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My Next Thread As A Talking Time Poster: All Routes Lead To Light Novels

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
So, some people may know from the Discord server that I am a fan of the broad genre known as "Light Novels". The term is pretty much analogous to "anime" and "manga", in that it just describes a medium that tends to originate in Japan; in this case, the term is basically exactly the same as "Young Adult". It has nothing to do with the size of the books, but instead the intended audience.

Much like any other medium, there's also a lot of trash to sift through, and I'm hoping to provide a bit of a service by talking about the ones I do read. I have a lot of books already that I'm planning to write some reviews and commentary on when I have the time, but I also want to know what any of y'all are reading! There's been a lot of diamonds in the rough that I've picked up that I wouldn't have taken a second look at otherwise, after all.

I do, though, want to start this thread off with at least one recommendation: Ascension Of A Bookworm is sooooooooooooooooooooo good. It's what I refer to as a "mundane fantasy", which is a more recent trend in light novels to write stories where the protagonist's goal is usually pretty low-key. In Bookworm, our heroine is reborn in a new world as a sickly child, and all she wants to do is what she loves: Read books. However, as the daughter of a poor, lower-class soldier, she has barely any access to writing, let alone books, and so begins her journey to develop all the technologies to allow her to make her own books! Eventually some of the typical fantasy elements start entering the picture, but even when that happens the story remains very low level, focusing on what the heroine is able to do in front of her, and what the world is like around her at that moment. It's so good! It's also got two seasons of an anime adaptation that covers all of Part 1 (3 books) and half of Part 2 (2 books), with a total of 8 books released in English so far. I can't call it my favourite light novel series because #1 for me is a book that's very focused on my tastes, but it's a very close second place. Check it out!
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Last night I finished the first volume of Demon Lord, Retry, and I have some weird mixed feelings about the book.

So, for background, this LN is part of an isekei (lit. "Another World") sub-genre, where folks wake up as their MMO character. In this one, our protagonist was an administrator for a "MMO" that's basically PUBG: The MMO, and wakes up as his GM character, Hakuto Kunai. This character, also known as a "Demon Lord" for having created the Game which has resulted in billions of deaths, got summoned into this world by what basically amounts to a radical libertarian terrorist cult? And here is where it starts to get weird.

Overall, this book uses a lot of references and designs that feel like an inconsistent world, but given how the Game apparently did eventually have some wild shit in it like any gatcha game eventually has, it probably makes sense in the end. I guess? Like, for example, early on the protagonist ends up going to the inn Gooogle, in the town of Yahooo. There he ends up running into one of the three "Holy Maidens" that rule and protect this country, and this one is BASICALLY just Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, with her personal army being a bunch of post-apocalypse toughs that would feel more at home in Fist of the North Star.

In addition to the protagonist being extremely powerful, as the last boss should be, the situation around his summoning has also given him access to the administration console commands of the Game, though a lot of them are locked until certain conditions are met. I'm kind of into his personal story, which is trying to find a way back home while also looking to make a living in this world and along the way improve it's governance.

That said, the book isn't also without it's problems, and this is where my mixed feelings comes in. I would like to say upfront, though, that most of my concerns are about how things could be, and not how they get represented. I'll put these thoughts behind a spoilerpop.

- The first person the protagonist meets is an androgynous child who is eventually revealed to be a young girl. Kunai wants to have a father/daughter relationship with her, she eventually wants to have... more then that. On the plus side, Kunai recognizes this and is deflecting, saying that he understands that infatuations like this can occur in pre-teens, and wants to just try and ride through it.
- The next major character he meets is the youngest of the three Holy Maidens, who is basically a spoiled brat with incredible magic powers. She's trying to kill Kunai because he was reported as a Demon Lord, and after withstanding her assault he decides to punish her with a spanking. Turns out she liked it, so now she's following behind like some kind of masochistic tsundre puppy.
- Later on, a pair of adventurers gets introduced and one of them is straight up transgender. The book (and she) mentions her boy parts and lack of girl parts, but does consistently use she/her as pronouns. The only person who refers to her as a guy is her partner, who is a little frustrated at her being excessively horny as well. Especially since she's now horny for Kunai, and wants to be with him regardless of any physical difficulties. I really support this, even if Kunai ends up not reciprocating, because I don't get to see this kind of trans representation. I'm just super worried about it becoming some kind of trans panic story.

Overall I think I'm interested enough to give it a second volume, but I also feel that it's skating on thin ice at the moment.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
I wanted a pallet cleanser, so I ended up powering through The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent volume 1, and really liked it.

This is another isekai story, with the setup being that the kingdom in this world usually has a "Saint" show up when the miasma that surrounds it and breeds monsters gets overpowering. However, this time they couldn't find the Saint, so ended up using an ancient method of summoning one. Turns out that this method worked too well, and they got two people, a high school student and our protagonist, an office lady. After getting snubbed by the prince of the kingdom over the student, our heroine ends up holed up in a room alone for days, before finally managing to convince someone to let her go to the garden that's just outside. There, she runs across a member of the kingdom's medicinal herbs research division, and from there she winds up joining them as a new researcher.

The book is very much a mundane fantasy, where Sei, our heroine, spends most of her time making potions, researching herbs, teaching cooking, and learning about magic. It's also shoujou, as there is a secondary plot of how this commander of one of the knight orders that Sei saved the life of is trying to woo her, while she is mostly oblivious to his attempts. It's really cute and I love it. Despite being a lesbian demi, I still really like reading cute romances like this.

By the end of the volume, for as much as Sei is trying to avoid and deny it, she's convinced that she's actually the one who is the Saint while the other girl is... well, she might be as well, but Sei is clearly the more powerful one. Sei really wants this not to be the case, though, because she really likes her (relatively) less stressful new day job and life. But the volume essentially ends on her winding up using more power then she should be as a "normal" person, and now the kingdom is going to send someone to formally assess her.

I really enjoyed this book and I'm very interested in reading more. I hope it ends up staying mostly mundane and romance, though.
 

Yaara

the member formerly known as Alpha Werewolf
(She/Her)
I was watching Ascension of a Bookworm religiously and I'm glad to know there's more to come; I don't think I'll read it, but I wanted to comment on it at least!

"The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent " sounds really really cute and very much my jam, though I'd prefer the romance to be a bit gayer, but that's just personal taste XD mundane fantasies are just so wonderful to sink into. I'll try it and get back here!
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Yeah, I also prefer my romance to be more gay, but I'm also fine with het ones too. I just want it to be cute~.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
So, I finished up the 8th volume of How A Realist Hero Rebuilt The Kingdom overnight (yeah, I'm kind of on a tear lately...), and giving comments on this one specifically is going to be a bit awkward when I haven't talked about the others, so instead I want to take a moment to talk about the series as a whole.

Realist Hero is another isekei story, with the central premise of this one being that a small kingdom that's down on it's luck makes a Hail Mary play on it's ancient hero summoning ritual to get someone they could trade to a larger empire that's been demanding war subsidies to help in the fight against an encroaching demon horde. Instead of getting some fighter or something, they instead got Souma Kazuya, a man studying to become a civil servant. Expecting to be someone who could instead advise the king about how to make themselves more prosperous and this pay the demanded subsidy, the king instead goes "Congrats, you're now the king" and basically walks off, after arranging for his daughter to marry him in order to maintain legitimacy. While this is surprising, Souma does get down to work and does manage to turn the kingdom around. And in fact, make it flourish. And this is where the story really kicks in.

Before I decided to pick this series up, I was getting some red flags based on the title. So I didn't even bother to read the description, which ended up being a clincher for me. I'm really into administrative stories, though this one is a mix of administration, typical fantasy action, and plotting. It manages to remain engaging through all this. And while it does also have the trope of the protag collecting himself a harem of ladies, there's something... different about how this one handles it. It still feels more male gazey, but it's not really over the top either. There's a big theme about it that I'll get into later that seems to mellow it out, plus there's more of an emphasis on when the weddings will be, as opposed to who will be at it. But what I think is probably the thing that makes this the most palatable to me is that all of the romance and "romance" is not restricted to just Souma. The book does still limit itself to male-centric polygamy as kind of the default, but past that just about everyone that is around Souma is part of their own love story as well.

