Tag Archives: isuna hasekura

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.

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.

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.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #09

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 ninth 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

The capture of a narwhal and the ensuing power struggle between the northern and southern districts of Kerube has Lawrence caught in the middle! Backed into a corner by his own trade guild, can the merchant find a way to extricate himself from this delicate situation? And what of the wolf bone from Holo’s pack? Can the Wisewolf of Yoitsu manage to keep her rage and frustration in check?

The Review

Volume 9 is billed as the second part of a two-part story, but it is actually the culmination of events laid out in Volumes 5, 6, and 8. So if you aren’t familiar with those previous three installments, you’ll get lost in Volume 9 fast. Even if you have read them, the content of this volume is rather daunting. Volume 8 laid the groundwork for a massive conflict over a rare narwhal, and in Volume 9, that battle plays out with schemers wheeling and dealing in the shadows, plotting double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossings.

While the conflict is interesting, it is so complex that it bogs the pace of the story. Hasekura-sensei sets Lawrence up as a small fry trying to maneuver among the sharks of Eve and his guild leader Kieman. The plot requires an understanding of the power struggle over the narwhal, then the backroom deal Eve and Kieman are trying to broker, then the different ways everyone’s trying to swindle one another, and finally, the great ploy that upsets everything. Because the story unfolds through Lawrence’s eyes, the information we get is limited and mixed up with Lawrence’s conjecture and confusion. There were several passages I had to reread to understand what was going on. Hasekura-sensei’s underuse of dialogue tags in group scenes didn’t help. (Interestingly, one of the color illustrations attributes a quote to Col that actually belongs to Lawrence.)

However, if you’re willing to stick through the story’s sometimes tedious twists and turns, you’ll be rewarded by a brilliant and very clearly explained conclusion that also solves the mystery of the coin puzzle introduced in Volume 6. On top of that, poor Lawrence, who’s tossed around like a pawn throughout the majority of this arc, gets his hero moment.

Though Eve, Kieman, and the narwhal dominate in the battle within Kerube, we do get a couple character building moments with Holo and Col. As it turns out, Holo’s not unfamiliar with the narwhal, and her connection to the creature reputed to bring immortality sheds light on how she regards her traveling companions. And a conversation away from Holo shows how a child raised in the pagan mountains views a journey with a wisewolf.

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, a summary of Town of Strife I, and a world map.

In Summary

Hasekura-sensei brings the Kerube’s power struggle to its dramatic conclusion. The search for the ancient wolf bones fades to the background as Lawrence finds himself caught between the schemes of Eve and Kieman. Unfortunately, these masterminds are so crafty that their plans are difficult to follow. Spice and Wolf Volume 9 is a dense read for a light novel, but if you make it to the end, you’ll be gratified by a conclusion that sheds light on the events of three earlier volumes.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #08

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 eighth 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

A new chapter unfolds in the travels of Lawrence and Holo! The pair arrives at the church in the village of Tereo to glean information about Holo’s homeland of Yoitsu. But Elsa, the deaconess, turns them away flat! What has happened to make her so suspicious? Could it have something to do with the neighboring town of Enberch?

The Review

Volume 8 begins with the conclusion of the Tereo arc. While the dilemma is complicated, involving faith, finance, and fraud, Hasekura-sensei works out a solution that showcases Holo’s powers, Lawrence’s negotiation skills, and Elsa and Evan’s mettle. The ultimate resolution between Tereo and Enberch isn’t exactly win-win, but it is fair to all parties involved. As for the village’s religious differences, Elsa reconciles her beliefs with her encounter with Holo, and that results in a new level of understanding between Tereo’s church and local pagans.

The manga then heads into territory that deviates from both the light novel and anime. Both Volume 5 of the novel series and the final episodes of the anime deal with Lawrence’s fur scheme gone bad in Lenos. In Chapter 43 of the manga, Holo and Lawrence do reach Lenos, but they do not tarry there and leave unaffected. The town’s fur dispute merely causes them to detour down the Roam River. Still, the creators seem to want to convey the weight of Lenos’ crisis, and there’s a strange juxtaposition of Lawrence and Holo chatting leisurely with their ferryman while buildings burn and people riot in the background.

