Category Archives: Light Novel Reviews

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #17 (FINAL)

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 final 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

Several years have passed since the incidents surrounding the Coin of the Sun. Having received a letter from Holo, Norah the former shepherdess and Eve the merchant woman travel north–and on the way, they end up in the same wagon as Diana the alchemist! Were Lawrence and Holo able to find happiness for themselves? In addition to an epilogue covering the days immediately after the events of Volume 16, this final book in the Spice and Wolf series includes three new short stories!

The Review

I was somewhat surprised that the Coin of the Sun arc did not include an epilogue. Once Holo and Lawrence vow to live life together, the curtain closes without a hint of what that life looks like. As it turns out, this is because Hasekura-sensei needed more than a slim chapter to describe Holo and Lawrence’s post-journey life. Thus, we have Spice and Wolf Volume 17: Epilogue.

The series epilogue totals about one hundred pages split into two parts. The first, “Intermission,” is told from the perspective of Norah’s trusty dog Enek. Five years after Holo and Lawrence’s journey, Holo invites five of the women they encountered to the north for a celebration. Although Eve, Norah, Diana, Fran, and Elsa eventually wind up traveling in the same carriage, “Intermission” focuses predominantly on conversations between Norah, Eve, and Diana. The main topic of discussion is the couple that summoned them, and apparently, Holo’s not the only one to laugh at Lawrence’s expense. Female chatter aside, the chapter gives a detailed look at Norah’s life after the events of “The Shepherdess and The Black Knight.” Less information is provided on what happened to Eve following Kerube, but we still get a pretty good idea of her ever after.

The story then switches to Lawrence’s point of view for the second part, “Conclusion.” The events of the Coin of the Sun pretty much guaranteed him the means for his own business, and so we find him preparing for his grand opening. What is surprising is the location and type of business he’s going into. After all his talk of owning a shop, I’d thought he’d open a store in Lesko. Instead, he and Holo have settled in the hot springs town of Nyohhira to build an inn. As such, Lawrence continues to handle business matters but ones quite different from when he was a traveling merchant.

What hasn’t changed, however, is his inability to read Holo’s true intent. In fact, the women traveling to visit them seem to have a better grasp of what she’s plotting than Lawrence. Thus, we still have Laurence doing his utmost to please Holo but uncertain of what reaction he’ll get. One major shift, however, is that he now has the assurance that Holo will always be with him, which gives their relationship a sweet “married couple” feel despite the fact they are not officially wed. And even though “Conclusion” doesn’t include a wedding, the end is bound to delight Holo/Lawrence fans.

While the epilogue is too much to tack onto the end of a volume, it’s not quite enough to fill an entire book. As such, Hasekura-sensei wraps things up with three short stories. In ”Traveling Merchant and Gray Knight,” Holo remarks that Lawrence doesn’t speak much about his past, and that sets the stage for an anecdote about an eccentric, elderly knight Lawrence encountered well before Holo. “Gray Smiling Face and Wolf” tells of a profit-making scheme from Col’s perspective, and because Holo and Lawrence are more honest with the boy than they are with each other, it makes an interesting narrative. The final installment, “White Path and Wolf,” isn’t particularly exciting, but it does provide a quiet commentary on life and human existence, which makes a decent end to the closing volume of Spice and Wolf.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, nine black-and-white illustrations, and afterward.

In Summary

If the romantic tension between Holo and Lawrence was what kept you reading Spice and Wolf, you’ll definitely want to pick up the last volume. It includes three side stories set during Holo and Lawrence’s travels together, but the main feature is Holo and Lawrence five years later. There is a business aspect to the epilogue, but by and large, it’s an illustration of what a happy ending between a merchant and wisewolf looks like.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #16

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 Volume 16 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

The introduction of a new currency in the town of Lesko has filled Lawrence with boundless optimism, but his dreams come to a sudden and harsh end when two men from the Debau Company present him with a grim token-Col’s traveling bag. With his young friend’s safety threatened and the stability of the town suddenly in doubt, Lawrence’s plans to open a shop are dashed. Separated from Holo yet again, he finds himself a forced participant in a desperate scheme to reclaim the Debau Company from the nobility who now control it. But when mercenary armies clash in the mountains, what will become of Lawrence and Holo? For good or ill, the finale of their tale is at hand!

