The Engagement of Marielle Clarac

By Haruka Momo and Maro. Released in Japan as “Marielle Clarac no Konyaku” by Ichijinsha Bunko Iris NEO. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Philip Reuben.

As we’re getting a bunch of new ‘light novels for young women’ in a row lately, it makes sense that some of them tend to fall along the same lines, particularly given they’re mostly in the ‘romance novel’ template. So I expect those who are keeping up with J-Novel Club’s releases of these series will feel a certain familiarity when they see a book-loving eccentric noble whose intelligence is vastly underrated dealing with her engagement with a noble from a much more prestigious family. Fortunately, this book and Bibliophile Princess don’t share much more similarity than that. Marielle feels more like a Jane Austen heroine: savvy, intelligent, always observing, and content to stay out of the limelight. Unfortunately, like most protagonists of this sort, she has one big blind spot, which is her own self and her love life. And she has one big flaw: she’s a fangirl who can’t stop thinking about her beloved and his friends in trope-like situations and outfits. Oh yes, and she secretly writes bestselling romance novels.

This relatively large book is divided into two sections. The first deals with Marielle getting engaged to Simeon, the heir to an earldom and friend to the Crown Prince. From her perspective, it’s rather baffling, and she assumes it’s been arranged by her family somehow, but she goes along with it mainly because Simeon, while handsome, has a rather severe face and wears glasses – in other words, she loves his type rather than him. That said, it turns out that he’s observed her far longer, and knows far more about her true self, than she is aware. The second, longer chunk of the book is essentially a mystery novel, as Simeon and Marielle go to an estate to help the young heir to an earldom (a different earldom) who is being attacked by hostile relatives. Oh yes, and the Mysterious Thief Lutin is also around, stealing from nobles. Will they run into him? And will Simeon hold that riding crop that Marielle loves so much?

For the most part I greatly enjoyed this book, so let’s start with a few flaws. The identity of the villain is glaringly obvious, though I suspect the reader is supposed to know who it is as well. For a mystery, there isn’t much guessing. Also, both Marielle and the author of the Marielle Clarac series like BL fantasizing to a certain point, but prefer straight romances and reassure their partner/readers that there’s no actual BL here, which can be annoying. That said, for the most part the book is excellent. Marielle is a delight, being both very smart and observant while also at times being a shockingly naive 18-year-old. Simeon is exasperated by her but also brings it on himself a bit by being unable to confess his true feelings to her (Marielle doesn’t realize her own feelings till late in the book, so she has an excuse.) There’s a subplot with Marielle befriending some sex workers which does not denigrate the profession at all, and they turn out to be her closest allies. And while the mystery is easy to solve, as a thriller it works fine, with some great set pieces near the end, including a mutual confession, which is good, as I did not want “do they really love me?” to be an ongoing plot point.

This is an ongoing series, but the volumes each have a different title a la Haruhi Suzumiya. If you like romance novels with a 19th century feel to them, I would absolutely give it a try.

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