My Happy Marriage, Vol. 1

By Akumi Agitogi and Tsukiho Tsukioka. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon” by Fujimi L Bunko. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by Kiki Piatkowska.

Brief content warning: this book features an abusive family, and unlike other light novels we’ve seen to date in this genre, they do not vanish after the first 20 pages. The marriage, though, is not abusive.

It’s rare that a book affects me so much that I think to myself that I may have to drop another, similar series for being thoroughly inadequate, but that’s sort of how I feel. After reading the first volume of My Happy Marriage, I suspect any time I try to get back into I’ll Never Set Foot in That House Again!, a book with a very similar premise, I will come away thinking it shallow and boorish. Because My Happy Marriage is wonderfully written but also amazingly painful, the story of a woman who has spent most of her life being thoroughly abused by her family suddenly finding herself in a marriage that turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to her… and feeling that she doesn’t deserve any of it. Miyo’s pain and suffering suffuses this first volume.

Seemingly set in a Meiji-period Japan where some families have superpowers, this is the story of Miyo Saimori. Hers is a Cinderella story, but that also means it starts out the way Cinderella’s does as well – after her mother dies and her father remarries, she’s despised by her stepmother, and her younger sister is raised to hate her as well, particularly as she seemingly has no powers of her own. She has a maid on her side… till the maid is fired. She has a childhood friend who has a crush on her… but he’s too cowardly to do anything. She’s reduced to worse than a servant. So when she’s suddenly told she’ll be engaged to the powerful Kiyoka Kudou, she doesn’t know what to think. He’s been looking for a bride for some time, and has rejected all of them. Will Miyo be what he really needs? And can he possibly help her out of the deep pit of self-loathing and despair that is her life?

This book is very compelling but also very hard to read, as you are drenched in Miyo’s POV, and she is an abused woman. Despite being taken to Kiyoko’s house near the start of the book, we continue to focus on her family, who are losing power and influence and desperate to get it back. Fortunately, once she gets to Kiyoko’s house, she does start to have some allies. Kiyoko is, as his reputation says, cold and dismissive at first, but that’s mostly because he’s had a succession of women after his position and power. In fact, once he opens up to Miyo he becomes quite the loving fiancee. His elderly maid is also wonderful, and the first person that Miyo really opens up to. As for her supposed lack of power… it’s heavily implied in this book that she does indeed have strong powers, and that they just awaken late (something her mother was trying to get across to her father before she died). I suspect future books will go into this.

I also hope that future books will better try to match the title of the series. I want to read more of My Happy Marriage, but that’s mostly as I really want to see the happy part. This was good setup, and very much needed to get a good look into Miyo’s psyche, but it’s not what I would call a “light” novel. (Actually, given there are no internal illustrations, it probably should be classified as a light novel at all.)

I’d Rather Have a Cat Than a Harem! Reincarnated into the World of an Otome Game as a Cat Loving Villainess, Vol. 1

By Kosuzu Kobato and Hinano Chano. Released in Japan as “Sonna Koto yori, Neko ga Kaitai ~ Otome Game no Sekai ni Tensei Shimashita ~” on the Shousetsuka ni Narou website. Released in North America by Cross Infinite World. Translated by Jenny Murphy.

As always, the first question you should be asking yourself is “what makes this different from every other villainess book?”. In this case, there are multiple answers. The first is that it is not just our nameless Japanese heroine who dies and reincarnates as the villainess, her entire family also died and has reincarnated as her villainess family! They all gained their memories when they were ten years old, so Amy has a built-in loving support structure. Secondly, she and her mother both agree that they want her to avoid the fate of the otome game, and decide to do this by… fattening her up, so that she’s too pudgy to be a bride. Before you ask, yes, this is handled quite positively, and ends up having huge benefits to her healing magic powers. Third, and most importantly, she loves animals, and they love her. Especially big, big cats. I mean, it is the title of the book.