Once on the river, our traveling pair meets Col, a boy swindled by a con artist. He’s the epitome of big puppy dog eyes, and Lawrence helps him out of his pinch. But though the child’s innocent to the ways the world, he’s not stupid, and he’s also quite earnest, which makes for an interesting dynamic when combined with our crafty wisewolf and scheming merchant.

Col also introduces what may lead to the story’s next economics challenge: a discrepancy in financial statements regarding copper coin. For now, our travelers’ main concern is gathering more leads on Holo’s homeland, but several other elements are swirling around: rumors of an ancient text about copper mining, cutthroat merchants blocking riverways, refusal of money orders, a port town’s marketplace disagreement, and a mysterious female merchant. It’s unclear how all these parts will fit together, but I hope it forms some sort of picture soon because it’s a lot of pieces to keep track of.

In Summary

The Tereo arc concludes with a dramatic showdown. While the “miracle” that arises is only possible because of Holo’s power, Lawrence, Elsa, and Evan also play their part in creating an agreement amenable to all parties involved. The journey then continues with a detour that takes merchant and wisewolf downriver, where they encounter the penniless waif Col. While our travelers’ next moneymaking scheme is as yet unclear, the innocent but bright Col looks like he’ll be their companion for a while.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #08

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 eighth 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

Hearing rumors of a “leg bone of the wolf” being used as an artifact of the Church to showcase its power, Lawrence and Holo head to the site to gather more information. Holo can’t just turn away from what might be a relic of her own kind, after all. Of course, upon arrival, the travelers find that the town is the center of a giant trade dispute! Seems that Col will be getting a lesson in microeconomics!

The Review

After last volume’s side stories, Hasekura-sensei returns to the journey of Holo, Lawrence, and Col. He also brings back the character that sent Holo raging down the river route: Eve. The way in which Eve returns to the narrative, however, is somewhat surprising.

Given the depth of Eve’s betrayal in Lenos plus the injuries she dealt Lawrence (which he still bears at the beginning of Volume 8), I expected their capture of the vixen merchant to be the climax of this arc. Instead, the reunion of Eve, Holo, and Lawrence takes place in the prologue (although it is so vaguely worded that I didn’t realize those were the characters involved until I got into Chapter 1). And while Holo is sufficiently angry to want to tear Eve apart, Lawrence restrains the wisewolf from doing so and seems to bear no grudge against Eve. In fact, he displays only a merchant’s admiration for her skill. Holo has berated Lawrence before about his softheartedness, but his lack of resentment makes him seem soft in the head.

But there is a reason for even Holo to keep Eve intact, and that is because she is their key to getting to the bottom of the wolf bone rumors. Interestingly, Eve, who’d seemed like a minor merchant in Lenos, turns out to be a far more prominent and powerful force. In the process of searching for the wolf bones, Lawrence and Holo discover a great deal more about Eve, and she dominates the pages even in scenes where she’s not physically present.

As the investigation goes on, the story becomes more about political and religious intrigue than economics, although a territorial dispute over the marketplace is part of it. The plot is complex, involving fallout from the canceled northern campaign that figured in the early volumes; Col’s papers and the wolf bones mentioned in Volume 6; and a new element thrown in mid-volume. Following the plot is made more difficult by Hasekura-sensei’s tendency to write scenes where only the characters understand what’s happening and insert a lengthy explanation later.

Fortunately, Hasekura-sensei breaks up the complicated stuff with lighter moments, mostly involving Col. In addition to comic relief, Col serves as a refreshingly innocent counterpoint to our hard-driving merchant and scheming wisewolf. Also, because he’s essentially Lawrence’s informal apprentice, readers get clearer explanations when he’s present. Despite his ignorance of merchant matters, the boy brings his own knowledge to the table, and we finally get the secret behind the copper coin boxes of Volume 6.

