ruin. Col is confronted with the fact that his actions have worldwide consequences, and this volume is less adventuring and more pondering how to use his far-flung influence.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #06

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 6 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Through the bone-chilling winter wind, the clashes of war can be heard. Equipped with fragile weapons and machinery, Tanya and her unit march toward the Eastern front. There, Tanya realizes the primitiveness of it all, and that it’ll take more than a miracle to emerge unscathed…

The Review

As with the previous volume, this one begins with Tanya on the Eastern Front dealing with a dilemma. Whereas before the Salamander Kampfgruppe was struggling against guerrilla attacks, it’s now contending against a greater, nondiscriminating enemy: winter. Although they do have the assistance of the newly formed Council for Self-Government, their collaboration is mostly in name only. Yet Tanya once again sees through the mess of problems and to find solutions that protect her forces and cement relations with the Council for Self-Government. While her insights aren’t as revolutionary as the not-everyone-in-the-Federation-is-a-Commie realization of last time, watching her rational brain deal with the challenges that beset her still makes for an engaging read.

Of course, the Commies aren’t taking the PR fallout from the formation of the Council for Self-Government lying down. They counter with their own campaign: a multinational mage unit to display their international ties. Leading this unit are Colonel Drake of the Commonwealth and Colonel Mikel, recently a resident of a Federation concentration camp, and embedded in their group is Lieutenant Mary I’m-gonna-kill-the-Devil-of-the-Rhine Sue. Perspectives on the anti-Imperial side have bounced from character to character throughout the series, but that role looks like it’s going to be carried by this threesome moving forward.

This is a nice development because we’ll actually get a chance to truly get acquainted and attached to the people stuck with carrying out the orders of Commonwealth and Federation. Despite being representatives of very different ideologies, Drake and Mikel hit it off right away. Both are talented mages with a keen understanding of the political forces that have teamed them up. With a Communist political officer attached to watch the multinational unit’s every move, the two men are continually thrust into situations where they must put on a show for the Commies so that Mikel doesn’t get tossed back into the concentration camps.

While the Mikel and Drake walk a political tightrope to keep themselves and their subordinates alive, Mary tears about like the proverbial bull in a china shop. She might’ve gotten sympathy points before as the bereaved daughter of a fallen Entente Alliance mage, but now she’s just a thoughtless officer causing trouble for everyone around her. If Tanya has an antithesis, Mary is it. She’s fighting for completely personal reasons, has no regard for rules and procedure, and despite the line in the narrative, “[Mary] wasn’t a girl who couldn’t read the room,” Mary really can’t read any perspective but her own. Any appearance of Mary inevitably causes a headache for her commander Drake, and I’m groaning right alongside him.

As far as the broader scope of the continental conflict goes, things get muddled further when the kingdom of Ildoa does some saber-rattling. The introduction of a potential new player on the current theater of war turns the narrative into a bit of a slog. Zen-sensei’s tendency toward untagged dialogue and minimal setting descriptions, unfortunately, means that all the conjecturing about Ildoa’s intent and motives results in confusion rather than an aura of intrigue. As such, I look forward to the manga’s version of these events to clarify the situation for me.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes of the history timeline and general commentary; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

Characters on both sides keep the story lively with challenges physical and political. We still have Tanya struggling to compensate for the gap between General Staff’s view of things and reality, but now the Commonwealth’s Drake also provides a similar perspective as a commander in the multinational mage unit. The high level scope of the growing continental conflict unfortunately remains a difficult read, but the scenes of those in the trenches cut straight to the heart.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: The Reprise of the Spear Hero Vol. #01

Originally published as a web novel,  The Rising of the Shield Hero has spawned a light novel, anime, and manga. And a sure sign of its continuing success is the fact that it’s generated a spin off series: The Reprise of the Spear Hero! Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Summoned to another world to serve as the Spear Hero, Motoyasu Kitamura is a pitiful young man who eventually finds himself only able to love filolials. But after being fatally injured in battle, Motoyasu wakes up yet again in the exact circumstances of when he was first summoned. It turns out that his spear possesses an ability known as Time Reversal! With his stats unaffected by the reset, Motoyasu decides to fight once more. His motivation: to once again see the smile of Filo, the filolial that he loves more than any other! Could this be considered the start of a new game in god mode?! The long-awaited otherworldly redemption fantasy begins!