Which leads into what I feel is the overall theme of the series, which is that of legacies. Every character, every arc, has at it's roots a story about someone's legacy, be it the making of one, the unmaking of one, or how an existing one affects people today. Even right from the top: At the beginning of the first book, we get a passage where Souma is reflecting on the legacy of his grandparents, who have recently passed away. These teachings end up being a core aspect of how he approaches things in the new world. From there, we have other examples such as pressure around Souma to produce an heir and maintain his legacy; The legacy of a tribe of dark elves to care for their forest being upended due to learning about selective cutting; A neighboring principality's legacy of revenge against the kingdom due to losses they took in a previous war; A scheme to round up and clean out traitors and profiteers in the kingdom, a legacy of corruption you might call it. And that's just within the first few volumes.

I won't say the series is for everyone, but it does a lot with what it has, and I get really engrossed in it. And I really like that it's allowing more then just the main character to have partners and arcs. It also gives itself a pretty wide timeframe to work in; as of volume 8, it's been over 2 years since Souma was summoned, and he still isn't actually crowned the king, despite effectively holding the title since the start. Also, the series has dropped two bombshell reveals so far and I'm just excited to see what the author plans to do with them. Plus it has gender-queer dragons! (They explicitly only mate with humans, which can result in a human, a dragon, or a half-dragon, and the dragon's human form is normally androgynous but changes to match the opposing gender of the person they form a contract with.)
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I do, though, want to start this thread off with at least one recommendation: Ascension Of A Bookworm is sooooooooooooooooooooo good.

Though not as enthusiastic as you, I do like the anime adaptation quite a bit. That said, while I'm normally fine with its adventures in capitalism, its getting into some questionable choices when the heroine has
an orphan army of labour to whom she tells in a kidding but not kidding way that they need to work to eat.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
I mean, I can say that there's layers to that, but yeah. Main certainly pushes bootstrapping, but at the same time does give the tools necessary to actually succeed. But mainly, she's relatively rich but not so much so that she can get away with not having people working for her, making her more money. There's moments in that whole arc where it actually is literally true that if they don't work they won't eat, because Main can't afford to buy the things they need for winter without the products she's having them make. And the church isn't going to give them to the orphans either.
 
I just read through the first volume of Roll Over and Die: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with My Love and Cursed Sword which is, as the author says themselves in the afterword, a mishmash of fantasy, lesbian romance, horror, and fight scenes and indeed does deliver on pretty much all of those. Also while it does have fantasy RPG trappings throughout, it is not an isekai story, which is still rather rare in new light novels.

It also serves as an interesting counterpoint to Shield Hero in that they share the same basic plot setup, but Roll Over and Die uses them to craft a more interesting premise in most cases rather than the gross way Shield Hero approaches them.

Basic plot is that protagonist Flum Apricot is one of the group of heroes chosen by god to take down the Demon Lord. Problem is that Flum isn't built for fighting - her RPG stats are zeros across the board and won't increase no matter what she does, and the only thing unique about her is her affinity "Reversal". One of her party members, annoyed at her "uselessness" illegally sells her into slavery unbeknownst to the rest of the party (though he tells Flum it was a "party decision" and tells the rest of the party that she "was tired of feeling useless and went home", because he's a huge asshole). He also permanently brands Flum's cheek with the mark of slavery and infuses it with magic so it can never be removed because he is indeed an ultra asshole.

Flum's zero stats prevent her from being resold, but thanks to a certain event Flum manages to kill the slaver she was sold to and escape her slavery with an endgame level cursed sword (which thanks to Flum's affinity causes her stats to increase and her damage to regenerate instead of lowering her stats and melting her into goo) as well as another slave girl named Milkit, who has had much of her mind and body broken by a lifetime of slavery.

Now that she has some power thanks to her cursed sword, Flum makes it her mission to heal and rehabilitate the slave girl she has picked up, and a romance starts slowly blossoming between the two girls. The rest of the first volume has Flum and Milkit befrend a very young but powerful cleric girl (Flum also learns that healing magic also works in reverse on herself somewhat painfully), encounter some fantasy monsters apparently re-designed by Junji Ito, have an interesting run-in with one of the Demon Lord's leutenants, and unexpectedly re-unite with one of Flum's former party members.

The parallels to Shield Hero are obvious - The "weakest" of the legendary heroes gets betrayed by the others and their first ally after said betrayal is a slave. However the context changes things a lot - Flum herself is made a slave and thanks to the brand on her cheek most people will see her as such, and her relationship with Milkit is much more equal given they are both escaped slaves. Milkit does insist on calling Flum "Master" and will obey if Flum orders her to do something, but this is not magical enforcement like Shield Hero but rather a coping/survival mechanism of Milkit's lifetime as a slave. When Flum does order Milkit, it's to force Milkit out of the slave mindset - things like having Milkit honestly speaking her mind, having Milkit stop putting herself down, or having Milkit save herself when battles get hairy.

In any case was definitely an interesting first volume and I want to read the next one when it comes out. If you can't stomach descriptive gore maybe give it a pass though - Flum both causes and endures many grave injuries in the various fights she gets involved in and author Kiki is not afraid to get descriptive about the results. And that's even before the Junji Ito inspired monsters show up with their spiralling gore orifices (gorifices?).
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Yeah, I'm actually just finishing up Roll Over And Die myself, and the mix of tones is a little jarring but... not repulsive to me. I could see this idea being way worse, though. It feels a bit like the author likes the "ryona" style (essentially, a doujin sub-genre that's pretty much about how brutally the protagonist can be maimed or murdered), because the way they go into these fight scenes is pretty intense. Being able to so thoroughly assert how fast and how much Flum can regenerate lets the author be really fast and loose with the damage, even if the regeneration does nothing for the pain it all causes. And all this is placed against pretty much all other scenes being some kind of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things style adventure.

I would also be remiss to not mention that in addition to the gore content warnings, there's also a scene of attempted sexual assault. While it is stopped before much happens, the scene is still framed specifically to give the feel of terror.

Once I got past the start, and it's very oppressive atmosphere (I felt very similar to how I feel about the first part of Twelve Kingdoms, where the MC is also having her life just completely ruined constantly until things turn around), I found myself enjoying the book a lot more then I would have expected myself to, given the tone and subject matter. I very much want to read the next volume.


Edit: I also want to make sure that I put my appreciation for just how much it becomes gal pals right at the very end:


It's ridiculously cute and I love it.
 
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Edit: I also want to make sure that I put my appreciation for just how much it becomes gal pals right at the very end:


It's ridiculously cute and I love it.

Eterna even jokingly mentions that Flum acts like a "pubesent boy" around Milkit so yeah she knows what's up.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
So, since Jovewolf sniped Roll Over And Die from under me (totally fine! I'm just joshing you), I'm going to take this opportunity to gush about another "Oh, they're just gal pals" LN, which is also among my favourite LNs: Seriously Seeking Sister! Ultimate Vampire Princess Just Wants Little Sister; Plenty of Service Will Be Provided!

Content Warning: This book has themes of abuse, sexual abuse, and trauma

Sister is about Ristia, a Trueblood vampire princess who was the youngest in her family, and just wanted a little sister of her own to spoil, instead of being the one receiving the spoiling from her older sisters. However, as extremely long-lived people, they don't give birth all that often, so her father is unwilling to naturally have one, and won't let Ristia just go out and make one by turning a person into kin as she is actually unusually powerful as a Trueblood and doesn't know it yet. This makes Ristia very upset, so she goes off to a personal dungeon and puts herself into suspended animation until someone younger then her comes along.

And someone does. Nanami, an adventurer from a local town, was part of an expedition to explore the dungeon Ristia sealed herself in, and ends up breaking the spell while she and the last surviving member of the expedition are trying to get away from a dragon. Ristia saves the day by being overpowered, but after she gets literally backstabbed by the other member, who was trying to get rid of them both so he could make off with the very powerful gear Ristia had just lying around, she obliterates him as well and as a result earns Nanami's fear and admiration.