As the subtitle “Town of Strife I” indicates, this is the first of a two book story. As Hasekura-sensei states in the Afterword, the story was meant to be a single volume, but it bloated out of his control. Given the complex situation he’s forcing his characters into, he will need those extra pages to come to a final resolution. And although many parts of Volume 8 left me scratching my head, it ends with a very clear and dramatic cliffhanger.

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

In Summary

Hasekura-sensei returns to Holo, Lawrence, and Col as they pursue rumors of ancient wolf bones and re-encounter Eve, the cunning merchant who betrayed Lawrence in Lenos. This arc is less about trade and more about intrigue in a politically and religiously divided town so you won’t come away with an economics lesson. However, you may be entertained by Kerube’s power struggle if you have the patience for Hasekura-sensei’s roundabout storytelling style.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #07

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 seventh 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).

The Review

For those curious about Holo, Lawrence, and Col’s ongoing journey, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Volume 7, as the back cover states, takes a break from their adventures to present a series of short vignettes. They consist of the novella, “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flowers,” and two short stories, “The Red of the Apple, the Blue of the Sky” and “Wolf and Amber Melancholy.”

According to the author’s notes, the novella features “Holo’s big-sisterly side” as it delves into Holo’s past. I’d hoped it would be about how she came to settle in her wheat field, but it has nothing to do with her old village or even Yoitsu. Instead, the story tells of an earlier journey. However, the journey is not Holo’s but that of two children. Former occupants of a rustic estate, they find themselves thrust into the wide world with only one another to rely upon.

The two young sojourners are opposites. The boy Klass is uneducated while the girl Ayres can read and write, but she has led such a sheltered life she’s never seen flowers growing in a field. So when the manor’s new master throws them out, Klass is constantly having to help Ayres. But Klass himself is only ten, and they soon find themselves in dire straits. Fortunately for them, they encounter Holo, who takes them under her wing. But her aid is not without a price. She teases poor Klass is badly as she does Lawrence, which surprised me given the gentler treatment she displays toward Col in Volume 6. Meanwhile, Ayres gets spared the brunt of Holo’s jabs and jibes. By the end of the novella, I felt thoroughly sorry for Klass, and Holo came off as a mean big sister figure indeed.

The short stories, on the other hand, feature Holo’s gluttony, according to Hasekura-sensei. Lawrence appears alongside her in these stories, which were both included in the Spice and Wolf anime. In “The Red of the Apple, the Blue of the Sky,” Lawrence gets to show off his business sense as he and Holo go shopping for clothes. Of the three stories, this is the only one that focuses on trade, though it isn’t quite an economics lesson. And though Lawrence does teach Holo something new, she, of course, manages to one-up him in the end.

Poor Lawrence seems ever at the mercy of Holo’s demands and sharp tongue so “Wolf and Amber Melancholy” is a refreshing change of pace. It is, as Hasekura-sensei mentions, the first time he writes from Holo’s perspective. Not much talk of business, but there is a bit of medieval medicine theory with our wisewolf sick in bed. Considering how much she frustrates and embarrasses Lawrence, it’s fun to see her frustrated and embarrassed as she deals with illness and jealousy. It’s also nice to know exactly how the wisewolf feels about her travel companion for once.

I should mention that the text is a bit choppy. I’m not sure if it’s because of the original Japanese text or the translation, but there are several short phrases and short sentences bunched together that makes for a less than smooth read. Plus, there are also a couple grammatical errors in the text.

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

In Summary

Hasekura-sensei takes a break from Holo and Lawrence’s wanderings in the north to share three Spice and Wolf vignettes. Fans of the anime and manga series will recognize the two short stories, which feature Lawrence and Holo. The novella, on the other hand, takes place far in Holo’s past as it tells of her journey with a pair of children who’ve been cast out of a manor. And though she earns points for protecting the poor little waifs, we discover that even children aren’t spared a wisewolf’s mischief.

First published at the Fandom Post.