The Drab Princess, the Black Cat, and the Satisfying Break-Up, Vol. 1

By Rino Mayumi and Machi. Released in Japan as “Jimihime to Kuroneko no, Enman na Konyaku Haki” by M Novels F. Released in North America by Cross Infinite World. Translated by Evie Lund.

First off, this isn’t a villainess novel, and no one has any memories from Japan. That said, there is a certain sub-genre of villainess novels we’ve started to see more of recently, which is the “noblewoman breaks up with her fiance” genre. These are often a part of the villainess genre, usually with a big public break-up and possible exile/ruination in the offing, but not always. And this particular book looks as if it’s going to head in that direction. Our heroine, who the title has already conditioned us to believe is the mousy, plain one, overhears a group of teenage boys, including her fiance the prince, praising her pretty younger sister to the skies while disparaging her. We know what’s happening here. What a bastard. He doesn’t deserve someone as good as the heroine. And while that may be true… is that really what she overheard? Or did she overhear a bunch of teens who have no idea how to say they like someone?

Seren is the older sibling and has spent most of her life preparing to be the Queen, engaged to Crown Prince Helios. Sadly, she’s now heard how he really feels about her (or so she thinks). Devastated, she runs off to cry, and is discovered by the court mage Viol, who has long black hair and is gorgeous but has a reputation for being aloof and unfriendly. That’s why it’s a problem when she sees him grinning at a cupcake he’s about to eat. She ends up blackmailing him into finding her a magic teacher something she has a talent for. If she’s a court mage, she can break up with Helios, he can marry Marietta, her younger sister, and everyone will be happy. As for Viol, he decides to teach her himself, by turning into his “familiar”, a black cat. Except… she’s not just good at magic, she’s a prodigy!

So many books in this genre have a narrative trick where you see the heroine narrating something, and the next chapter is the same thing narrated by the love interest. This does that as well, though Seren and Viol alternate POV. In between those, though, we see POV of some other characters which explains things and gives them depth. Helios turns out to be an earnest young man who had never really understood what his fiance was like until recently, and he’s head over heels for her. His friends, including the son of the prime minister, ALSO love her. The fact that all that “Oh, Marietta is so great” at the start was all of them trying to push her onto another one of the boys so they could have Seren to themselves is hilarious and also really sad. Even Marietta, who seems at first to be the stock selfish and jealous younger sister, fares well here – she *is* jealous, and does want Helios for herself, but it stems from a love for her sister and a desire not to see the two of them, who have similar personalities, work themselves to death.

The book is not perfect. Seren’s low opinion of herself may be textually justified, but that does not make it less irritating to read, as she gives herself no credit at all for nearly 300 pages. The other problem is that this is Volume 1, and we’re just setting everything up. We haven’t even had the break-up – she’s said she will, but hasn’t done it (and good thing too, as the King and Queen love her and have planned everything out 4expecting her to be royalty). So the narrative car crash I expected didn’t happen. Still, I enjoyed this well enough to get another volume.

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