The Review

After the cliffhanger of Volume 15, I was eager for the conclusion to the Coin of the Sun. With the return of so many characters from the early part of the series, I was certain Volume 16 would begin with yet another reunion. Instead, Hasekura-sensei throws readers for a loop with the introduction of Hilde Schnau. He provides not only a look into the inner workings of the Debau Company, which Lawrence could only guess at earlier, but the efforts of the ancient to shape the new age.

Since arriving in the Northlands, Holo and Laurence have only encountered one being like Holo, the art dealer Hughes. However, it stands to reason that there would be more. After all, the Northlands are the last bastion of the pagan world. Unlike Hughes, who is content to drift along in the tide of mankind, some are actively working to control that flow, and Holo and Lawrence encounter not one, but three of these beings.

Thanks to internal strife within the Debau Company and Schnau’s plotting, the forbidden book once again becomes key to the fate of the Northlands. In addition, the mercenary companies that had been idle in Lesko finally see some action. The world of Spice and Wolf has been seen largely through the filter of trade; men of war are viewed as opportunity for profit or the hand that enforces the rules by which merchants play. However, Lawrence now gets a glimpse into the world of mercenaries and the rules they abide by. Thus, this fantasy gets some swordplay along with a healthy dose of backstabbing and betrayal.

Not surprisingly, Lawrence is practically useless on the battlefield. And when it comes to dealings on the scale of the Debau Company, he can only marvel at the power and skill wielded by its top strategists. However, there are things only a traveling merchant can observe, and Lawrence gets to make his own dramatic revelation. His thought process is somewhat more agonized than when he worked out the money order scheme with Delink, but it is fortunately much easier to comprehend than the backroom dealings in Kerube.

In the midst of all this excitement, we have Holo and Lawrence striving to forge a path to a quiet future together. This is a change in the dynamic where Holo is always keeping Lawrence at arm’s length. After they join hands in Volume 15, circumstances seem to be conspiring to pull them apart. In fact, Lawrence spends Chapter 7 and most of Chapter 8 away from Holo. However, absence makes the heart fonder, and readers will get to see a display of affection hitherto unthinkable for our wisewolf. No, there’s no steamy smut, but it is sweet, albeit with a dash of Holo’s trademark bite.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, and eight black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

Merchant and wolf reach their journey’s end, and it’s a brilliant finale with unexpected new characters, swordplay, underhanded schemes, and, of course, romance. Lawrence has been called “fool” countless times throughout this series, and over the last several volumes, the threat of ruin has hung over the Northlands. However, Lawrence has grown through his misadventures, and it’s beautiful to see his insight combine with Holo’s strength to protect her ancient homeland.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #15

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 Volume 15 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

The Myuri mercenary band–a troop named for one of Holo’s old comrades. In order to find them, Lawrence and Holo make for Lesko, a town dominated by the copper-trading Debau Company. Rumors of the Debau Company’s schemes to both open more mines and seize control of the northern lands swirl, along with rumors that they’re concentrating military power in the town in preparation. But when Lawrence and Holo arrive in Lesko, they discover a surprisingly cheerful and peaceful place. What is really happening? Find out as the final act of Holo the Wisewolf and Lawrence the traveling merchant’s long journey draws close to its end!

The Review

The Coin of the Sun is the final arc in Lawrence and Holo’s journey, and Hasekura-sensei pulls out all the stops. As wonderful as this series is, some parts have dragged, others have been confusing, and some installments have been weak on the economic front. However, Volume 15, which is the first of two parts, comes up strong all around, from the emotional tension between Holo and Lawrence to the sea change about to hit the Northlands.