Ristia just wants to be a normal girl with a little sister. But she has no idea what "normal" even means!

From this point, Ristia keeps running into little sister candidates and ending up in a situation where she wants them to call her "big sis", but doesn't ASK them to because she knows that if she did they'd do it. She doesn't want it to feel forced! She wants them to do it on their own! Unfortunately, they all become indebted to her in such a way that they all feel like it would be inappropriate to call her that, even though they want to!

The first volume (and the only one released at the moment) has 3 little sister candidates, and each one has their own arc that surrounds Ristia dealing with someone in a position of authority that is abusing it and other people. The first one, Nanami, was the one mentioned earlier. At the conclusion of her arc, Nanami becomes Ristia's biggest supporter, working hard to spread the word of the goddess Ristia, and to convince people that what she does is perfectly normal.

The second one, Maria, is an orphan at the local orphanage. Ristia decides to go work there because if she helps orphans, then there's more opportunities for little sister candidates. And since these kids don't have families already, it's not like she's gonna be kidnapping. But she also does legitimately want to help them, even if her motives are also less then pure. However, the orphanage has a sketchy reputation because it turns out that it's director uses it as a human trafficking front, and Maria shields the younger kids from the brunt of it by giving herself up for prostitution. When the director tries to do this to Ristia, she doesn't fall for his trickery in the slightest and kills him, taking over as the new director and turning the orphanage around. Kind of literally, as she sells off some (of what she considers) trash to fund rebuilding it entirely. Even though she could do it all herself, she knows it would be better to involve the town.

The third one, Charlotte, is the daughter of the noble that owns the land the town is situated on. She gets involved because the stuff surrounding Ristia gets just weird enough that she decides to investigate, and ends up sticking around because Ristia helps with a case of corruption in the town government, so she takes over for a time. The people behind the corruption were not only covering up for the previous director, but also involved in the dealings to boot.


One of the things I really like about this book is that Ristia isn't treated as some kind of airhead that doesn't know what's going on. She's treated as a fish out of water, as she has a hard time reconciling what has changed in the last few thousand years plus what she had originally considered "normal" due to her upbringing, but at no point is she treated as a patsy. In fact, she is regularly shown to be quite keen and observant, able to know when people are trying to put one over on her, or how she handles Maria's trauma from her abuse carefully, not pushing her or even trying to "cure" it, and knowing to give her the space she needs.

The other thing I like is that the book is super gay, but is really trying to make it seem like it's just gal pals. When Ristia's desire to drink blood awakens, it's very clearly a stand-in for sexual preferences, and also further shows how Ristia really does want to help people, as she resolves to silently suffer instead of trying to drink anyone's blood. But in the end, she ends up being rescued by Maria, who wants to help her like she was helped. But also, it's really gay. I mean, just look at this passage:



"Suspected" my ass.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
I'm done with the main story in volume 10 of Realist Hero and there's just something about it that I want to try and think through. So apologies as this post feels a little meandering.

So, as a whole, volume 10 is about, 2 years after Souma has been summoned to this world and was given the (provisional) crown of the kingdom, plus the hand of the princess in marriage in order to secure legitimacy, he is finally having the coronation plus the wedding to his now 5 fiances. To go along with this, Souma is pushing for all of his major retainers to also get their own romances in order so there can be a mass wedding all over the capital and save on money (hopefully...). And here is where the volume gets into a spot that I'm having a hard time arranging my thoughts over.

So, essentially, where I start having troubles with my feelings on the story is in the way it's handling all the romance. I commented above about some of the things I appreciated about it, but this volume goes into that and then adds on some more. To begin with, while roughly half of the marriages performed or arranged in this volume were polygamous, not a single one had multiple men in it. It's always 1 guy/2+ gals (though there IS one that is monogamous for now, but is clearly being set up for the future as not two ladies marrying one guy, but a guy and a lady marrying another lady). However, while this is a male fantasy on it's face, in basically every marriage (there is one distinct exception, however) it's actually presented as an equal partnership at worst, and actually the women having the power in the relationship at best. Everyone involved seems to retain their "agency", if I am understanding it right, but the power structures tend to favour the women in every relationship.

(There is one marriage that I think I like in general, and could be read as a fantasy as well, where the chubby and passive guy who ends up being really good at managing logistics and cooking junk/comfort food from Souma's world ends up marrying two gorgeous and reliable women, while surrounded by "gold-diggers" that just wanted him for his ties to the crown.)

(Oh, and another one of the stories is about how this 12 year-old elf girl that one of Souma's major retainers saved during one of the first arcs shows up to his two fiances and wants to pledge her life to him in return (read: Marry him if possible, serve him if not), and the two fiances just go "You are way too young, go to school first" and send her off.)

Also, it's very interesting to me that not only does the series have enough major female characters that half of these marriages are 2+ women, but there's even still major female characters that are not currently in relationships (though ones seem to be getting set up for a number of them). Like, it's kind of common in the genre for there to be very few major male characters but just a deluge of major female ones, and in this one the ratio is still on the ladies' side, but it's not as unbalanced as it usually is.

All that said, though, the romance plotlines in this series are not to the levels of an actual romance story (which is understandable), though it's still higher then is the norm for a pure male gaze fantasy, from my experiences. Heck, more then a few were able to make me tear up, so that's a good sign.

This has been a series that has been surprising me about the ways it decides to handle a number of different political themes, and while I wouldn't call it a winner in all of them, it still feels well above the average regardless. This volume also builds on something that was set up in the previous volume, to frame what the next major arc is going to be (essentially, a conflict of sorts between two different styles of "great men").


So, to finish off, I just want to bring up two other stories in this volume that I actually enjoyed. The first is the romance story for one of Souma's retainers, a former slaver merchant (technically; he inherited the "business", and spent his time up until getting scouted by Souma improving the slaves' education and living conditions in order to find them higher end masters. This is what ended up getting him noticed, and led to him being put in charge of the kingdom's first vocational and research college). In this one, he's been wanting to marry one of his former slaves that he's released and has been working alongside him as a manager of the school, but she has remaining trauma from the way she was sold to slavery. Souma, instead of solving the matter himself, uses his connections to make it seem like his retainer used his connections to bring closure, and help soothe her soul and bring them closer.

The second is about one of Souma's fiances, the dragon girl. During a... bridal course for all of them, she discovers that she's the only one who Souma hasn't kissed yet. Wracking her brain to find the perfect scenario to force him into it, she eventually ends up taking him skydiving unexpectedly, as they were flying around the country in order to get the weather report, and she transforms back into human form and stealing that kiss from him as they plummet towards the ground. That's a way to make sure the memory sticks. Or is erased, I guess.

So, to finish off, I'm still enjoying this series, and am looking forward to the next arc.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
There's been a few more I've read over the last week and a bit, but there's one in particular I want to try and put some thoughts down about. I'm In Love With The Villainess is part of the isekei sub-genre about reincarnating in an otome game. Our protagonist, Rae Taylor, wakes up in the classroom of her favourite game, Revolution, as the heroine. She's not sure how she got there, having only a vague memory of another day of being overworked in the office, but doesn't care about that because Claire Francois, the villainess of the game and the character that Rae loves, is right there.

From this point, the volume is mainly about Rae and her attempts to be close to Claire up to and including blackmailing her father with information Rae knows about the game world in order to be hired as Claire's maid. For about half of the book this feels like it should be hyper creepy, which it would be if it was a guy that was pushing this much attention on a lady who wants nothing to do with him, but something about how Rae knows when to stop pushing (and is a lesbian) makes it just comedic and slightly creepy.

Then there's a scene about halfway through the book where the major characters end up having a really blunt talk about being gay and bi that I really did not expect, and after that point Rae's advances take on an entirely different tone, as the reader is now aware that not only is Rae completely cognizant of the fact that her affections will never be reciprocated, this isn't even the first time Rae has been in the situation of loving someone who could not love her back. Instead, she resolves to find her happiness by being by Claire's side and supporting her in her own love. I really want to share this scene, because it really hit me hard, so I'll be putting it at the bottom of this post. Also, by this point in the book, it's become more and more clear that Rae is trying to redirect events that she knows is going to happen, in order to keep Claire safe. In fact, more then that, she knows that something catastrophic is about to befall them, but she never talks about it any further then having some cagey prepper-like comments along the way.

