Spice & Wolf, Vol. 1

By Isuna Hasekura and Jyuu Ayakura. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Paul Starr.

All right, so I’m just a little bit late to the party here. In fact, the party has long since had everyone leave and shut the lights off, and Carol Burnett is walking around me mopping up. But when this series began here in North America, it was in the pre-Yen On days, and I wasn’t as into light novels as I am now, so I never got around to it. Then when I did show interest (particularly after seeing the author at New York Comic Con) it was more a case of “I don’t have the room for 17 volumes on my shelf”. But glory be, the whole series is due to be released digitally over the next few months, and there’s a new book coming out in May as well, so I thought “Why not?” And it’s a good thing I did, as this proved to be a very good first volume.

I knew a bit about the series before I began to read it through internet osmosis – I seem to recall the general talk about it was “come for the nekkid loli wolf girl, stay for the economic theory’. Thankfully, at least in the first volume, the nekkid loli is kept to a minimum, as after her introduction Holo finds clothes and for the most part stays in them. She is indeed a wolf girl, or to be more accurate wolf goddess of the harvest, and her ears and tail and the hiding thereof take up a bit more of the narrative’s time. The majority of the book, though, is about two things: 1) the travails of Holo and Lawrence, the merchant who picked her up at the start, trying to stop a vast economic conspiracy and also make a bit of cash doing so, and b) the banter back and forth between them as they do this. And honestly, economics is fine, but I’d say the dialogue and banter is the real win here.

The series takes place is sort of “generic middle ages X”, but thankfully is more of a genuine fantasy novel rather than all of the RPG-styled worlds we’ve seen in more recent books. I mentioned Lawrence earlier, and he’s our narrator and viewpoint character. He is seemingly rather pleasant and mild-mannered, but there is a deep awkwardness to him as well, with the odd hint of a tragic past. It’s rather cruel that the one man he looks forward to meeting at the start of the book turns out to be one of the main villains towards the end. You get the sense that Lawrence and Holo are made for each other, and there certainly seems to be a bit of ‘will they or won’t they?’ through the book. Despite being called a loli, Holo acts and speaks like you’d expect someone hundreds of years old to, and honestly looks to be about 15-16 on the cover, which for anime and manga is pretty much ‘go for it’ age.

Basically, “come for the economics, stay for the playful sarcastic banter” is my tag for this series. I look forward to catching up.

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