Hasekura-sensei has set us up for certain expectations, and he uses those expectations to take his readers by surprise. For instance, over the last few volumes, our travelers have been hearing rumors that paint the Debau Company as the worst of organizations, ready to war and ruin the Northlands. So Holo and Lawrence head to Lesko as if it’s a march into enemy territory. But instead of a military stronghold, they find an unwalled trading center. Then there’s the tantalizing thread of a mercenary company with Holo’s packmate’s name. I’d expected it to lead to one of two scenarios, but Hasekura sensei delivers a third outcome, which has a profound effect on Holo and offers Lawrence the opportunity to be her emotional support.

The blossoming of Lawrence and Holo’s relationship is the best part of this volume for me. Over the journey, Lawrence has matured and his affections for Holo grown. Holo, on the other hand, invariably teases or scolds the poor merchant. In this volume, however, the circumstances in Lesko make her unusually vulnerable, and all the emotional walls come crashing down. Given past Lawrence’s frustrations with his companion (especially the recent slap in Lenos), this new level of intimacy between the two made my heart skip a beat, and Holo/Lawrence fans will be thrilled to see the two dreaming of a future together.

That dream, however, is not mere fantasy but actual stone and timber reality. This is one of the big surprises of this volume. The contrast between the diabolical rumors swirling around the Debau company and the commercial paradise that is Lesko is an engaging mystery, and Hasekura-sensei manages to connect the mining company’s scheme to Lawrence’s personal dream of going into business for himself. So when Lawrence uncovers Debau’s ultimate motive, it’s a doubly sweet moment for the traveling merchant. While the explanation is somewhat lengthy, it’s not difficult to understand, unlike the narwhal episode in Kerube.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, and seven black-and-white illustrations. There are, as usual, lines of dialogue where it is unclear who is speaking as well as a number of misspellings and punctuation errors in the text.

In Summary

With Yoitsu drawing near, Spice and Wolf has a lot of loose ends that need to be addressed, from the Debau Company’s rumored aggression in the north to the mercenary band bearing the name of one of Holo’s comrades. Hasekura-sensei handles it masterfully, captivating our attention with Debau’s outrageous maneuvers and tugging our heartstrings with yet another reminder of Holo’s lost world and the future Lawrence holds out to her. After skillfully wrapping everything up, he concludes with a bomb that leads in to the second part of this arc. This volume of Spice and Wolf is the best I’ve read yet, and I look forward to Part 2 with great anticipation.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #14

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 Volume 14 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

Thanks to the silversmith Fran, Lawrence now has a map of the North. But Lawrence’s gladness at the thought of finally being able to take Holo back to her home is short-lived, as upon revisiting Lenos he is embroiled in the strife surrounding a forbidden text. It is said that this mysterious book contains details of methods that threaten the land of Yoitsu itself. But in trying to get his hands on the book, Lawrence, who must return to the marketplace, finds himself running out of time to head for Yoitsu with Holo…Pressed into making a decision he may ultimately come to regret, which option will Lawrence choose?

The Review

If you’ve never read any of the books in the series, this would not be the best volume to start with. If you’ve been traveling with Holo and Lawrence for a while, Volume 14 feels like the beginning of the end of their story. There are numerous references to prior adventures, and it has a retrospective air even as journey’s end draws steadily into view. Most Spice and Wolf arcs have Holo and Lawrence going to a new place and meeting new people. Not only does Volume 14 take place in a location they’ve already visited, but we encounter Elsa, the deaconess of Tereo from Volume 4.

Thanks to Fran, Holo and Lawrence are on the verge of discovering the location of Yoitsu. They go to Lenos, the town where Lawrence got ensnared by Eve, to prepare for the final leg into the north, and Lawrence grows increasingly distraught at the prospect of separating from Holo. With as many twists and turns as they’ve taken, their travels have had the tone of an endless journey, and it seemed that they could stretch out their search for Yoitsu indefinitely. However, that’s not the case, and Lawrence finds himself torn by his responsibility to return to the southern villages by spring and his desire to remain with Holo.