By the end, this book just wrecked me, as I was starting to turn into a sobbing wreck. I won't go into spoilers, but the climax of the book hit me very hard, with it's themes of class conflict and unrequited/forbidden love. I'm really interested in seeing subsequent volumes, though it'll probably be a while since it seems like the original release was January of this year.

Anyway, I think I would still recommend this book to those who are looking for romance or yuri, but it was also surprisingly heavy. I did not expect that, especially since I was intending to use it to recover from another book's heaviness.

Bonus: The scene I was talking about.
 

aturtledoesbite

earthquake ace
(any/all)
So, I promised Hilene I'd start writing my thoughts on the LNs I read on here instead of just occasional comments on Discord. So to start, I'll be talking about one she hasn't read before: The White Cat's Revenge as Plotted from the Dragon King's Lap.

It begins with Ruri Morikawa and her annoying childhood friend Asahi Shinomiya getting isekai'd. Asahi is unnaturally good at making friends, and those friends unnaturally despise Ruri, so she ends up getting exiled from this kingdom. There, she discovers that she's a Beloved, meaning the spirits of the world will basically trip over themselves to help her (and gods help whoever makes her sad).

She ends up in the kingdom of the Dragon King, having acquired a bracelet from the spirits that turns her into a cat while worn. She ends up meeting with the Dragon King and his court as a cat, and a derisive comment about humans leads her to keep the fact that she is one secret.

The Dragon King, not particularly wanting to get on the Beloved's bad side, lets her do as she pleases, though he has a weakness for fluffy creatures, so they come to an arrangement of him petting her to soothe them both. He quickly becomes addicted and gets distracted from his work enough that the only viable solution is for her to sit on his lap as he works, while the court is desperately trying to find him a bride and make heirs before he becomes a crazy cat king. It doesn't help that, due to mana wavelength compatibility (the same thing that makes Ruri a Beloved), the Dragon King and this cat are basically as close to soulmates as this world gets.

Meanwhile, back in the kingdom that summoned them, Asahi is looking for Ruri (being practically dependent on her), as the king and high priest manipulate her and use her position as otherworldly saint to lead their human kingdom to war against the kingdom of the Dragon King, which they hate.

It's honestly pretty cute once the initial exile shock passes. As a Beloved, Ruri gets to talk with the spirits who will do absolutely anything for her. If you've played FFXIV Shadowbringers, the spirits are basically just XIV's fae, with everything that implies for those who Ruri dislikes. But they're childishly cute so it's okay. :D

The second volume introduces a nonbinary lady in the Dragon King's court, and they're not played for a joke, which is pretty cool.

One scene, though, I found particularly amusing.
Ruri had been slipping out of the castle to work at a diner since she didn't feel comfortable not working and liked the idea of having money she earned herself. Shortly after having revealed her human form to the Dragon King and him realizing he loves her (technically a spoiler, but *looks at genre tropes*), she's asked out on a date by one of the diner regulars, which she accepts on the spot without really thinking about it. She's preparing for it in the castle with no attempt to hide her intentions, giving the Dragon King a smile that could rival Jeord and Keith. On the day of, though, she meets up with her date, who seems absolutely terrified and tells her that he can't do it, ditching her. Upset for a bit, but shrugging, she decides to go around the city anyway where she runs into the Dragon King in disguise, 'checking out how the inhabitants of the city are faring'. He asks how the date went, she tells him she got ditched, and he basically replies, "Oh, that's too bad; anyway, since we're together already, wanna go walk around the city?"

I just love the absolute brazenness of him hijacking her date, while she's in full Katarina mode and doesn't notice his intentions at all.

anyway it's good
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Sorry, Turtle, but I have actually read that one. And I agree that it's very good and cute!

Today, I want to talk about two LNs that I have recently finished. I should have done some of these writeups earlier, but I got distracted.

The first one is Cooking With Wild Game. I recently finished up Volume 9, so instead of a specific review I'll give a series one like I did for Realist Hero. The basic gist of this series is that Asuta, an apprentice chef working at his father's restaurant, dies while trying to save his father's precious cooking knife when the restaurant was set on fire because of yakuza stuff. Honestly, there was a little bit more there then I had expected, and so far in 9 volumes it has never been touched upon again.

Asuta wakes up in the middle of a forest, and is eventually found by Ai Fa, a member of a tribe of people who live in the forest and hunt giba (basically bigger wild boars), both for sustenance and also to protect the fields of the nearby castle town. She takes Asuta home, and there he essentially starts to learn about being a person of the forest's edge. And honestly, this is where the book was giving me some red flags; after all, it's basically a story about a white guy bringing knowledge and technology to the "natives". However, surprisingly, the author seems to be very cognizant of the pitfalls they have made for themself, and it feels like they thread the needle very carefully.

One of the ways they do this is that Asuta himself believes that if it was possible for him to have been transported to this world, for whatever reason, then he could one day find himself back in that burning building and meet his end. As a result, a lot of the first few volumes is about him avoiding making connections, but still trying to learn about life at the forest's edge. But despite this, he still does eventually want to help bring prosperity to the people of the forest's edge, who have spent much of the last 80 years since they moved from another country where they were expelled trying to simply survive. Asuta worries that he can be a medicine or a poison to the people of the forest's edge, and so he relies on Ai Fa and the others he begins to become friends with to make sure he stays on the right path.

The main thing that Asuta wants to do to help bring prosperity to the people of the forest's edge is to help overcome the animosity and fear that the citizens of the local trading town have for not just giba, but for the hunters, because they eat giba. And the way he does this is, of course, through cooking. He helps teach the tribe how to prepare the meat after it's been hunted, and also experiments heavily with the various different foodstuffs that this world has, in order to improve the taste and nutritional value, but also to make the meat palatable enough to be sold in town. And one of the ways he does this is by opening up a food cart in town and selling giba dishes.

One thing that interests me a lot with this series is that the timeline is very compact. A lot of LNs that I read have very loose feel of time, but in Cooking there is a very clear passage of time from not just one day to the next, but in some cases even from hour to hour. And on top of that, within the 9 volumes that have been localized so far, only about 2 months have passed, which means a lot of big changes have occurred in a very short time due to Asuta's arrival and influences.

Overall, I really like this series for how much it goes into the cooking experimentation, and as a result the very low-key slice-of-life style interactions that Asuta ends up having, both with the people of the forest's edge and the people of the trading town. There's still a concern hanging over it about how the tribe gets handled, but I've been surprised so far that it's been fairly respectful.



The second series is A Wild Last Boss Appears. I'll admit that I came to this series with a really inflated expectation, and so far it hasn't really seemed like it wants to go down that route. So, specifically, this is one of the sub-genre of isekeis where players get reincarnated or summoned as their MMO character, into the game's world. The initial twist on it here is that the player was a guy, and his avatar was a girl, so I was really hoping for some kind of egg story. Sadly, they don't really try to dive into it much, though there's some dialog in volume 2 that is giving me hope that they might approach the subject in a different way.

By the way, the first volume of this series is what made me finally decide to write my own LN, because I really want to see the representation I was hoping for.

In any case, Lufas Maphaahl was an overpowered character who had conquered the world. The player knew this was boring when it came to the game's PvP mechanic, so they arranged a player-run event where some of her best friends would defeat her in a great big war, and then she's "retire", basically. After this event plays out, the player of Lufas gets a message through the game that a new role has been chosen for her, if she accepts. When she does so... we wakes up in the land of the game, 200 years after her defeat. Turns out that within the story of the world, the great heroes who defeated her couldn't keep their lands together, and steadily the various races of humanity have been pushed back by the actual last boss of the game. This is why one of the nations tried a hero summoning spell, and ended up with Lufas instead.