The Review

The Reprise of the Spear Hero is a spin off of the The Rising of the Shield Hero. If you are not familiar with The Rising of the Shield Hero light novel, anime, or manga, this series will be nothing short of confusing. However, as long as you’ve been exposed to one version of the Shield Hero and don’t mind possible spoilers, The Rising of the Shield Hero can be a humorous take on the biggest idiot of the cast. For my part, I’ve only watched Season 1 of the Shield Hero anime, and even though Reprise makes reference to characters and events beyond that arc, the numerous summary pages and side commentaries allowed me to follow the narrative without any trouble.

As the title suggests, the spinoff’s main character is the Spear Hero Motoyasu Kitamura, whose most distinguishing characteristic is his stupidity. In fact, the prologue relates how his thoughtlessness resulted in his untimely death in Japan. In the original series, Motoyasu was so easily manipulated by Princess Malty that he became the most obnoxious of the Four Heroes and caused Shield Hero Naofumi no end of trouble. However, as the story progressed, Motoyasu’s disdain for Naofumi turned to pure devotion while his adoration for Malty and other females soured into a disgust so intense he views all women as oinking pigs.

The spinoff begins with that somewhat enlightened Motoyasu dying in battle. There aren’t details on what killed him, but that’s okay because they’re not actually important. What is important is that upon dying, he finds himself in the magic circle that first summoned the Four Heroes to Melromarc. In other words, his life has been restarted. However, while the other three heroes are as they were when they initially arrived, Motoyasu retains the stats he attained prior to dying as well as certain memories of his previous life. Those memories include the truth about Malty’s scheme to frame Naofumi. Thrilled with the chance to correct the mistakes of his previous life, he uses his overwhelming powers to protect Naofumi. Unfortunately, keeping Naofumi from getting killed turns into a greater challenge than Motoyasu ever expected.

Thus, Reprise winds up as an alternate version of The Rising of the Shield Hero. Instead of beginning his journey with no allies, Naofumi starts with one very powerful, very enthusiastic, and extremely peculiar ally. Motoyasu is telling the story so it can get confusing, especially when women enter the scene. Because he perceives them as pigs, it’s only through other male characters that we learn who their identities are and what they’re saying. Also, Motoyasu takes every opportunity to wax poetic about filofials. Filo, the filofial he’s most obsessed with, doesn’t actually show up in person, but he talks about her constantly. So to keep the narration from getting too crazy, the Naofumi from the original series occasionally pops in with explanation blurbs to guide the reader.

As mentioned above, Motoyasu’s memories and god mode powers prevent a repeat of the false charges that turned the kingdom against Naofumi. The good news is that Naofumi doesn’t turn into an embittered outcast, and he’s not forced to buy a slave to survive. The bad news is that his enemies add Motoyasu to the hit list and resort to more drastic measures to eliminate them both. After a couple false starts, Motoyasu realizes the best plan of action is to help Naofumi escape hostile Melromarc for friendlier Siltvelt. They are joined by Eclair, a swordswoman whose father governed Raphtalia’s home region before the waves. Eclair’s also a notable exception to Motoyasu’s pig-vision, and she takes the role of protector and potential love interest that Raphtalia held in the original series.

As for Naofumi’s other companion Filo, Motoyasu holds out hope that he’ll encounter her again. He even goes so far as to purchase filofial eggs at every opportunity. Sadly for him, Filo hasn’t emerged yet. However, a whole lot of other chicks do, and these filofial queens and kings provide the fun and feathered chaos that Filo did.

Extras include the first four pages printed in color, summary of The Rising of the Shield Hero, embedded character profiles, six black-and-white illustrations, and commentary from the Raphtalia and Naofumi of the original series.

In Summary

The Rising of the Shield Hero meets Groundhog Day! This is definitely a series best left to existing fans of The Rising of the Shield Hero. If you’ve ever wanted the Spear Hero to redeem himself or to see a kindler, gentler version of the Shield Hero, you’ll find it here. Be warned, however. The perspective of the filofial-infatuated Spear Hero makes for a unique narrative style.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #05

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 05 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Barely two months remain until winter, and opinion is split over whether the Empire should launch a full-scale offensive or rest until spring. Time is running out, and the General Staff can’t make up their minds. While everyone else is frozen with inaction, the Salamander Kampfgruppe under Tanya’s command is singled out for a mission that will ultimately decide the army’s course. As they face attacks from a seemingly relentless enemy that leave them without even time to sleep, will Tanya’s troops be able to hold out?