That equation gets more complicated when Elsa’s travel companion, an avaricious bookseller named Le Roi, reveals the existence of a forbidden book of mining techniques, which, if it falls into the wrong hands, could mean the ruin of Holo’s homeland. When he discovers Lawrence has a stake in protecting the north lands, he offers a proposal that would both profit Lawrence and remove the threat to Yoitsu. The catch is that he must cut short his journey with Holo.

The story has constant business elements running throughout, from Lenos’ cash-strapped economy to money orders, but the most compelling aspect of Volume 14 is not the underhanded method Lawrence devises to attain the book but the impetus behind it. Lawrence’s feelings for Holo have been building throughout the series, and his agony over their impending separation is delicious. It gets even better when he discovers a member of Holo’s old pack is probably still alive. Much of Spice and Wolf has been Holo helping Lawrence get out of various scrapes so to see him take the initiative for her sake and succeed in a way that exceeds even her expectations is a delight.

Lawrence doesn’t just take the initiative in the business department. Between Holo’s teasing and her true wolf identity, he’s maintained a respectful distance from her. However, as he’s gotten better at understanding her and her cutting remarks, that distance has been closing, and Holo/Lawrence fans will be gratified with a couple of super warm and fuzzy moments.

This light novel includes the first four pages printed in color, world map, and seven black-and-white illustrations. I should also mention that while the text read more smoothly than other volumes, there are, as usual, lines of dialogue that seem muddled and other places where it is unclear who is speaking.

In Summary

Our travelers are drawing close to Yoitsu, but Lawrence isn’t ready to part from Holo. This arc contains a strong economics aspect with Lenos’ currency crisis and Le Roi’s book plot, but Lawrence’s suppressed desires are what make it really compelling. He may have been a mere traveling merchant before, but his time with Holo has affected him profoundly, in heart and mind, and this volume brilliantly demonstrates how much he’s changed.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #13

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 thirteenth 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

This collection of short stories from the world of Spice & Wolf features three new vignettes from Lawrence and Holo’s journeys, as well as a novella that follows Norah the shepherdess and her faithful sheepdog, Enek, as they put the city of Ruvinheigen behind them and try to forge a new path for themselves…

The Review

Hasekura-sensei detours from our main journey once again in Volume 13! In the manner of the previous Side Colors collections, Side Colors III presents four more short stories set in the Spice and Wolf world: The Wolf and the Honeyed Peach Preserves, The Wolf and the Twilight-Colored Gift, The Wolf and the Silver Sigh, and The Shepherdess and the Black Knight.

Those who savor the more romantic nuances of Holo and Lawrence’s relationship will likely enjoy the first two tales. In The Wolf and the Honeyed Peach Preserves, Lawrence exerts himself to the utmost to obtain a rare treat for Holo, but his well-intended efforts rub Holo the wrong way, as they often do. However, the story provides one of the clearest illustrations of their different perspectives on what’s most valuable in life, and after attaining a bit of understanding, the couple is able to reconcile. In addition, they ultimately attain their goal together using a scheme made possible only by boomtown economics and the protection of a wisewolf.

The Wolf and the Twilight-Colored Gift is a much shorter episode. While it demonstrates how advantageous a wolf’s nose can be in the herb trade, the story’s really about Lawrence thoughts on how much Holo means to him and the unusually sweet gesture that results. The fact that he also manages to render Holo speechless with his words is a bonus.

The Wolf and the Silver Sigh is also a short piece, this one told from Holo’s perspective. While there is a fur-related moneymaking scheme that sends Lawrence running all over town, Holo only gets the vaguest explanation of what’s going on. As such, the story’s content is mostly Holo’s reflections about the character of her traveling companion. So often she calls Lawrence “fool,” and this vignette offers a glimpse into the strings of thought that lead to that pronouncement. However, despite being a wisewolf, Holo is ignorant of many things in the human world, and she unwittingly makes a fool of herself even as she looks down on her companion.