Now, here is where this series as a trans narrative either gets off of the rails, or approaches it in a different manner then I had desired: The player knows they are the player, and retain their memories. But they also find that the "spirit" of Lufas, so to speak, still has some manner of control over the body, giving the gestalt of the two of them the same speaking tic as the player used to be a troll, plus providing memories and knowledge. Essentially, a minor plot point (and one that gets touched upon more in volume 2) is that the Player is not sure if they are themselves, or if they are Lufas with the memories of the Player, or if they actually have any real control over the body. Now, admittingly, I am actually writing a similar kind of internal conflict for the character in my own LN, but here it feels a lot more in the background, at least until it comes up again in volume 2.

In any case, Lufas isn't overly interested in saving the world, and also doesn't care about trying to conquer it again either, saying that they are satisfied with defeat, and now wish to live a normal life. The problem, though, is that the 12 NPC minions that Lufas had as a player still exist in the world, and are generally making a mess of things because they're pretty pissed off at humanity having killed their master. So Lufas' decides that her first objective is to go and collect all of her minions, alongside an NPC named Dina who had been waiting for her in Lufas' old tower.

Even though this series isn't (so far) the trans narrative I was hoping it to be, I'm still liking it a lot. There's some very good characterization, and I like seeing how personalities and play styles from the game get extrapolated into people who actually live in the world. I will say, though, that there's some material that can be hurtful to folks in here. In the first volume, Lufas meets back up with Ares, the ram, and one of the things that comes up as part of this is that tamed monsters in the game can be given a skill that gives them a humanoid form. When the Player was designing the form for Ares, one of his friends was being all "Hey, you know what would be funny? How about you design him like a total femboy, because it's hilarious that there's people out there who pretend to be chicks in order to trick guys." To Lufas' credit, when she meets back up with Ares, and remembers this, she admits that she was a bad person for doing that. There's also a scene in volume 2 where Ares helps out an adventuring team and they call her a girl when thanking him, but when corrected they apologize and correct themselves.

Also, in volume 2, the main plot is about a conflict in a city of winged people between those with white wings and those with coloured wings, and it's very specifically called out as white wing supremacy. So, yeah.

Anyway, I do still really like the series so far, and I'm looking forward to the next volume! And it's also helping me out with things to keep in mind for my own writing, too.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Yesterday I read through all of A Lily Blooms In Another World, a one-shot yuri LN by the author of Sexiled (and yeah, I know that name is bad, but man was the book so good. I'll do a writeup later). Lily is part of the otome isekei sub-genre, and follows Miyako Florence, a former office drone who ends up literally working herself to death (relatedly, I like this trope, as it really speaks to the author's frustrations with their daily life) and is reincarnated in the fantasy world of her favourite otome game. In that game, there was only one route she was not able to clear, and it was for her favourite character: the "villainess" Fuuka Hamilton. So, obviously, she's going to try to win her over.

The book starts with Miyako having successfully met her first condition: Getting onto the route of the main "hero" Klaus Reinhardt, and then getting him to cancel the engagement. The main reason for this is that she knows that Fuuka gets a bad ending regardless of whether she "wins" or "loses" against this character, so Miyako hopes to remove him from the board entirely as the first step of her plan. After that, she goes to Fuuka and essentially kidnaps her and takes her to a cottage near her home in the outer region of the country. There, she manages to obtain a condition from Fuuka: If Miyako can make Fuuka say that she is happy within 14 days, then Fuuka will stay.

At this point, the story basically becomes about two overworked and overstressed women finding themselves while separated from the causes of their stress; Miyako realizes that she didn't just want to save Fuuka from her fate but that she also did love her, while Fuuka realizes that she can do more with her life then just be a soldier in the "bridal wars", winning an influential husband in order to raise her family's status. Especially when her family had been abusing her as part of their plan to marry her off. And together they learn they can live as two women together, not needing a man to "own" them.

And along the way, the author makes some very pointed comments about society and certain... groups, let's just say. Klaus is painted as self-centered and out of touch, demanding impossible and unreasonable results from his employee (Miyako's brother, who works as a spy, and himself acts as an accepting wage slave until Miyako eventually shows him that there's a better way to live), and believing that he has the right to anything he wants simply because of the nature of his birth, despite any evidence to the contrary. Fuuka's family only believes in the value of women as bargaining chips in order to raise their status and make more money. There's a merchant who gets introduced named Shan Li who is a member of a clan of people who retain a youthful appearance into their adulthood (specifically, she looks 15 but is 30), and as a result members of this clan are hunted by powerful people to use as concubines or status symbols.

Given that this author also wrote Sexiled, which started off specifically as commentary about sexism in a Japanese university, and in society in general, I'm not surprised that they would also be pretty pointed in this book. If anything, I'm only surprised at how pointed some of the takes were.

In a way, I'm a little sad that this was just a one-shot, but also it handily wraps up it's story and knows when to end. I was legitimately awed and loved this book so much. I'm so very much looking forward to anything else that Ameko Kaeruda may release in the future.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Ok, and then after that I read The Sorcerer's Receptionist, volume 1. Set in a fantasy world, our protagonist Nanalie Hel gets taken by her father, a sorcerer, to the guild one day while she was a young child because she wanted to know what he does. Basically, you can imagine that "sorcerer" in this context is synonymous with "adventurer" in just about any other fantasy LN, even right down to a scene much later on where some folks are dealing with a few really badmouthed sorcerers at the guild, who are demanding better jobs.

Anyway, so her father is just looking for something simple to take his daughter on, but what Nanalie was actually fascinated by was the skill and professionalism of the receptionist that her father was dealing with. On that day, Nanalie declares that she will become a receptionist lady at Harre, the sorcerer's guild! And it turns out that the only way to do that is to graduate at the top of the class at the royal magic academy (yes, there is a reason for this).

Anyway, the first volume is split into two main sections. The first covers the 6 years of her time at the academy, which is about a third of the whole volume. In it, we get introduced to a number of other major characters, most notable of which is Alois Rochmann, son of a duke, the person who sits next to her in class, and her hated rival. See, Nanalie is one of the few commoners in her class, and though her initial goal was to have good enough grades to be scouted for Harre, after a number of the noble kids start being, you know, nobles towards commoners, she resolves to be the number 1 student just to shove it in their faces. However, throughout her entire school life, she is constantly second place, with Alois taking the top. The only time Nanalie manages to take first is during a competition that is split between the genders.

On top of this academic rivalry she has with Alois, there's also a physical rivalry, as they start off with typical insults and names and a regular rock-paper-scissors match, and then after the class learns their elemental affinity (Alois is fire, and Nanalie is ice; fire is actually fairly common, but apparently there's typically only one ice affinity person a year, as an aside), it starts to come to blows. Nanalie gives just as good as she takes, and after a point the teachers just let them both blow off steam (literally and figuratively) when it happens. Towards the end of the 6 years, we start to see attitudes shifting and it becomes clear to the reader that we just have a simple case of "boy who resorts to bullying because he doesn't know how to parse attraction".

Anyway, after graduation, Nanalie gets her coveted job at Harre, and begins her training there. This is where the whole "Needs to be at the top of the class" thing finally gets explained, as the job of the receptionists at Harre is not just filling out paperwork and dealing with customers (both people who want to offer jobs and people who want to take jobs), but in some instances the receptionists need to personally investigate the job site. And since some of these jobs involve fighting dangerous monsters, the receptionists themselves must be capable of self-defense. You could say that in order to work at Harre, you'd also need to be able to do the jobs that Harre offers. And this is where the story basically starts for real.

