The Princess’ Smile: The Body-Double Bride Searches for Happiness with the Reclusive Prince

By Yuuri Seo and m/g. Released in Japan as “Hidenka no Bishou – Migawari Hanayome wa, Hikikomori Denka to Shiawase ni Kurashitai” by M Novels f. Released in North America by Cross Infinite World. Translated by Jenny Murphy.

I’ve said before that I don’t mind cliches, or books which start with the same things happening, but I will admit that I have my limits, and The Princess’ Smile was pushing them as we got about 3/5 of the way through the book. The main issue is that every major plot point plays out in the most predictable way possible. The actual princess turns out to be a terrible person, check. Schlub of an ex-boyfriend who doesn’t speak up, check. New husband is reclusive, truculent, and clearly hiding a secret, check. The secret is immediately obvious to the reader because we looked at the cover art, check. It can be a bit frustrating. Fortunately, once our heroine is nearly poisoned, things really start to pick up, and the last part of the book – with one exception – is a lot of fun to read. But getting there is a bit of a hike.

Sara is a servant for Princess Hermine, having been taken in after the death of her parents in a carriage accident. The two of them look very similar – you could almost get them confused! Then one day the King explains that Sara is going to swap places with the Princess and go get married to a prince from another country… one that recently won a war between the two nations. Sara is a bit upset about this. Then she discovers that Princess Hermine has already met her boyfriend and slept with her boyfriend. Several times. That, plus the fact that you can’t really refuse the king, means Sara is off to nearby Ferrier, there to meet her new husband. Sadly, her new husband wants nothing to do with her. And also has a dark secret.

…which is that he’s a werewolf. Sorry, but.. LOOK AT THE COVER! So it’s in that genre of books. That said, he softens up into a shy but nice young man pretty quickly, and Sara is a good protagonist. Seeing the two of them slowly grow closer if nice, even if it does not tick any boxes that have not been ticked before. Then once the rest of the plot kicks in things get better. I was pleased to see a Queen Mother who turned out not to be secretly evil, and the scenes showing the final battle with Salielles, Sara’s home country, do not hold back in showing the bloody violence of war. That said… while “selfish princess” is a well-worm trope, at the very end of the book Princess Hermine leaps off a cliff and straight into “unrealistically deranged princess”. Sara’s jaw drops and so did mine. It was so bad my suspension of disbelief was utterly broken.

That said, overall this wasn’t too bad. If you enjoy werewolf romance or women who resolve to take their life into their own hands after spending most of it being manipulated, you may appreciate this. It’s also complete in one volume.

Private Tutor to the Duke’s Daughter: Saving the Kingdom Over Summer Break with Ladies of Ice and Fire

By Riku Nanano and cura. Released in Japan as “Koujo Denka no Kateikyoushi” by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by William Varteresian.

I appreciate that the author, in the afterword to this volume, acknowledges the main issue with this as a modern “harem” genre series, which is that Lydia is such an obvious winner that it’s irrelevant to read about the others. The only other one with any chance at all is Tina, and that’s because she’s in the title. That said, I don’t think that “write Lydia out of the story for a while” is really going to help much, mostly as I’m pretty sure Lydia is simply not going to ALLOW herself to be written out for any length of time. This volume does wrap up one plotline while continuing another, and it’s looking very likely that impending civil war might be a good reason to stop having cute harem antics… or it would if this series didn’t run on harem antics half the time. You need to balance your cool battles and attempted murders with headpats and snuggles, after all.

Exams are finished, and the girls have finished terrorizing their teachers with their raw power. Tina and Lynne are the top scorers, but Ellie wins Allen’s challenge as she improved the most. Now everyone is off to Allen’s home, where he has to finally confess to his parents that he failed his Court Sorcerer exam. Now, given that he only failed because the examiner insulted his parents, I think they understand. His parents are exactly as you’d expect. Lydia not so much, as she spends much of this book in “prim and proper” mode, to the horror of everyone else but Allen. Unfortunately, capturing that rogue Prince has not gone as well as hoped. Worse, they’ve finally finished decoding the book Allen gave them, and it’s clear there’s multiple great spells involved. A big fight is needed.

The main draw and also main flaw of this series is that most of the really amazing stuff I want to read about happened already, and we only hear about it tangentially. Allen and Lydia’s school days, whatever tragedy befell them in Allen’s hometown, etc… these are dangled in front of us and then whisked away, to be replaced with scenes of who gets to be the one to sit next to Allen at the table that meal. The harem is somewhat unbalanced, as noted above, but not just because Lydia is so obvious. The other girls simply act far too young to really be thought of as competitors. They’re all little sisters, not romantic partners. This does make things awkward in the final battle, as it’s one of those series where a kiss-powerup is sometimes needed, and Allen gets one from both Tina and Lydia. Tina’s is very “I’m sorry about this”, Lydia is the aggressor, and loves it. Also, it’s nice to see Allen struggle in a battle and get seriously injured. He’s seemed a bit too impervious lately.

So, the next book promises no Lydia. And apparently no Tina, Ellie, or Lynne as well. That leaves the actual little sister, so I’m not sure how much hareming we will get – I expect more of the “the kingdom is in danger” plotline. Till then, still enjoying this harem fantasy series, despite its awkward harem.

Arifureta Zero, Vol. 6

By Ryo Shirakome and Takaya-ki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou Rei” by Overlap Bunko. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.

My biggest fear with this 422-page final volume was that it would be one long fight scene, and thankfully that is not the case, though the first third of the book is one long fight scene. My second fear was that it would be unrelentingly grim, and while it is grim, with lots and lots of deaths of people we care about, it’s not unrelenting, and there are moments of silliness and humor in the middle of the book. Heck, even some of the main characters survive, because I’d forgotten the main series talks about their descendants. But for the most part this book is “Miledi tries her hardest but fails”, as we knew it would be – it’s a prequel, after all. It also helps to set up the final volume of the main series, coming soon I hope, which will likely feature her showing up to save the day. At least I hope she does, because the day is certainly not saved here.

The first chunk of the book, as I said, is one big fight, and goes fairly well for our heroes right up until the very end, when they’re forced to retreat. They then take the time to try and gather a few more allies – the dragons are now ready to help them, and even the vampires are willing to pitch in… that is, after we discover their long-lost royal daughter (who is closer than you’d think) and resolve the issue of the missing heir to the throne. We also discover that you can access the most powerful magic ever if you get really, really drunk. Unfortunately, Ehit has finally had enough, and decides to force the hand of Miledi by brainwashing everyone who is not a Liberator to kill all their allies. This takes up most of the rest of the book.

As always with Arifureta, this book had a lot of things I enjoyed and some things I could really do without. The main issue with the last third of the book is that this cast is simply too damn large, especially with the books coming out every year or so, and it’s hard to get sad when a character who you can’t really remember well dies. I needed a guide at the start. Also, Naiz marrying one of his emotional support 8-year-olds once she came of age is not something I wanted at all. On the bright side, Miledi and Oscar are handled perfectly, and her execution and subsequent golemification are also done well. There’s even some good horror here, as one of the few bad guys who’s likeable has her soul destroyed so that the big bad can take over her body.

So yeah, not everyone dies, but the majority of the cast die, and Ehit still rules. It’s gonna be up to Hajime and company to fix things. In the meantime, this was a fun yet annoying prequel, just like its heroine.