The volume wraps up with The Shepherdess and the Black Knight, which features  Norah, the shepherdess that Lawrence met in Ruvinheigen. I have been wondering how Hasekura-sensei would continue her story, and the most surprising thing is that it’s not told from her perspective. According to the afterword, the author just couldn’t get into using her so he decided to use her dog Enek instead. Blessed with the ability to understand human speech, the sheepdog offers a pretty good narrative of their journey to the town of Kuskov, and to his credit, most of the heroics (and the benefits that follow) are because of his actions. Even so, the story’s ultimate resolution is somewhat lacking. Kuskov’s post-plague circumstances do create the environment for extreme measures, but Norah’s appointment to deacon and her acceptance seem far-fetched, especially given how abusive her employers were in Ruvinheigen. As for the ending, it certainly leaves the door open for another Norah story, but as a standalone tale, The Shepherdess and the Black Knight feels incomplete.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color as well as twelve black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

Holo and Lawrence seem to be getting caught in bigger and more complicated schemes lately so for those who miss seeing Lawrence  making small town deals, Side Colors III will be a nice change of pace. The shorts also provide some warm and fuzzy moments for Lawrence/Holo fans. The collection wraps up with a continuation of Norah and Enek’s story. While much of their tale is enjoyable, certain twists are far-fetched, and though it ends on a hopeful note for our shepherdess and her dog, it’s too open-ended to be satisfying.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? Vol. 1

The “Dungeon” referred to in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? doesn’t refer to a jail cell. Rather it’s the type of place you fight monsters to obtain treasures in RPGs, and this fantasy setting gets combined with harem elements in this light novel released by Yen Press.

Back Cover Blurb

In Orario, fearless adventurers band together in search of fame and fortune within the monstrous underground labyrinth known as Dungeon.

But while riches and renown are incentive enough for most, Bell Cranel, would-be hero extraordinaire, has bigger plans.

He wants to pick up girls.

Is it wrong to face the perils of Dungeon alone, in a single-member guild blessed by a failed goddess? Maybe. Is it wrong to dream of playing hero to hapless maidens in Dungeon? Maybe not. After one misguided adventure, Bell quickly discovers that anything can happen in the labyrinth–even chance encounters with beautiful women. The only problem? He’s the one who winds up the damsel in distress!

The Review

From the light novel’s silly title, I expected a clever romance comedy. Instead, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon? is better described a fantasy adventure. Although meeting girls is what drives Bell Cranel, the story’s hapless hero, to become an adventurer in Orario’s Dungeon, there are zero flirt scenes in the monster-ridden labyrinth. Bell’s delusions of finding dream girls in the Dungeon are quickly destroyed during a Minotaur attack in the prologue, and the humiliation he suffers turns the story into that of underdog newbie striving to transform from weak to strong.

The ironic thing is that even though Bell gives up his fantasy of attaining a harem at the beginning of the book, he attracts a sizable one over the course of the novel. Despite the title, Bell’s too shy and naive to pick up anyone, in the Dungeon or elsewhere. Yet women all over town–from humble waitresses to demi-humans to voluptuous goddesses–are inexplicably attracted to the scrawny, dirt poor, country born, Level I adventurer. Now Bell does have a very rare adventurer skill that puts him into a category all to himself, but only a couple of the goddess characters are aware of it. The rest of them fall for Bell just because. To the women of Orario, he might as well be the only man in town, and actually, except for three bit parts, there aren’t any other male characters besides Bell.

Yen Press touts the light novel as a “hilarious send-up of sword and sorcery tropes.” The fantasy tropes it has in spades, but it falls well short of hilarious. Part of the problem is that the world of Dungeon is modeled after a RPG, complete with progressively difficult Dungeon levels, monsters that leave drop items once they’re killed, and status profiles. Unfortunately, that means the first couple chapters read like game manuals with several paragraphs of world-building/setting descriptions.