All in all, this is a real slow burn romance story, set between a boy and a girl who start off as hated foes before starting to realize what it actually meant. By the end of the first volume, there's hints of a larger mystery at play, plus we get the sense that Alois has figured it out, but is keeping up the act because he's upset that Nanalie hasn't yet. I really like the way they present the "adventurer's guild" here, and there's also some well placed jabs at sexism and upper-class power (not least of which is a suggestion at one point that the only reason that Nanalie was eternally second place was because she and Alois constantly tied, and he got the tie-breaker due to being a noble and/or a boy, but there was also another one where the staff at Harre is generally female because most boys go off and join the knights because they're "cooler", which results in the bulk of the male employees at Harre being people on a second career). Very enjoyable read for me, and I'm very interested in seeing further volumes.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Next up I want to talk about The Epic Tale of the Reincarnated Prince Herscherik: The Reincarnated Prince and the Kingdom of Woe. I had this one on my radar for a bit because part of the premise was within my areas of interest: The main character, Prince Herscherik Gracis, is the reincarnation of Ryoko Hayakawa, a woman who gets killed in a traffic accident on the day before her 35th birthday.

Now, before I go any further, I want to give a content warning here. This series uses what I understand to be a Japanese idea of "transness". I don't know if the author is intending Ryoko to have parsed as a trans guy, but within the series the author does make a clear delineation between "Ryoko" and "Herscherik", and will swap pronouns for the protagonist in the middle of a sentence depending on which life they are talking about. For example, if Hersch is remembering something that Ryoko had done, the text will say "He recalled a time in his past life where she [blah]". So, to be consistent, I will also do the same in this post.

After getting hit by a car when she was crossing the street in a rush, Ryoko wakes up in the body of a toddler. She is now the 1 year old Prince Herscherik, very confused about what just happened. After some existential confusion, we fast forward to Hersch's third birthday. During a gala event to show him off as an early introduction to high society, a person barges in in order to present evidence of corruption to the king. Unfortunately, it turns out to have been a ploy to ensnare him and have him framed for treason. Feeling that something is off about what happened, Hersch takes a nighttime trip to the cells that this person was locked up in, to try and get his side of the story. To fast forward through the thrust of this part of his life, it turns out that one of the leading ministers has been using the royal family as hostages in order to use the king as a puppet, in order to enrich himself and his cronies. When Hersch confronts his father about this, he is told that his father is too tired of the fighting and the loss, and just wants to protect his family as much as he can. He offers Hersch the ability to leave, to not be a part of this all, as the kingdom circles the drain, but Hersch refuses to accept that nothing can be done.

From this point on, Hersch vows to make use of his skills and knowledge as a former office administrator at a large company to do whatever he can to root out corruption and entrap those who are leading the kingdom to ruin. This starts off with him accelerating his education (which his father happily obliges), followed by sneaking into various national offices within the castle to compare documents, making use of Ryoko's old skills as a feared auditor. It is during these trips that Hersch ends up meeting and befriending a skilled underworld spy named Shadow Fang, who gets renamed to Kuro by Hersch, who ends up helping Hersch get some of the "real world" knowledge he needs in order to make sense of the embezzlement. In order to get more real world knowledge, Hersch also sneaks out of the castle using a route that Kuro discovered and uses, and starts working in town at a fruit stand that he made friends with the owners of. And from there, Hersch keeps slowly learning and building up evidence, and by the end of the first volume manages to ensnare one of the minister's cronies and turns him. But this is only the first step.


So, I had originally come to this series hoping for a trans narrative. And maybe it's just because I don't have the transmasc experience, but I wouldn't really say that I felt it here. That said, the book still managed to hook me nearly instantly. It is, quite simply, an administration thriller, as the main weapon that Hersch has isn't magic or strength, but his knowledge and ability to read, attract, and encourage people. He may be the 7th son, and lacks all of the looks and skills of his brothers and sisters, but he makes up for it in raw leadership charisma. Also he ends the book at 4 years of age, to be clear.

Another thing that the book did that was interesting to me is that towards the end of the book, it becomes more apparent that Hersch has shifted from being "Ryoko reincarnated as a boy" to being "Hersch with the memories of Ryoko's life". I've read a pretty good number of reincarnation isekeis, and the bulk of them can't seem to have the protagonist really shake their old life, even if they reincarnate as a child or into the body of someone who has ostensibly already existed. Let alone that most that have the protagonist get transferred into an already existing body have them basically overwrite whatever personality that had already existed. There's a sense that, despite awakening as a reincarnate at 1 year of age, Hersch has developed a separate personality, distinct from Ryoko. Maybe this is part of the whole transition narrative, though?

And one more thing that really struck me is just how much Ryoko felt like a mirror of my own life. She was a hard working employee who never realized how far her accomplishments actually made it to, constantly fielded questions from people who were not in her section or even specific job range, recovered from her work stress with gaming (mostly otome and more, uh, "adult" titles, and that is a difference from me), had two sisters with the second one being married with two daughters, and to her nieces she was a loved but strict aunt.

In the end, I got hooked on this book quickly, and loved it all the way through. I picked up the second volume right away, and am looking forward to reading it!
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
A few days ago I finished reading the first volume of In The Land Of Leadale. I was interested in it from the blurb, but I also wanted to pick it up as research for my own novel. In any case, it's part of the isekei sub-genre wherein the protagonist ends up in the body of their MMO character. One thing that sets this one apart is that the main character, Keina Kagami, had been a prisoner in her own body for years prior to this, having been paralyzed and left unable to survive away from medical equipment after an accident that also killed her parents. Eventually, she got into the VRMMO World of Leadale as a way to get away from this. Also, since this is futuristic enough for VRMMOs of this caliber, Keina was helped in her ability to play the game by an AI that had been developed by her uncle to support her at the hospital.

As is the norm for this sub-genre, Keina finds herself suddenly waking up in the body of her avatar, Cayna, in an inn room instead of her hospital bed. She soon finds out from Kee, her AI, that there had been a power outage in the hospital, so it's likely that she died in her sleep when the equipment that was necessary to support her failed before the backup generator came online. Also, for some reason, Kee was also transferred over. This does not get explained.

Pretty quickly, Cayna finds out that the world she is now in is set 200 years after the setting of the game itself, and as is typical, a lot of what was commonplace back then has been lost. So even aside from the fact that she is a limit broken max-level character with just about every possible skill that was available in the game (I mean, she had a lot of free time), she would be unusually powerful. As one of the former "Skill Masters", players who had learned over 4000 skills by completing the quests for them, she has a tower in the world that she eventually makes it to in order to try to find out some of what's happened in the meantime. The problem here ends up being that, as far as she is able to tell, of the 13 Skill Masters, she seems to be the only one left in the world, and as such has been tasked with going to the other towers and recharging them so that they can get more information.

Anyway, fastforwarding a bit as well, due to another mechanic that was present in the game, Cayna also has 3 children; two biological and one adopted. Turns out they all have important jobs in the country's government, so Cayna ends up being kind of a big deal even if she has no idea how to handle this. So instead, she just decides to be an adventurer and enjoy her time in the world.


Overall, there's some really interesting stuff this book does, and I really enjoyed it. I also was in kind of a bad mental health state the weekend I was reading it, so the book hit me kind of hard and made me doubt my ability to write entirely, but that's a separate matter. One of the main things in the book is that the "power fantasy" is one of a long-time hospitalized person wanting to be able to move on their own accord. It's not made clear how old Keina is, nor how long she's been in the hospital, but it's inferred that she's late teens and she's been in there for at least her entire teenage life. This ends up making some of the main "tensions" in the book very interesting to me; specifically, how to handle children that are technically older then she is (even if her character is much more like 400~500), and dealing with the leader of a mercenary band that has a thing for her.

Speaking of that relationship, I actually really like how it's written in the book. I feel like it's written more... maturely? Then I normally see, even in ones I've read that are serious about representing an actual romance. There's an appropriate awkwardness, but there's also a closeness that the two of them have that fills scenes between them, even if Cayna is oblivious to his advances. They're a natural fit, and it just feels good to see the two of them interact, even though (especially because?) it's not "traditionally romantic" or sappy.

The bulk of this volume gets spent on Cayna learning how to interact with her children, plus settling into the world she now lives in. I'm looking forward to the next volume, where she starts to expand outwards, travelling to other countries and seeing what has changed..
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
I just finished up the first volume of I'll Never Set Foot In That House Again!, and my first thought is that the title only works for a one-shot.

