By Ayuko, from the light novels by Mizue Tani. Released in Japan as “Hakushaku to Yousei” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine The Margaret. Released in North America by Viz.
Generally I try to give most Volume 1s a big review here, rather than pouring them into the ‘quick paragraph’ reviews I do with my colleagues for Bookshelf Briefs. That said, some Vol. 1s give me more to talk about than others. Let’s see what I can get out of The Earl & the Fairy, Viz’s new romantic fantasy shoujo?
The thing that struck me most while reading this first volume was how surprised I was that the author was Japanese. This reads like one of the Harlequin manga adaptations we see so much of on JManga these days. Pretty, spunky heroine abducted by handsome guy, rescued by another handsome guy, both linked by tragic, dark secrets… and fairies. OK, I admit, the fairies would probably be vampires if this were a genuine Harlequin adaptation. But still, there’s very much a sense of ‘romance novel’ in this series, as even the names are Western (which is a given, since it takes place in England.) This actually works quite well, giving it some variety that’s a long way from ‘girl in high school is trying to win over the boy she likes’ that tends to pigeonhole so much shoujo.
That said, while I’m not sure I’d go so far as my colleagues in calling it ‘a bit of a mess’, I do agree that the plot and characterization can be fairly unfocused at times. There’s a lot to lay out here involving Lydia, her family and her strange abilities, who Edgar is and his own past, the twin servants he has, who Huxley is and what his part in all this is, and still find enough time to have the heroine start to fall for the hero. Not to mention her magical animal familiar. (Oh please don’t let her power up into a magical girl, I beg you.) The pace is fast – some might say breakneck – but we haven’t really had time to breathe, and I sense that this volume will be best appreciated after the other three are out.
The author has done her research, though. There’s some interesting fairy lore here, and I liked the fact that the heroine considers her red-haired, green-eyed looks to be plain and unattractive – it’s the mid 19th century, when that type isn’t in style the way it is today. She manages to walk a fine line through the volume, being a damsel in distress much of the time, but manages to try to be independent anyway, and I like her banter with Edgar.
This manga is not really going to be much of a surprise to anyone who’s read Barbara Cartland or Amanda Quick. That said, it is somewhat of a change of pace for shoujo manga we’ve seen here (at least aside from the Harlequin adaptations of Western romances), and promises some intrigue in future volumes. I do worry that the twins will turn out to be evil, because that’s what tends to happen in these sorts of things. Still, a decent first book, and recommended for those who kept waiting for Edgar to be more of a pirate.