The Beloved of Marielle Clarac

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

I enjoyed the first Marielle Clarac series while noting a couple of flaws, and I’m pleased to say that this second book at least does a good job fixing one of them. (The “BL tease but no more” aspect is, I fear, not going away anytime soon.) But the mystery/thriller aspect of the book works even better than the first, keeping us guessing as to the motivations of the antagonist (who is not really a villain) and switching immediately to the thriller aspect the moment things are revealed. There’s also a good helping of elements of the first book I greatly enjoyed: Marielle and her tendency to see everything in terms of romantic ‘shipping’ tropes, who gets to simultaneously be very clever and good at reading people and also capable of the most shockingly dumb moves when trying to chase after a lead. She’s not quite an amateur detective, but it’s on the verge of that genre. And the relationship between her and her fiancee Simeon is fantastic.

It’s wintertime, so all the garden parties are inside. More importantly, the Crown Prince (Simeon’s best friend) is being forced to step up his attempts to find a bride now that Simeon and Marielle are engaged. Marielle recommends, in possibly the best scene in the book, the girl who had been bullying her in the past, because she’s clearly not concealing any hidden side and would stop doing it if her husband demanded it. The prince, however, falls for Michelle, a shy and withdrawn young woman who would rather be anywhere but at this party but who reluctantly opens up to the prince anyway. The Prince invites Simeon and Marielle to Michelle’s estate to basically be on his side, and they discover that the family seems to treat her with contempt, or at least treats her as a pawn rather than a daughter. What secrets does Michelle hold? And why is Lutin here and pretending (IS he pretending) to be an Earl?

Marielle and Simeon may have admitted their love to each other in the last book, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not still filled with doubts and misgivings. Marielle has a tendency to describe herself as plain and dull so often that it would come across as self-loathing if she weren’t so confident – it’s practicality turned inward and twisted, and I’m glad Simeon tries to get her to see that she can in fact be attractive. Marielle also has a tendency to get herself into trouble, and while I doubt that’s going away she does at least understand how much it’s panicki8ng him when she does this. The last third of the book has a number of excellent chase scenes, and shows that the author is just as good at action as they are at mystery and romance. As for Michelle’s secret, it’s relatively obvious (Marielle guesses it), but also not quite as obvious (Marielle is stunned), and is handled slightly better than I expected.

It’s suggested that the wedding might be in the next book, though given the subtitle for the third volume is The Temptation of Marielle Clarac that may not happen. But I’m definitely going to be reading more in any case. These are a fun addition to the J-Novel Heart line, and will interest any romance readers, even those not interested in Japanese light novels.

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