Category Archives: Light Novel Reviews

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #18

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 18th(!) 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

The long-awaited continuation of the tale of Holo the Wise Wolf and the merchant Lawrence! Over ten years after Holo and Lawrence open “Bathhouse Spice and Wolf” in Nyohhira, the two climb up the mountain in order to help at the festival in Sverner. But Lawrence has an additional objective: to find more information about a new hot spring town near Nyohhira.

The Review

This eighteenth volume in the Spice and Wolf light novel series might have come as a surprise to you. It was certainly a surprise to me. After all, Hasekura-sensei wrote in Volume 17 that he was moving on to a new series. However, as he explains in the Volume 18 afterword, stuff happened, thus fans get another volume about Holo and Lawrence along with an upcoming spinoff novel about their daughter Myuri and Col. While Spice and Wolf: Spring Log provides a brief glimpse of the youngsters and their relationship in the 16-page story Parchment and Graffiti, the book focuses primarily on Holo and Lawrence.

As indicated by the subtitle “Spring Log,” the book does not relate a single grand adventure, but three separate events that take place in the same spring. Over a decade has passed since Holo and Lawrence met, and they are now residents in the hot springs town of Nyohhira. They also happen to be empty-nesters as their teenage daughter has followed Col to an adventure. While Lawrence is no longer a merchant, running a bathhouse also requires business sense, and The Margins of a Journey introduces his new line of work and the concerns that arise when rumors of the construction of a rival hot springs village reach his ears. The scheme Lawrence cooks up to keep customers seems just a pretext for a misleading opening scene, but the rest of the story does a nice job of bringing readers up to speed with their lives. For those who enjoyed Holo’s baiting and carefree attitude, there’s still plenty of that, but Lawrence has matured over years of marriage and is much better at handling it.

The next story Golden Memories moves us from business concerns to a mini mystery. Lawrence and Holo haven’t left the northlands in years, but travelers from all over visit their town. Thus, they play host to a peculiar guest who has the entire town scratching their heads. But once Lawrence figures out the man’s purpose for coming to Nyohhira, that brings up an entirely different puzzle, and Hasekura-sensei does an excellent job blending the mystery with melancholy and fun.

Melancholy and fun also figure into Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf. The longest work in the collection, it might have you running to The Coin of the Sun volumes for a refresher of the connections between Lesko, Svernel, the Debau Company, and the non-humans Millike and Hilde. Lawrence and Holo leave home to take care of business on behalf of Nyohhira at Svernel’s spring festival. As in their early adventures, Holo knows more about what’s happening, and Lawrence winds up playing the fool as a result. Lawrence’s participation in Svernel’s Festival of the Dead also makes for a boisterously entertaining scene.

Then the tone shifts with the introduction of new characters Selim and Aram. They have a quandary on their hands, but to Holo and Lawrence, they are an unwelcome reminder that Lawrence will die long before Holo does. Indeed, the narrative mentions over and over that Lawrence isn’t as hale as he used to be while Holo remains physically unchanged. Holo isn’t one to wax sentimental, but for those dying to hear Holo express her affections toward Lawrence, this is your chance.

The remainder of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf has Lawrence figuring out a solution that will solve everyone’s problems. This is the weakest element of the story. I’m still unclear on exactly how Selim and Aram got their paws on their permit, and Holo and Lawrence’s brainstorming drags on while the plan’s execution rushes past. Still, our pair attain a satisfactory happy ending for themselves and others.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, bonus art from Jyuu Ayakura and Keito Koume, and afterword.

In Summary

Lawrence and Holo are back! The four stories in this volume do an excellent job of showing how years of marriage have changed them as well as incorporating the elements of intrigue, fun, and money-making that characterized the series. Plus, we get a glimpse of the future in their daughter Myuri’s antics with Col. Spice and Wolf fans definitely need to pick this one up!

First published at the Fandom Post.

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Light Novel Review: your name.

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now Yen On brings Shinkai’s your name. novel to English readers for a new perspective on the events of the movie.