Another weakness of Dungeon is that some humor involves physicality that might work in anime or manga but falls flat as pure text. Specifically, a couple female characters have ridiculously oversized breasts that Omori-sensei tries to use to comic effect. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the mayhem caused by pillow-sized bosoms comes off as awkward or vulgar rather than funny.

This light novel includes a color foldout illustration with the four goddesses on one side and Aiz and Eina on the other, seven black-and-white illustrations, profiles on Bell and the Hestia Knife, a short epilogue, and author afterword.

In Summary

Unless you enjoy reading video game manuals for fun, the first chapters of Dungeon are going to be a slog. If you tough it out, your reward is a not particularly original story of a newbie fighter striving to succeed in order to impress his crush. Bell Cranel’s efforts and aspiration might be engaging, but the blatant harem aspect of the story waters down the impact of his adventures.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #12

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?

The Review

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.

In Summary

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.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #11

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 eleventh 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

As with the first Side Colors volume, Side Colors II departs once more from Lawrence and Holo’s travels north, taking the reader off the beaten path to explore three exquisite side stories. Remember, it’s not so much about the destination, as it is the journey…

The Review

Like the first Side Colors volume, Spice and Wolf Volume 11: Side Colors II is a collection of short stories set in the Spice and Wolf world: The Wolf and the Golden Promise, The Wolf and the Verdant Detour, and The Black Wolf’s Cradle.

Those who prefer Holo and Lawrence’s interactions without to the presence of the youngster Col will likely enjoy the first two stories. Hasekura-sensei doesn’t specify when The Wolf and the Golden Promise takes place, but it is during the period when they are still using Lawrence’s horse and cart. While traveling through a remote area, Lawrence and Holo stumble upon Jisahz, a colony village with fat chickens, tasty ale, and no means of getting their goods to market. It’s a golden opportunity for a traveling merchant, thus the business bent in this story is Lawrence’s efforts to establish a new trade relationship. At first, he manages handily on his own, quickly gaining respect by settling a long-time dispute between two colonists. This rather irritates Holo, but I was glad to see it. Holo so often goes on and on about Lawrence’s inexperience and foolishness it’s nice to see him do well on his own once in a while. However, being a Spice and Wolf story, another problem arises, which only Holo’s wisdom can resolve. While I can’t say Holo’s solution made much sense to me, it works for the village settlers, turning this into yet another instance where Lawrence’s and Holo’s combined efforts result in profit.

The Wolf and the Verdant Detour is a much shorter work. The 17-page story is little more than banter between Lawrence and Holo as Lawrence takes a detour that makes him look like the stereotypical lost male who refuses to ask for directions. To me, it feels more like a fanfiction than a full-fledged story.

The third, longest, and most interesting story, The Black Wolf’s Cradle, doesn’t feature Holo at all. Instead, it tells of Eve’s initiation into trade. Eve, whom I consider more of a fox than a black wolf, isn’t a character I’m fond of, but the story does offer insight into how a sentimental girl of noble birth turns into a woman bold enough to sink a ship to frustrate her competition. The text does drag in places where it emphasizes Eve’s ignorance a bit overmuch, and when she signs her first contract, a seemingly no-risk deal with a perfect gentleman, you know it’s too good to be true. However, the story’s final conclusion was a complete surprise. I still don’t like Eve much, but I understand her more now.

This light novel includes the title page, four illustrations, and the table of contents printed in color as well as eight black-and-white illustrations. I should note that two of the black-and-white illustrations are placed within the wrong stories.

