BLADE & BASTARD: Warm ash, Dusky dungeon, Vol. 1

By Kumo Kagyu and so-bin. Released in Japan as “Blade & Bastard: Hai wa Atatakaku, Meikyū wa Honogurai” by Dre Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sean McCann.

One of the highlights of J-Novel Club’s appearance at Anime NYC this year was the announcement of a partnership with Drecom, a video game company that has recently been expanding into other media markets. There are several novels they could have chosen to start off this new partnership, and I for one was hoping for “I’m a Pharmacist Witch and a Part-Time Divorce Attorney”, but I can see why they chose to go with BLADE & BASTARD. First of all, it hadn’t come out in Japan yet – this book got a release in North America on the same date it came out in Japan. Secondly, it has a strong pedigree: the author is better known for Goblin Slayer, and the artist for Overlord. And the novels themselves take place in the world of Wizardry, the popular RPG series. With all that said, how does it hold up as a light novel if you don’t game and don’t really care for Goblin Slayer *or* Overlord? You’ve come to the right person to ask.

A town named Scale has a massive and dangerous dungeon. It’s filled with monsters and treasure, both of which also bring easy death. Our supposed protagonist is Iarumas, a highly competent but loathed man who wanders the dungeons collecting corpses, taking their stuff, and bringing them back to be revived by temple nun Aine. He has no memory of his past, and tries to go deeper and deeper in order to reconnect to it. Over the course of the book, he’s joined by Garbage, a feral girl who speaks only in barks and woofs but is excellent with a sword, and Raraja, a young put-upon thief who is probably the ACTUAL protagonist here. They explore the dungeon, trying to gain experience and also see what’s actually going on with Garbage, who – like Iarumas – has an obscure but important past.

If you’re looking for dark fantasy, this is a solid choice, as you’d expect from this author. The first volume also has 100% less sexual assault and fanservice than Goblin Slayer, which I count as another big plus. Iarumas is a bit too much of a brooding cipher for me to really latch on to, but Raraja’s journey from starving and easily tricked young boy to a solid adventurer in his own right is one of the two highlights of the book. The other highlight is Aine, a nun who uses religion to justify a mercenary streak and really, really loves swords and killing things with swords. (The narrative chooses to tell us – over and over again, it’s weird – that elves like Aine have normal human lifespans in this world.) The problematic part of the book is Garbage, who acts throughout like a dog – her only dialogue is barking, whining, and howling. The bit of backstory we get of her helps explain this a bit, but it’s near the end of the book, and you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s there for a bizarre kind of reader fetish before this. Perhaps future books will help her grow more human.

So yes, despite the constant death, this is less grim than I’d expected, and has a lively cast. A must-read for fans of the author, and not bad for fans of dark game tie-in fantasy.

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