Tag Archives: isuna hasekura

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.

Manga 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 to it. 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 Volume 12 of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Lawrence and Holo’s long journey to Yoitsu is finally approaching its conclusion. Having arrived in the town of Lenos, they encounter a jolly bookseller named Le Roi–but is he truly the fool he seems? They’re closer than ever to laying their hands on a forbidden tome whose contents threaten to transform Holo’s homelands, but in the world of merchants, sometimes the only one you can trust is yourself…

The Review

Volume 12 brings a number of past characters back to the story. Not only do we have both deaconess Elsa and her loyal friend Evan from the village of Tereo, but members of the Rowen Trade Guild’s Kerube Branch also show up. Even Eve figures into the plot, although she doesn’t actually show up in person. With Yoitsu in striking distance, it’s as if the creators want to remind readers of the varied encounters Lawrence and Holo have had in their journey.

The business aspect of this arc also combines several elements introduced in earlier chapters. At the heart of it is the forbidden book that threatens Holo’s homeland. As it turns out, the bookseller with access to the book is an acquaintance of Elsa’s, the funding comes through Lawrence’s Kerube guild associates, and the fallout from Lenos’ fur riots a few volumes back creates the particular conditions required for the deal to work. However, there is a new development in the mix: word of a mercenary band bearing the name of one of Holo’s packmates.

Whereas the ultimate solution to other Spice and Wolf schemes get laid out gradually, this one comes in a massive info dump. The logic is clear to be sure, but its presentation is abrupt. Instead, the creators spend more time dwelling on the emotional turmoil that leads Lawrence to concoct the scheme, which romantically minded readers might prefer anyway.

Lawrence’s attraction to Holo has always been kept in check by our wisewolf’s cutting remarks and his own pride. Now with their destination looming close, he must face the fact that he doesn’t want to part from Holo. Then the possibility of Holo reuniting with one of her old packmates adds jealousy to the equation. As usual, Lawrence suffers most of the angst while Holo plays it cool. Part of this is because Elsa, in a somewhat out-of-character moment, practically forces Lawrence to use her as a confessor. Even so, we get two instances where Holo shows her softhearted side, which should be plenty to keep the Holo/Lawrence fans happy.

Extras include the title page in color and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

For a transaction dilemma that takes an awful long time to set up, the resolution is rather quick. However, Lawrence/Holo fans might be more interested in the emotions stirred up by the deal, and Volume 12 delivers plenty of Lawrence’s internal angst. He might not be the devout sort, but he spills it all in an unusually candid and heated confession to Deaconess Elsa.

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.

Manga 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 to it. 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 eleventh volume of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Scheming abounds in Kerube, and the fate of the entire town hangs in the balance! Lawrence has gotten swept up in machinations–again–and this time he’s not even sure which side he’s on. With Holo’s help, he’s going to have to see through the lies to discover the truth of the plans surrounding the narwhal, and if he fails, not only will crucial information about Holo’s homeland slip through his fingers, but the merchant woman Eve could pay the ultimate price!

The Review

The balance of power and money in Kerube is complicated, so much so that Koume-sensei’s diagrams really are necessary to understand what’s going on and who is involved. And of the players, the one whose true intentions are least clear is Eve. However, in Volume 11, Ted Reynolds of the seemingly impoverished Jean Company drops a deal on the table that throws everyone for a loop. Unfortunately, we don’t get a diagram that outlines its full effects, but what is clear is that Kieman holds Eve responsible. As a result, the woman who had been a wolf in the negotiations winds up a damsel in distress.

Lawrence has been on the receiving end of Holo’s help for much of their journey, but this situation gives him the chance to play hero. His goal quickly simplifies to proving Eve’s noninvolvement with Reynolds’s source of funds. It’s then that the coin packing scheme that Col discovered earlier in the arc truly comes into play. What started as a geometric puzzle winds up the key to accounting fraud although I had to read Lawrence’s reasoning twice before I understood it. What is much more straightforward is when he gallantly charges in to take out Eve’s captors.

In the end, Lawrence gets out of a tricky situation unscathed and with both Eve and Kieman indebted to him. The tone of the manga implies that the narwhal negotiations also end happily, but even with a final diagram, it’s unclear whether the transaction changes the balance of power in the Kerube marketplace. Lawrence and Holo, however, obtain the lead on the book they’re investigating and set off for their next destination.

For those familiar with the light novels, Fran and Hughes get the briefest of cameos before the setting shifts to Lenos. To be honest, they don’t have much to do with the manga version, and their appearance seems rather forced. That’s also the case with a rather lengthy scene at the Beast and Fish Tail. As such, the volume closes before the next arc can begin in earnest. However, the creators do leave readers with a tantalizing hook, an unexpected encounter with Elsa from Tereo.

One other thing I noticed about this volume is that the women seem to be a lot more…er, curvier. Holo’s one thing, but when Eve collapses on Lawrence’s bed without her cloak, her chest is so big it seems impossible she could have hidden her gender. And their visit at the Beast and Fish Tail seems more about showing off the barkeep’s ample bosom than anything else.

