Friday, October 11, 2013

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 hasa 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 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 . 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. 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 . 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 .
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