Setting that aside, I felt that the book was very cozy, but that ends up being tempered by the author choosing some awkward framing that I'm not sure needed to be the case. Maybe she wanted to talk about something specific? In any case, the book follows Chelsea, one of the daughters of a noble family, who has been abused for most of her life. Treated as garbage, worked like a servant but treated worse still then they are, all under the guise of "discipline", she ekes out her life until she gets taken away by the kingdom's magic research department. The reason for this is that, at 12, children get assessed to see what "Skill" they awaken to, and depending on the skill they may need to go to the academy in order to learn to use it. For Chelsea, she awakens to a skill that's never been seen before, so they need to research it to understand how it works. Her sister, one of the chief abusers, awakens to a fairly typical (but high level) elemental magic, so while Chelsea ends up going as a guest of honour, the sister goes as a basic trainee. And from here, the story becomes one about overcoming trauma and discovering life and family.

That said, dealing with some heavy material like that is not without it's risks. The first one is that, as one of these kinds of stories that distills things down to Skills and Statuses (though Stats doesn't ever get brought up, per-say, but is alluded to), the author treats not just physical ailments (malnourishment, lacerations, stunted growth, etc) as status effects, but she also includes mental ailments (specifically psychological trauma, but others related to suffering from long-standing abuse get inferred, such as a point in the middle where Chelsea realizes that she can actually now read and memorize material, unlike before where it always felt like her head was in a fog). There's an understanding I have that to do otherwise might have been outside of her ability to write, let alone drag out the story she wanted to tell, but it also felt a little... cheap? To have mental trauma be wiped away by (an admittingly exceptionally high level) Esuna. But a bit more on that later.

The other part that felt like a needless thing to do was to have the age that Skills manifest be 12, and then having the main love interest be 18. That said, only a handful of people are cognizant about that, and that list does not include these two, but still. It wasn't something that felt like it needed to be the case in order to make this story about helping Chelsea recover from abuse have weight or connections. Even making the bottom age 15 would fit fine.

Moving along, though, the power that Chelsea acquires is very interesting, and I'd like to see where the author wants to take this idea. The Skill she awakens is the ability to create any seed she wishes for, and the seeds she creates are also inherently fast growing. This starts off with recreating seeds that Chelsea is familiar with, then goes on to making seeds that she has only read about, to making seeds that were otherwise extinct, and finally (within this volume) making bio-engineered seeds of a medicinal plant in order to strip away it's poisonous side-effects. I'm interested in seeing how fat this goes, especially since it also gets revealed that the love interest is an isekei'd reincarnate. It'd be neat to see him try to recreate plants from Earth, or ones that only existed in fiction.

Overall, I really just found the book to be a fairly short, but very cozy read. Like, it was something soothing for me. It's just a shame that some of the framework was unnecessarily sketchy. Still, I'm really interested in reading more!
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
The second volume of The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent came out and it's pretty good! Most of the volume revolves around Sei coming to terms and acceptance with the fact that she can't hide being the Saint any longer, and resolves to try to make the most of it. Her efforts are helped along the way by the people in her new life having fairly high status and willing to make concessions. Also are trying to earn her favour, either because she's the Saint or because they love her. Or both.

An example comes early on in the volume. Stuck at an impasse on her research towards not just figuring out why her own potions are so much better, but how she could develop a new formula for the rest of the institute to use, she gets called before the king to once again get offered an apology for how she was treated. At this point, they're pretty certain she's the Saint, but can't prove it because it turns out that the person who they thought could appraise her stats was still too low level to do so. Which is incredible, as he was the highest leveled person up until that point, and basically is the proof they need, even if it's not definitive. In any case, not wanting to rebuff them again, Sei finally just asks for education; as a person from another world, there's a lot about this one that she doesn't know, and should know since she seems to be stuck here now.

She is essentially, then, given free reign to take classes part-time at the royal academy, and ends up basically picking up the actual curriculum. She gets worried that this will intrude upon her work and starts to cut back, but her boss goes "Nah, do it, and come research when you have the time. After all, everyone else who works here has that education, so this will help you by giving you our foundational knowledge on top of your otherworldly one."

Later on in the volume, when Sei thinks she has to start going on expeditions with the knights as they clear out monsters, because she feels that the grand magus (who finally woke up, and is now teaching her magic because he wants to research her) was pushing her in that direction, her boss also waves away her thoughts of needing to quit by letting it be categorized as in-field research.


Probably one of my favourite scenes in the book is one where, while Sei is in the middle of a dance lesson (since she's kind of being pressured into acting like a noble, despite her objections, so she has the etiquette lessons slotted into her part-time schedule), the main love interest from the previous volume shows up to watch, despite supposedly being busy with work. Then he replaces the instructor as a practice buddy. Then he asks to be her escort in the event she gets invited to any social events. And despite all this, Sei thinks he's just a nice guy, but it's weird he does this, and it's weird how hot and flushed she gets around him now.

Another sequence that I really liked is that the series had been kind of setting up the other isekei'd girl as having been acting like an entitled brat, going around building a harem. The kind of attitude that I've seen in a couple of books where the main character wasn't the isekei'd one, but happens to be around them. Well, eventually we get a chapter following her around, and it turns out that it's mainly just a misunderstanding, with the crown prince feeling guilty for having essentially kidnapped her from her life, and is trying to make up for it by... well, full on coddling her? And getting his followers to help him in doing so? And she, having been raised by her parents to be Mommy's Perfect Little Dress-Up Doll, doesn't know any other way to live, and just goes along with it. This results in a communication breakdown between the people around her, causing the misunderstanding. Eventually Sei helps to sort this out, after it comes to a confrontation between the prince and his fiance over the matter, but I liked that twist on the idea.

Another thing that I enjoyed is that during this volume, we learn that the actual Saint's magic is not really known, as it was never really researched or documented. There's some suggestions that it was to make it a national secret, to keep the information from the hands of other countries, but it's left pretty vague. Regardless, we learn that it's pretty much straight up the power of love, and this is why Sei gets so confused during the times she manages to draw upon it in this volume.

(Relatedly, during this volume I had some strong thoughts about wanting to see this kind of shojo story, but centered around a properly ace/aro/demi heroine. If I felt like I had any ability to do so, I'd probably try my hand at it...)

Anyway, the volume ends with Sei accepting that she's gonna have to start travelling around the land to purify places of monster concentration as the Saint, and I feel sad that the book needed to pivot in that direction. Though, saying that, with the story not being a one-shot, I feel like it kind of had to go there eventually. So, I'm interested in seeing what comes up next for our cast.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Phew, it's been a while. Part of that has been me mostly just reading subsequent volumes of stuff I had already commented on, but part of it is being distracted from posting about the new books I have read. I'm not gonna do a big post here, because I think that'll just burn me out, but I do want to talk about the one I just finished reading: Fushi no Kami.

Once I started reading, it was fairly easy to draw parallels between this and Ascension of a Bookworm; Both feature a reincarnated main character who strives to better their life so as to be able to read books. It diverges pretty early on from there, however. While Main's plans always build towards her endgame of reading as many books as she can and thus produces societal improvements almost by accident, Ash's end goal is to return to the easy world of his past life memories, and reading books is both a means to this end while also being part of it.

(And this is probably just something about how my own views and tastes have changed over the years, but the way that Ash manipulates and schemes towards his goal comes across as a lot more sinister and sketchy then when Main does it.)

Another difference is that Main uses her past life memories directly as part of her methods. We know a lot about who she used to be, and she uses that knowledge directly in order to kickstart technological development. Ash, on the other hand, barely ever refers to the memories of his past life, instead seeming to use them mainly as a description of his goal. Instead, he rediscovers what has already been known and passed down in the form of books, but has ended up being "lost knowledge" because the people of the village he lives in are too busy trying to survive day to day to spend time trying to read.

Which brings me to yet another difference: Main is sickly but born in a prosperous city. Her family isn't wealthy, but they can get by. Her main risk for much of the series released to date was whether she would burn herself out first, due to her weakened body. Ash, meanwhile, is an able child born in a destitute and remote village, barely scraping by year to year. His risks were mostly avoidable illnesses, famine, and wild creatures. Due to this, much of the potential industry of this relatively new village (apparently only about 50 years old) has been lost. The knowledge does exist, but it needs to be re-researched out of books.