The Review

I’m not certain if Zen-sensei’s writing has improved or if I’ve just gotten used to his style, but Volume 5 is a much easier read than previous volumes. While Zen-sensei still has a propensity to be too light on backdrop details, he’s reined in his tendency to overexplain to the point of tedium. On top of that, the war narrative takes on intriguing twists and turns which exposes hitherto unseen aspects of Tanya’s character.

The volume begins with Tanya’s newly formed Salamander Kampfgruppe defending a salient on the Eastern Front. We’ve seen her personally leading her battalion before; now she’s  commanding multiple units from base headquarters. Although she’s giving orders from a completely different vantage, those who enjoy the tactical aspect of this series will continue to see Tanya leveraging the scant resources at her disposal to attain victory. In addition to countering guerrilla attacks, Tanya must also deal with the Federation soldiers they’re captured. What starts as a kind of dilemma leads to a massive perspective shift on the Eastern Front. Whereas the Empire’s other conflicts are purely military in character, Tanya makes the realization that the war against the Commies will also involve fighting propaganda with propaganda.

No sooner has the Salamander Kampfgruppe jelled as a cohesive fighting force than it gets disbanded. (As Tanya complains, “The higher-ups really just do whatever they want.”) Not only that, Tanya and the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion get yanked from the Eastern Front and sent to take on the monster ship, RMS Queen of the Anjou. This arc has a lot of similarities to the previous northern ocean battles in that it involves submarines, ships, and the Commonwealth.  However, it differs in that the Commonwealth’s collaborator is not the Entente Alliance (although Mary Sue is present to go berserk against her father’s killer), but the Federation. The Commonwealth-Federation alliance is one between two mutually distrustful parties, and the lead up to their collaboration is an indicator of how desperate everyone’s become.

The other major difference is that the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion suffers casualties. Tanya hasn’t lost anyone since the shovel training on the Rhine, which is astounding considering they’ve been in the thick of fighting on every front since. However, it’s because of this astounding record that the loss of nearly a quarter of the battalion hits so hard. von Lerghen’s accused Tanya of being an unfeeling monster before, but even though she doesn’t turn into a weepy mess, you can’t say she’s unaffected by her men’s deaths (which is probably why von Lerghen’s not spouting his usual von Degurechaff-is-abnormal criticism in this volume).

Then it’s back to the Eastern Front and a new Salamander Kampfgruppe. While the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion stays with Tanya, the mages sent to replace her fallen men are all raw recruits. In fact, the majority of her new troops are green. Thus, Tanya’s not only with faced with the problem of repelling enemies but also the challenge of managing difficult-to-work-with personnel. As a former HR professional, she ultimately finds a way, but she can’t do a thing to stop her next enemy: winter.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes of the history timeline and rough sketches; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

A really wonderful installment here. In addition to a decent narrative pace compared to the bogginess in previous volumes, we get to see Tanya command multiple units and figure how to turn political differences into a weapon. But probably the most striking part of this volume is when the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion encounters more than it can handle. She’s been accused of being an unfeeling monster before, but she’s strikingly human as she and her men mourn their fallen comrades.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #04

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 04 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

A devil wanders the battlefield in the guise of an adorable young child and her name is Tanya Degurechaff! After returning from the sandy southlands, Tanya receives an incredibly suspicious order from headquarters to embark on a training exercise. In reality, command has sent her on a covert mission to initiate a border conflict with the Federation. Soon the Empire finds itself embroiled in another fight it cannot back down from, even if it means making the entire world their enemies!

The Review

Having fought on the Empire’s north, south, and west fronts, Tanya now gets sent east. The Federation is the one neighbor that has maintained peace with the Empire, so when the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion gets yanked from the Southern Continent and receive orders to infiltrate the Federation under the pretext of a training exercise, it’s clear trouble’s brewing.

In previous conflicts, the narrative generally described the war’s outbreak and provided a heap of commentary before throwing Tanya into that battlefield to participate. This time she’s actually a witness to the outset of the war. And because the Federation and the Empire are being highly secretive—even to their own officers, the tension in the opening chapter is wonderful.