In Summary

Hasekura-sensei presents an interesting variety in Side Stories II. The Wolf and the Golden Promise offers a compressed version of Holo and Lawrence’s usual business ventures. The Wolf and the Verdant Detour lacks an economics bent and seems aimed towards those who enjoy Holo and Lawrence’s travel banter. As for The Black Wolf’s Cradle, that story delves into the ill-fated deal that turns Fleur Bolan into the resolute and ruthless Eve. In his closing notes, Hasekura-sensei mentions writing a side story on Norah, and considering how well he executed Eve’s story, I look forward to what he does with the shy shepherdess.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Novel Review: Noah: The Official Movie Novelization

The Bible has provided the inspiration for many a Hollywood movie, and the latest of these is Paramount’s Noah, which was released last month. I had the opportunity to review the movie novelization, and you can read on for my thoughts about the book.

back cover blurb

When he has a vision about a flood sent to destroy all life on earth, Noah knows what he must do. Together with his family, he must save two of every living animal. He must build an ark. Noah has to evade the many dangers that would see him fail and leave the world to ruin, and overcome his own struggles to fulfill his mission. This is the epic story of one man’s attempt to preserve life for a new world.

The review

The story of Noah’s ark is often showcased in Children’s Bibles and storybooks, but when you really think about it, it’s not a G rated story. Mankind so corrupt and evil as to induce its Creator to wipe it out? Destruction so absolute the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami look like nothing in comparison? That’s hardly kiddie fare.

Indeed it’s a bleak world Morris lays out in his novel adaption of the recently released Noah movie (which, by the way, I have not yet seen). With the exception of Noah’s family and bad guy Tubal-Cain, humanity seems incapable of rational thought, let alone compassion. Their squalor, desperation, and hopelessness make this antediluvian past look more like an apocalyptic future. That atmosphere is heightened by environmental destruction on a massive scale. For Noah’s contemporaries, tzohar is the all-purpose energy source. It sparks fire, blows apart rocks, put animals into hibernation, and comprises the bodies of fallen heavenly beings. Of course, extracting it comes at a price, and the descriptions of polluted lands and denuded forests are a not so subtle commentary on our present-day efforts to secure energy.

Of course, our leading man Noah stands for everything corrupt humanity is not. Unfortunately, he comes off more as an uber-militant vegan than God’s agent of change. In the second chapter, he defends an animal from three starving hunters. He kills the men without compunction but gives the mortally wounded animal a funeral. For Noah, killing and eating animals is a worse crime than murder. It’s ironic that the back cover touts the story as “One man’s quest to save mankind.” When he realizes that a flood is coming, his concern is solely for the animals, forget about his fellow man.

Noah’s point of view is somewhat understandable at first given his father’s tragic end, but he becomes increasingly unsympathetic as the story progresses. In the biblical account, God speaks to Noah in almost painfully detailed terms, but in this novel he’s silent. The only communications Noah receives are nightmarish prophetic visions. However, none of these visions are so specific as to say, “The ark must have these dimensions,” or “Bring two of each animal,” and Noah’s inclination is to use the harshest interpretation possible. He’s all divine wrath and judgment, and while he goes on (and on and on) about humanity’s evils, he hypocritically withholds mercy from even the members of his family.

As for those family members, they’re a rather flat bunch. Ham is the strongest personality, but he acts and speaks more like an eight-year-old than a fifteen-year-old. Japheth has hardly any presence, and Shem’s only purpose is to be Ila’s husband. As for Ila, she, not Noah, seems to be the remaining righteous person in the world, but she’s too much a victim, just as Ham is too overtly the family’s rebel.

Perhaps to make up for its less than compelling character development, the novel’s packed with action. As if a planetwide flood wasn’t epic enough, the story includes a battle for the ark, followed by fistfights at sea. Unfortunately, while ruthless warlords, tzohar pipe guns, six-armed stone giants, and the worst storm ever probably serve up a visual feast when rendered in CG, it gets a bit tedious and repetitive in print.