Extras include the title page in color and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

The Kerube arc finally concludes! It’s been a difficult story to follow with so many players and backroom deals. Although Col’s coin mystery fits neatly into the wheelings and dealings, I can’t tell whether the northerners or southerners get ahead at the end. Lawrence and company, however, definitely profit, and they move on to the next arc, which apparently will lead to the manga’s final conflict.

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.

Manga 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 to it. 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 the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back cover blurb

The struggle for the legendary sea beast is underway, but how will it end? Drawn into the fight over the narwhal in Kerube, Lawrence finds himself in a dangerous position. Despite this, Holo continues to scold him and plead with him–but why?!

The Review

Volume 10 begins by finishing Lawrence’s secret conversation with Eve and follows up with a recap of the North/South Kerube conflict. The arrival of the narwhal has complicated the situation exponentially, especially when the under-the-table deals get added in. The diagrams in Chapter 56 provide a comprehensive picture of the players and stakes, much better than the description in the light novel; even so, I had to read that section a couple times carefully before I finally grasped Lawrence’s position in the negotiations and why his first instinct is to leave town.

In the midst of these developments, Holo and Lawrence let Col in on Holo’s secret. Since they’ve been careful to hide it from him, I expected the moment to be dramatic, but it’s actually rather anti-climatic. At any rate, the revelation brings down the last wall between Col and our lead couple, making him a fully trusted part of their team.

Kieman and the trade guild then start making their move. Lawrence plays along, but despite the enormous stakes and his misgivings, his actual actions in the negotiation amount to little more than glorified messenger boy. Koume-sensei, however, makes up for the lack of grand action with intimate moments with Holo. In one, the wisewolf reminisces on her past; in the other, she expresses uncertainty over the course she’s pushed Lawrence toward. She’s unusually vulnerable in both scenes, but considering how sharp her tongue usually is, having her show a softer side to her traveling merchant isn’t a bad change of pace.

Extras include a character profile, world map, story thus far summary, creators’ closing remarks, and a bonus mini manga that revisits Holo and Lawrence’s first meeting.

In Summary

Unlike other Spice and Wolf arcs, which illustrate different principles of economics, the Kerube conflict is more about pure deception. The situation makes clear that Lawrence is a minuscule fish in a giant pond, but the complicated details take a bit of effort to fully grasp. Fortunately, Koume-sensei intersperses Eve’s and Kieman’s scheming with simpler moments like Col’s delight at seeing Holo’s tail for the first time and rare moments of understanding between Lawrence and Holo.

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.

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #9

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 to it. 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 ninth volume of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

The Review

Eve, whom we only caught a glimpse of in Volume 8, gets introduced in earnest in Volume 9, and she is, if nothing else, complicated. While shepherdess Norah and clergywoman Elsa were both interesting in their own right, their respective occupations weren’t too terribly unusual. Eve, however, is a merchant, which is such an anomaly for her gender that she dresses as a man to conduct business. On top of that, she’s former nobility. She’s no shrinking petunia though. She’s bold enough to literally sink a ship for profit and so successful she’s no shortage of people wanting to partner with her.

A complex personality indeed, and thanks to her, Lawrence gets to speak to the Jean Company regarding the strip mining book that could threaten Holo’s homeland. Of course, it’s not charity on Eve’s part. She’s involved in the Kerube dispute, acting as the Northerners’ “mercenary” in negotiations with the Southern moneylenders. While land and massive amounts of money are involved, this Spice and Wolf conflict is less an economics lesson and more a behind the scenes power struggle. Unfortunately, so many nuanced details are involved that the intrigue is difficult to follow, and I still haven’t figured out what Lawrence means when he laments to Holo that Eve is being used as a “scapegoat.”

However, everything changes when a ship just happens to catch a narwhal in the middle of the negotiations. The timing is extremely convenient, but at least it simplifies the town conflict to “the side that gets the narwhal wins.” As a result of this unexpected development, Eve finds herself needing Lawrence’s assistance and dangles the strip mining book as bait. Unfortunately, siding with her would put him at odds with his guild, a position no sane merchant would dare take. All in all, it’s a tricky situation for Kerube and Lawrence.

Fortunately, the waif Col offers some simplicity amid all the machinations and back room talk. He has yet to discover Holo’s wisewolf secret, and dialogues involving him are refreshingly straightforward. We even get the secret behind the copper coin manifests introduced in Volume 8, and Koume-sensei’s illustrations of Col’s explanation are a hundred times clearer than the all-text version in the light novel.

Extras include a world map, story thus far summary, and creators’ closing remarks.

In Summary

The search for the strip mining text embroils Lawrence in a citywide property financing dispute and a vixenish merchant’s scheme. Eve is an intriguing new addition to the cast, but it is difficult to discern the role she is playing in the Kerube marketplace conflict, which is less about economics and more about machinations driven by greed and power. Holo seems to tease Lawrence excessively regarding his interactions with the female merchant, but that aside, it is interesting to watch the maneuvers of a human woman who appears a match for even Holo’s wits.

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.