Once the fighting breaks out, things get even better. Against previous adversaries, Tanya never harbored personal hatred; taking them down is just her job. The Communists, however, fall into a completely different category. Our former salaryman and believer in market values loathes Communists, and seeing Tanya get so het up about an enemy is a fascinating change. The lengths she’ll go to undermine the Commies are surprisingly extreme and not only from a military tactical standpoint. Suffice to say, her raid on the Federation capital is a thrill to read.

I am guessing that Zen-sensei himself is also not a fan of Communists because he depicts the Federation as the worst type of Stalinist regime. Not only is it a state whose soldiers are as terrified of the ruling regime as they are of enemy armies, but Comrade Loria, the dictator’s right hand man, is a pervert with no redeeming qualities. He’s definitely a villain with a truly icky POV.

After the initial clash with the Communists, Zen-sensei switches back to his usual style of over explaining the rationale behind everything. In Chapter III, Tanya and her officers spend 9 pages debating whether or not they should rescue forces trapped at Tiegenhoff, and the text describing the actual mission only takes a page. Fortunately, he’s more generous with his play-by-play of a daring combat-search-and-rescue in Commonwealth Territory.

In contrast to Tanya’s brilliant individual victories, the fortunes of her country continue to decline. As result, we get a refrain of an earlier theme: efforts intended to snag a cushy desk job result in yet another assignment on the front lines. In spite of Zen-sensei’s long-winded prose, the twists and turns of the plot remains compelling, and I look forward to the next volume.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

A new front breaks out for the already beleaguered Empire. Previously, we’ve had precious little about the Federation to the east; now the Stalinist leadership clashes head to head with Tanya, who absolutely detests Communists. If you’ve stuck with the series this long, Tanya’s passion against this new adversary will be a fun and engaging new element in this military chronicle.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 3

Holo and Lawrence of the  Spice and Wolf light novel series have reached their happy ending, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 3. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The companion of the young man who wishes to become a priest, Col, is the daughter of the wisewolf, Myuri, and she urges him to make her his wife. After leaving the pirate islands, the two get caught up in a storm and arrive the port town of Desarev in the Winfiel Kingdom. In this town, where the Church lies dormant, Col is called “The Twilight Cardinal” and is treated like a savior. He also has to face Myuri’s unrequited love, so he forbids her from calling him “Brother,” and tries to change their relationship. Before them appears a merchant girl who calls herself Ilenia. She is the embodiment of a sheep and asks them to help her with some “big plans!”

The Review

The world of Wolf and Parchment/Spice and Wolf is predominantly one of the humans. Even though the main cast includes nonhumans, the narrative treats them like creatures whose era is long past. As such, whenever the occasional new nonhuman enters the story, they’re generally striving to survive as a member of human society.

Volume 3 changes this dynamic. It begins with a storm forcing Myuri and Col to land in Winfiel’s town of Desarev. There, Col sees firsthand how Winfiel’s conflict with the Church has impacted ordinary citizens. As with so many stories in this series, religion and economics loom large in the details. In this case, because the corrupt Church has retreated from the kingdom, the populace reaps material benefits but also spiritual insecurity. On top of that, Winfiel’s king is demanding churches pay taxes as retribution. And it’s in the midst of this strife that Col and Myuri chance upon Ilenia, who’s the embodiment of a sheep, and rumors of the Moon-Hunting Bear.

In the Spice and Wolf series, the Moon-Hunting Bear was only found in dusty manuscripts, and I assumed it died like so many other creatures of legend. However, Ilenia tells of a recent naval expedition that was almost completely destroyed by a monster in a land far to the west. She’s convinced it’s the Moon-Hunting Bear. Moreover, she views that western land as a place where nonhumans can live freely.

At this point, the story takes on elements of the Age of Exploration in addition to aspects of the Reformation. On top of that, the one striving to go to the new world is a sheep girl who wants to create a county where beings like her can live in their true forms. This sounds like a massive hodgepodge, but Hasekura-sensei links everything such that the narrative not only makes sense, it sheds extra light upon previous actions of the Church and the Winfiel royal family. In addition, it also draws several non-human characters, new and old, into the narrative.