One more difference from other villainess books: Amy is rather shy and retiring, and the idea of getting engaged at the age of ten would likely fill her with horror even if she was not trying to avoid a Bad End. Unfortunately for her, the fact that she’s not trying to gain favor with the third prince and instead wants to gush about animals is what makes her attractive to him. It also helps that she manages to save his wounded pet owl with her magic. As the book goes on, we start to see that, while Amy may be content to hang around her family and play with her cat all day, the world has bigger plans for her. She’s discovered four of the six ‘capture targets’, and they’ve insinuated themselves into her life. And there’s a girl walking around who looks exactly like Maria Campbell, and we know what THAT means. Can Amy still avoid her doom?

As I said earlier, I was a bit wary when I heard part of the plot is “let’s make you chubby so no one will want to marry you”, but in context it’s treated really well. Amy is super healthy and active, climbing trees and roaming the land with her giant cat, so even keeping the weight on her at all is a challenge. What’s more, and the reader realizes this even if no one else does, gaining weight is clearly what leads to her having much stronger magical power than anyone else her age… or even above her age. Amy feeling bad that she can only heal a 2-inch cut on someone’s face, and everyone else reacting “You healed a wound from a monster and didn’t even leave a scar?!?!” is fun. There’s also a character introduced towards the end, Letizia, who is a delightful cliche of a tsundere, in all the best ways. I definitely hope we see more of her.

Honestly, this feels more like a slow life book than a villainess book, especially as we’ve only seen glimpses of the heroine. But it was a lot of fun, and had enough interesting variations to make me recommend you add it to your 70-foot-high pile of villainess books.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Vol. 7.5

By Keishi Ayasato and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan as “Isekai Goumon Hime” by MF Bunko J. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

I suspect a lot of people looked at the decimal point in the next volume of Torture Princess and went “Really? NOW is when you decide to release a short story volume?”. After all, we JUST began not only a new story arc, but a story arc that is missing three of the four main cast members, and was promising even more horrible things happening to both deserving and undeserving people, and also possibly snarks and boojums. But also, honestly, this volume is a bit of a relief. The last book was excellent but emotionally exhausting, and I wasn’t quite sure whether I was ready to dive right into more torture games. This is not to say that all the stories in this book are fluffy fun. Come on. It’s Torture Princess. The content warnings are baked in. But compared to the rest of the series? Yeah, this is fluffy fun. Ah, yes, and one more thing: don’t read this out of order – the other stories may all come at the beginning of the series, but the last one is a prelude to Vol. 8.

The volume has four “main” short stories, interspersed with two smaller ones split up. We see Kaito, still struggling to be Elizabeth’s manservant, being haunted by a half-flayed ghost; Elizabeth being invited to a grotesque banquet by a bunch of folks who love her for all the wrong reasons; Kaito and Elizabeth realizing that Hina is missing, and searching the entire castle to try to find her; and the last story, which I will get to in a bit. Each one of those has a “front” and “back” side, showing first one POV and then the same events from another POV – while this can be annoying when you’re reading the same dialogue twice at times, that is kept mostly to a minimum. We also get several first-person monologues from the Saint, and a series of short interludes showing us Alice and her “father” are still deeply screwed up. But hey, bunny!

The final story shows us a celebration dinner for Elizabeth’s third anniversary as Captain of the Peace Brigade. Kaito and Hina are back at the castle whipping up a grand feast, inviting all their friends, and flirting shamelessly. The reader is, of course, aware that this is a giant pile of bullshit, as is Elizabeth, but she goes along with it as long as possible, and we get a few scenes that we are likely never going to get near ever again. What makes this so interesting is that some of the narrative critiques the fact that events are still proceeding as they are – in other words, it’s yelling at the author, in-universe, for not stopping Torture Princess with Book 6. I mean, I did that too! But in a review, not in a Torture Princess story. It’s fascinating and layered, and in the end I think the author does actually justify going forward. Which is good, because in reality Kaito and Hina are still locked in their Cage of Stasis, and Elizabeth has to fight a war.

This is not really a skippable short story collection – the end literally leads straight into Book 8 – but that’s OK, as it’s worth reading even if you do normally skip them. A strong stomach is needed as always, but it’s another winner from this author who writes horribly gratuitous gore much better than the author of Roll Over and Die.