This does end up feeling like a significantly different kind of story, despite initial impressions. By the end, while the passive aggressive personality Ash has rubbed me the wrong way, I liked how it was much more of a story about directly improving the life condition of the people around him. He even makes it clear that, even though his goal is for him to have a more comfortable and easy life, he knows he can only do so by making everyone's more comfortable and easy. He can't go on that journey alone, it needs to be a group one.

Now, there are some bits that I was not really happy about how it was handled. One in particular is that, of the B plots, one is about the wife of the village chief pushing her daughter, Maika, to woo over Ash. This doesn't get shown to be without Maika's consent, but until the very end of the book it seems a little forced, in a storytelling sense. Like, the first bits we get about Maika directly is her going "I didn't like Ash, but now I maybe not not like him?" followed by her mother capitalizing on this and pushing through her feelings. At the end of the book, though, we get a chapter told from the mom's PoV where she summarizes the events of the volume, and in there we get the missing perspective, where the "I didn't like Ash" was actually cover for her emotions being hurt by him being so depressed in the past.

There's also bits where Ash basically jokes about he and the mom being in a relationship, and just yuck. It's a lot of him misreading the room, but also yuck.

Overall, I enjoyed the volume enough that I'd like to see where it goes from here.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Before I give a writeup of a one-shot LN I read a few days back, I want to have a brief return to I'm In Love With The Villainess. Turns out that this series is only two books long, and the second volume was another mix of lightness and gut punches. And continued to be just this... unexpected anthology of queerness, by adding in two more lesbians that end up vying for Rae's attention, plus a whole arc that is probably supposed to be read as about a trans woman, but due to the magic used in the story it is about a girl who was cursed to be a man at birth, and has been living with the dysphoria all her life. So, uh. I mean, that's kind of a good trans analogue, but still feels a bit on the strange side on the fringes. I felt it was handled really respectfully, though. Then, as a final "Screw you" to the haters, at the end of the story we have a really small scene where one of Rae and her wife's adopted daughters comes home saying that a neighborhood boy was going on about how having two moms was unnatural, and the two of them just drop kick that into space with their love. It was so cute.


Anyway, a few days ago I finished a one-shot romance LN called Past Life Countess, Current Life Otome Game NPC. The title gives the gist, but to expand on it some, the book is about Annerosa Oretgamo, the eldest daughter of a count in what probably would have basically been the typical fantasy setting these kinds of otome reincarnation stories get set in, who hates the noble life and all of the pressures and expectations placed on her, longing instead for the life of a commoner. She gets what she's looking for, and after being poisoned she is reincarnated into a very normal middle-class Japanese family as Urara Tendou. What's strange, though, is that she decides to get a scholarship for the kind of school that is featured in Kaguya-sama, which is populated entirely by the children of the rich and powerful. It's basically a microcosm of the life she left behind, though at least in this case she can fall back on her new commoner roots and not be beholden to the norms.

At least, that's what she thought, until she runs into trouble literally as she is arriving at the school. Turns out, there's another reincarnate in this world. Shizuku Aritomo, daughter of a nouveau-riche family, is herself a reincarnate and knows that this world is the setting of her favourite otome game. Trying to follow the design of the game and raise her affection points with the various male leads, she first tries to get Urara to stay out of her way before dragging her into her schemes.

What ends up being the main conflict of the book is that the game has this sequence of Events called the "Ojousama Challenge", which is very poorly explained and framed, but basically is a challenge between the heroine and Chouko Tsukuyomi, the girl who stands in the center of the 5 romancable boys. A challenge that must be overcome in order to win her favour and finish one of the routes. The challenge consists of 5 actual challenges, one from each boy, and can comprise of... basically whatever the judge for that challenge wants. But really, the point of it all is to have the heroine interact with all of the boys to show that she can "hang" in their friend circle. Shizuku ends up forcing Urara to be her partner/rival/ally for the Challenge, and this ends up being the main drive of the plot.

Overall I was incredibly taken by this book. I had gotten it originally because the basic idea of it being a "reverse" isekai was interesting to me, but once it actually got going I was hooked by the relationships at play. Despite being called an "NPC", the main romance is obviously surrounding Urara, but actually isn't with any of the male leads. In fact, the book falls back on the old rich family trope of "Eccentric family makes their male heir dress and act as a woman until some arbitrary time", meaning that a lot of the tension is between Urara and Chouko. That said, there's some bits about this that I really like. One is that at no point in the book is there a conflict of "But we're both women"; while the actual realization of love doesn't happen until very close to when Urara discovers the truth, there's still a lot of parts before then where she is making statements that are basically love-adjacent, and no one involved ever bats an eye. I appreciated that the possibility of it being yuri wasn't made into a "deal" at all.

Another great bit is that right after Urara finds out the truth (by accident), she is having a conversation with Shizuku and we get this incredible passage:


And one final great bit is that, because everyone involved has a background with upper-class lives, there's so many times where the 1%ers are doing something excessive and wasteful and everyone just kind of goes shrug at most. Urara does complain about not deserving anything this extravagant, but otherwise there's kind of a refreshing lack of friction between class lines, despite that supposedly being one of the themes.

At the end, I found this book to be so emotional for me. I loved the way the story progressed, and the kinds of tensions that were used. And while I would like to read more about these characters, it wraps up the story very nicely. My only actual complaint is that there is a bonus story at the end of the book that covers a little bit of what happened after Annerosa died, and it's actually just needlessly grim and depressing. A terrible end to an otherwise powerful book. Regardless, I highly recommend it.
 

Hilene

Loves "Friendly Girls"
(She/Her)
Well, it's been a while, and I have some other books I have been intending to write about, but for now I want to get some thoughts out of my head about The Apothecary Diaries, volume 1. Set in what either is or is based on Imperial China (the book leaves it intentionally vague, I believe. No one specifically says the country's name, but there are suggestions of "the west" being a different world and culture), the book is mainly about Maomao, a 17 year old apprentice apothecary that gets kidnapped and sold into service at the royal palace.

Not wanting to draw too much attention and to just live out her contract, Maomao keeps her skills hidden and just does the work assigned to her until she is intrigued by the stories surrounding an illness that has stricken two of the royal consorts and their newborn children. She quickly figures out what the cause is and tries to leave a warning for both of them, but it is only heeded by one consort, while the other loses her child and is pushed further into the illness. This results in Maomao getting scouted by Jinshi, the... I guess you could call him the head administrator of the Rear Palace, where the four main consorts are located. He seems to have some further reaching powers than that, but his full authority is left unclear.

In any case, Maomao gets "promoted" from laundry maid to poison tester, and while this seems like a downgrade we start to learn some very interesting things about Maomao: Namely, Maomao has a very experimental take when it comes to being an apothecary, and has spent much of her youth testing poisons and medicines on herself. So despite her trying to claim she is not qualified to be a poison tester, she admits to not only being inured to many poisons, she even has begun to enjoy the taste of them to boot (which results in one of the best scenes in the volume).

So, this promotion is where the book properly begins. Maomao now starts to work as a poison tester and, more importantly to Jinshi, part-time doctor and detective, helping get to the bottom of a number of strange events that are going on in the Rear Palace. And with the very short-story feel of the mysteries in this volume, it gives an impression of being akin to mystery procedurals such as Murder, She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder.

Much of the book revolves around a tension between Maomao and Jinshi, as well, which I think worked really well because both characters are ones who tend to have their faces and emotions clouded, and they talk in riddles past each other. Usually the two of them still manage to understand the other, but the times where they don't lead to the kinds of situations that add to the overall story, that have the moments that connect one mystery to the next.

Overall I really enjoyed the book. The short nature of each mystery, with bits that connect from one to another but remains distinct, makes for what feels like a very dense novel. And considering a lot of what I have read for a while, it was refreshing to have something heavily steeped in another culture. I'm really looking forward to the next volume.
 
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