As such, this volume is a delightfully multilayered read from beginning to end. Even the troublesome element of Myuri’s obsessive crush is addressed satisfactorily when Col makes her realize that she’s unable to address him by any name except “Brother.” The only problematic detail is that smoke inhalation isn’t an issue in the dramatic final scene, but that aside, Hasekura-sensei combines a host of disparate elements into a cohesive, engaging story.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Amid growing political and religious tensions come rumors of a monster to the far west. The reemergence of the name of the Moon-Hunting Bear seems abrupt in a very human conflict, but Hasekura-sensei weaves the story such that the interests of humans and nonhumans are intertwined, although not aligned. This brings to light a whole new aspect of the conflict between the Church and Winfiel and builds anticipation for the next step in Col and Myuri’s journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #20

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 released the 20th volume of this novel 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

After a short summer, lively with guests, the bathhouse Spice & Wolf greets the momentary calm that is autumn. The unusually enthusiastic Holo and an exasperated Lawrence want to have their fill of what the mountain-bound Nyohhira has to offer in autumn. After a walk in the mountains the two return to the bathhouse with a basket-full of goodies, and there is a crowd of people at the entrance. “I do not quite know what it might be, but it smells of many beasts.” The reason these sudden, out-of-season guests came to bathhouse Spice & Wolf is-!

The Review

This twentieth volume of the Spice and Wolf series is subtitled Spring Log III, but all four seasons are represented in the book’s five short stories. In addition to showing readers the rhythms of the hot springs village throughout the year, Hasekura-sensei also brings back some old characters in this installment.

The first story “What Falls in the Spring and Wolf” does actually take place in the spring. This is a comical tale involving the annual dilemma of Holo shedding winter fur and another fur-related problem connected to Luward, the commander of the Miyuri Mercenary Company. I never associated animal pheromones with fur before so it took me a while to grasp Luward’s predicament (and even now, I’m not sure what trusty assistant Moizi was doing to handle the situation while Luward went for help). However, the story is a fun way for Luward to return to the story, albeit briefly.

Then “The White Hound and Wolf” goes back a couple years to present a glimpse of the bathhouse’s busy winter season before Myuri left home. The narrator is a church inquisitor investigating rumors about Nyohhira’s newest establishment, and he is predictably suspicious and judgemental. However, he does provide an outsider’s view of the hot springs village and winds up exemplifying how Spice and Wolf charms even the most difficult guest.

After the stranger’s perspective, we get an intimate nighttime moment between the bathhouse owners in “Caramel Days and Wolf.” Not a whole lot of action takes place in this short story, but it is an entertaining character study. Those curious about the outcome of the journal project Lawrence proposed in the previous volume will see some of the results, and Lawrence also gets to show how much better he’s gotten at understanding and handling his wily wife.

Next is “Blue Dreams and Wolf,” the volume’s summertime tale and longest story. The tale starts off with a money related problem—namely a regional coin shortage—and takes on a religious and political bent when the remains of a retainer of a long-forgotten lord are discovered in a cave outside Nyohhira. These are all standard elements of earlier Spice and Wolf adventures, and I anticipated the ex-merchant and wolf to devise a tidy solution to solve everything, just like they did in the past. To my surprise, the story concludes with only a partial resolution to their problems. Instead, however, we get to witness Holo in an unusually vulnerable moment, which offers a different sort of satisfaction.

Finally, “Harvest Autumn and Wolf” has Holo and Lawrence abruptly receiving unusual offseason guests. At first, the story seems as if it will center around the novelty of entertaining a group made up entirely of non-humans like Holo. However, when the guests start telling their versions of Lawrence and Holo’s journey to the north, the focus shifts to the legacy the pair have created. And apparently, that legacy isn’t done. The way the story ends strongly hints that a new road trip is in store for Lawrence and Holo.

By the way, I’ve noticed that the descriptions of Holo’s physical form are somewhat inconsistent in this installment. In places, she’s described as looking like a bride of fourteen or fifteen, which is how I’ve always pictured her. Other places say she resembles a child “around the age of ten.” Perhaps something is lost in the translation, but the latter descriptions jolt me out of the story and make me wonder how Holo can get away with passing herself off as Lawrence’s wife even without the no-aging aspect.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

If you’ve wondered what life is like throughout the year in Lawrence and Holo’s hot springs village, these five standalone stories paint a pretty good picture. The content ranges from an outsider’s first impression of the Spice and Wolf bathhouse to Lawrence’s umpteenth year of dealing with Holo’s shedding tail. There’s no central theme that ties these stories together, but we do get to see how Lawrence and Holo’s matured relationship handles both the light- and heavy-hearted moments.

First published at the Fandom Post.