Back cover Blurb

Mitsuha, a high school girl living in a rural town deep in the mountains, has a dream that she is a boy living an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As they realize they are changing places, their encounter sets the cogs of fate into motion.

The Review

Confession: As of the writing of this post, I have not seen the your name. movie.

Therefore, I am unable to draw any comparisons between the film and the novel. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s work. His name got stamped into my otaku consciousness when Voices of a Distant Star came out, and since then, I’ve associated Shinkai with two things: breathtaking skies and the longing of separated lovers. While novels can’t provide dazzling visuals of the heavens, filmmaker Shinkai displays his mastery with words as he depicts the angst of his lead couple.

For those completely unacquainted with your name. that lead couple is comprised of two modern-day high school students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana. Mitsuha lives in the rural community of Itomori in her grandmother’s house. As the granddaughter of a Shinto priestess, Mitsuha’s life is steeped in tradition, but she’s dying to leave her tiny town for Tokyo. Taki lives in Tokyo and works part time at a fancy Italian restaurant. The two don’t know each other at all, but for some unknown reason, each starts dreaming about living the other’s life. Then they realize that they are actually switching bodies when they feel the consequences of the other person’s actions.

It’s a complicated set-up. That brings me to the one weakness of the light novel. It’s written in first person, and the viewpoint switches frequently and sometimes mid-scene between Mitsuha and Taki. If you don’t know the story involves body-switching, the first few pages can be really confusing. However, if you can get through that hurdle, the rest of the book is spectacular.

The cover flap touts the novel as “in turns funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching.” Sounds like a lot, but Shinkai actually delivers on all fronts. The comedy comes as a natural outgrowth of the circumstances Shinkai has laid out. In addition to the awkwardness of inhabiting a body of the opposite gender, there’s also city-versus-country humor, and I did literally laugh out loud in places. The heartwarming part comes as the two start appreciating the experiences of the other, and then hearts get wrenched when the swaps stop and Taki goes in search of Mitsuha armed with nothing but his hand-drawn sketches of Itomori’s scenery.

So the guy goes, finds the girl, and they live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Shinkai throws in a couple major twists that turns Taki’s efforts to find the girl into a desperate quest to save the girl. It’s a dramatic shift in tone from the first chapters of the book, yet it works. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mitsuha’s  shrine maiden duties and Grandma Miyamizu’s explanations of the family’s traditions, readers are easily carried along as the supernatural aspect goes from a comical glitch between two individuals to something much bigger.

But even as forces push Mitsuha and Taki together toward a seemingly cosmic goal, other factors tug them apart. From the onset, the memories of their body switches are hazy. It’s only when they find workarounds to communicate that they are able to get a sense of each other. However, once the swaps stop, the precious knowledge they’ve gained starts to evaporate from their minds. Shinkai does an amazing job with these scenes, making the agony of those disappearing memories worse than the pain of separation.

In addition to the breadth and intensity of emotion, Shinkai skillfully weaves in foreshadowing and symbolism, and he interconnects the details of events and characters in seamless fashion. Some nuances of the story do require knowledge of Japanese culture, but the book does not contain a cultural notes section. However, even if you’re unaware of the significance of the “red thread of fate,” you can still appreciate the role that Mitsuha’s hair cord plays in connecting our main characters.

By the way, even though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband saw it on his last flight to Asia (thank you, All Nippon Airways). Once he got home, he dived into the book. As for me, I’ve really got to see the film…

Extras include an afterword from the author and a short essay from Genki Kawamura, who produced the your name. movie.

In summary

Over a decade ago, Makoto Shinkai wowed me with his filmmaking; now he wows me with his writing. your name. is about lovers brought together by fate, but it’s much more than a romance. The story incorporates goofy humor, reflections on the fragility of human memory, and a heart-pounding, race-against-time to thwart disaster. And the amazing thing is that it all works. Hats off to Shinkai!

First published at The Fandom Post.

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.