Raven of the Inner Palace, Vol. 5

By Kouko Shirakawa and Ayuko. Released in Japan as “Kōkyū no Karasu” by Shueisha Orange Bunko. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Amelia Mason.

This series, while telling the story of Jusetsu and her attempts to broaden her world, find out more about the Raven Consort in general, and escape, began as an anthology series to a large degree, which each chapter featuring a ghost story of the week for her to solve. That still happens at the start of the fifth book, with a court lady whose makeup box is upsetting people in the living quarters by being haunted by a ghost. But as this book goes on we realize that we’re past the halfway point of the series, and we can’t really focus that much on Jusetsu solving ghost crimes anymore. Or rather, the ghost crimes she’s solving are ones that affect her specifically. Because we’re getting to the bottom of what the Raven Consort position really is, and what happens to those who have been Raven Consorts, and let me tell you, it might be scarier than most of the stories we’ve read in this series to date.

Jusetsu is not the only one trying to figure out how to break the barrier stopping her from leaving and free the raven, the Emperor is as well. This is despite the fact that he (consciously) and Jusetsu (unconsciously) are in love with each other, and leaving the palace will mean never being able to return. The Emperor, towards that end, has now buckled down to the position of siring an heir – two of the consorts are now pregnant. He’s even inviting back old retainers who had previously been exiled for being on the wrong side of past conflicts, mostly as he finds it a lot more preferable to have any seeds of rebellion close to him rather than far away where he can’t do much. Meanwhile, Jusetsu gets the shamans needed to help her destroy the barrier, and even knows where she should probably go, thanks to several old folk tales about an underwater volcano. Unfortunately, that pesky God is still around…

Jusetsu was told, at the start of this series, that she had to be alone, not take retainers or bodyguards, and hold herself aloof. This from the previous Raven Consort. She has not remotely done that, and for the most part the consequences have been pretty good – close friendships, respect, people who like spending time with her. Unfortunately, we’re now seeing the pendulum swing the other way. Solving the problem of the makeup box, for example, even though it saved a life, just makes people think that she was the cause of the accident. And I suspect the cliffhanger at the climax of this volume is going to make leaving the palace more of a “fleeing for her life” sort of deal. That said, anything’s better than suffering the fate of all the Raven Consorts before her, whose souls are frozen in a sort of massive grudge to prevent exactly what Jusetsu has been doing. It’s a bit scary.

There are, I believe, two more volumes in the series, and I suspect we’re not going to have too many “let’s solve a mystery” chapters anymore. Where we will go remains intriguing.

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