The Faraway Paladin: The Boy in the City of the Dead

By Kanata Yanagino and Kususaga Rin. Released in Japan as “Saihate no Paladin” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by James Rushton.

So far J-Novel Club has about five or six titles going, and most of them are light novels that have one thing in common: they have that ‘light novel’ feel to them. There’s the obvious ones, like titles that are far too long, and Big Sisters and Little Sisters galore, but even the odder choices like Grimgar or Occultic;Nine still feel like a Japanese anime/manga franchise. The Faraway Paladin is an exception to this rule. It is technically a light novel, in that it was published in Japan and has intermittent illustrations, but there the similarities end. Instead, what The Faraway Paladin does is give you a dark fantasy, a coming-of-age story, an epic battle to save the souls of your adopted family, and easily the best book they’ve released to date.

I take that back, there is one other common Japanese light novel trope: our hero, Will, is actually a reincarnation of a Japanese boy, a loser shut-in who seemingly never tried to achieve anything, never mourned the death of his parents, and died alone and unfulfilled. Now he’s reincarnated as a baby… but with his old memories. That said, except for one point towards the end of the book, this is pretty irrelevant. It’s there to allow him to narrate the story from infancy without worrying about tone, and to show off why he has such heroic resolve to grow and learn as fast as possible: he regrets his old life, and wants to do better. Helping him are the three who are raising him: a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost. They teach him magic, teach him fighting, teach him basic daily life skills, and turn him into a strapping young lad ready to set out into the world. Then their past catches up…

I’ll be honest, I was expecting ‘raise the boy to be a warrior’ to take up maybe the first quarter of this book, but no, the entire first volume is devoted to his upbringing. This is a good thing, as it lets the plot breathe, and gives you time to get to know each of these characters. The cast is deliberately small, and each person gets a good amount of development, angst, and overcoming said angst. In the second half, things get a lot more action packed, as well as darker in tone, and the pace picks up in an appropriate way. The resolution is somewhat telegraphed, but not in a way that makes it predictable, more in an “ah, I knew it!” sort of way. Most of all, the book is simply well-written, and everyone is likeable and fun to read about. Even the ghost, who can be a grumpy old cuss. (Terrific translation, as well – probably the best of the company’s to date.)

Basically, this is a good novel to give to people who don’t like all the tropes associated with light novels – they’re absent here. And it’s simply a good fantasy in general. (You can tell I really like it as I’m holding myself back from giving everything away in the review.) Highly recommended, and I look forward to seeing the direction the series takes.

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