In summary

Not surprisingly, Noah takes liberties with the original biblical account. The addition of gross environmental destruction to mankind’s corruption provides an interesting vision of the antediluvian world, but the underlying premise that violence against animals and ecosystem is man’s greatest evil is a bit harder to swallow. While Noah does stand apart from the rest of fallen humanity, his own misanthropic self-righteousness make him a less than inspiring figure.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #10

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 tenth 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

After the turmoil in Kerube, Lawrence and his companions make for the Kingdom of Winfiel across the sea. Their destination is the great abbey of Brondel, said to hold the wolf bones they seek. Arriving in the kingdom, they hear tell that the abbey, normally prosperous due to its great wool trade, has fallen into a financial crisis. Worse, the most powerful economic force in the world-the Ruvik Alliance-is entering the kingdom with its eye upon the abbey’s land holdings…

The Review

Lawrence and Holo have made some detours on their journey to Yoitsu, but now they head entirely in the opposite direction, leaving the mainland to journey west across the sea to Winfiel. However, they’ve reason enough to go so far out of their way; according to Eve, the wolf bones they’ve heard rumors of are at the island kingdom’s great Abbey of Brondel. They go hoping to forge a way into the abbey using letters from Eve and Kieman. What they find is a stalemate between the local church authorities and the Ruvik Alliance, an economic force so powerful it makes the players in Kerube look like gnats.

Although the Rubik Alliance is larger than anything yet encountered in the series (with the exception of the Church), the source of tension is much easier to understand than the Kerube crisis. The root of the problem is a national trade imbalance. Simply put, the kingdom of Winfiel has been importing more than it is exporting, and Hasekura-sensei injects a bit of the economic bent that has been lacking from the series as of late. But after a brief lesson on the effects of a devalued currency, we launch into the consequences: a religious institution on the brink of financial ruin and a foreign conglomerate itching to gobble up the assets. Unlike the crises in Kerube and Lenos, this is a dilemma that truly has nothing to do with Holo and Lawrence, one they can easily walk away from. The only reason they get involved has nothing to do with money and everything to do with sentiment.

It’s been a while since Lawrence and Holo encountered another creature akin to Holo. What makes the great sheep of Brondel really interesting is that he is senior to Holo. Generally speaking, Holo’s the oldest and wisest person around, thus she always gets the last word. So it’s fun to see someone talking down to her. In addition, he is in a sense a glimpse into Holo’s future. While she is unsure whether her homeland still exists, the sheep lost his home centuries ago to the Moon-Hunting Bear and has had to create a new home and means of survival. It hasn’t been an easy path, and readers will hardly blame Holo for losing control when she learns how the sheep’s altered his diet.

The great sheep also calls out Lawrence and Holo’s relationship for what it is, which is nice because Holo is always so quick to belittle her traveling companion. Lawrence, for his part, is unusually candid about his feelings in this volume. Once it’s because of alcohol, and the second time is because conversing with the much younger Col forces him to be more direct with his speech than he normally is. In any case, these scenes are likely to delight Holo/Lawrence fans.

Sadly, there’s one moment between our odd couple that Hasekura-sensei makes as maddeningly vague as Lawrence’s parting scene with Eve in the previous volume. Perhaps he is leaving those details up to his readers’ imagination, but there are several other scenes, such as Lawrence’s conversation with Piasky, where dialogue tags and descriptions are sorely lacking. It’s unclear whether that failing is inherent in the original text or a translation shortcoming, but I also caught a number of typos including a misspelling of Lag Piasky’s name in an illustration caption.

This light novel includes the title page, three two-page spreads, and the table of contents printed in color as well as eight black-and-white illustrations, and a world map.

In Summary

The economics aspect has been lacking in this series’ last few volumes, but it returns with our trio’s journey to Winfiel, a kingdom whose trade policies have caused the value of its currency to plummet. Add in a medieval-type conglomerate, a couple of uncharacteristically vulnerable moments on the part of both Holo and Lawrence, and an encounter with a supernatural sheep, and we have a truly engaging installment of Spice and Wolf.

First published at the Fandom Post.