The Condemned Villainess Goes Back in Time and Aims to Become the Ultimate Villain, Vol. 1

By Bakufu Narayama and Ebisushi. Released in Japan as “Danzaisareta Akuyaku Reijō wa, Gyakkō-shite Kanpekina Akujo o Mezasu” by TO Books. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Alyssa Niioka. Adapted by Vida Cruz-Borja.

As I was reading this volume, I thought about the simple fact that there are too many villainess books at the moment. It’s inevitable, of course, just as there are too many isekai books (though that’s slowing down a bit), and that we briefly had too many high school romance books before that bubble quickly burst. And so I start to drill this new series down into subcategories. There’s no Japan or otome games involved, which is nice. Aside from the time travel, there’s no magic here. It’s one of those “person goes back in time” series like Tearmoon Empire, though this series is far more serious than Tearmoon. As expected, “becoming the ultimate villain” mostly involves things like trying to be a good person and avoid making the same mistakes, rather than “getting revenge” or anything. And, unfortunately, its biggest weakness is one that many other villainess books possess: there’s a “heroine” as well, and in order to balance against our clever villainess, the heroine is an amazingly annoying dipshit. Anti-Maria Campbell Syndrome.

Unlike a lot of other villainesses in this genre, Claudia Lindsey really was an annoying, petty villainess who tried to sabotage her half-sister Fermina, and is somewhat poleaxed to find that everyone hates her and she is not only not engaged to the Prince, but she’s being sent to a nunnery. Things do not improve when, on the way to the nunnery, her carriage is beset by bandits and she’s kidnapped and sold into a brothel. She spends the next few years there. maturing and realizing how shallow and selfish she had been. She also becomes a top-notch sex worker. Unfortunately, her one main ally dies from disease, and a couple of years later Claudia also passes away… and wakes up ten years earlier, in her 14-year-old body, on the day of her mother’s funeral. After realizing what’s happened, she takes advantage of “grieving” for her mother to completely redo her personalty, gain actual allies, and avoid the fate which Fermina manipulated her into last time. Because oh yes, Fermina is not a nice person, regardless of the timeline.

The strengths and weaknesses of this book are similar to other “serious” villainess books. The weakness is Fermina, who despises Claudia for having the life she feels she deserves, but without Claudia being shallow and vapid, Fermina can’t achieve anything she did in the past timeline, and is reduced to a one-note character we’re happy to see the back of at the end of the book. The strength is Claudia, who I greatly enjoyed. I liked that she is 10 years older in mind but still has room to mature, and in fact a lot of her actions are driven by her terror of Fermina somehow gaining the upper hand on her again. I also appreciate that this is a heroine who is allowed to have a libido: we don’t see her sex work, but she’s certainly more experienced in flirting than a woman of her age and noble status should be, and her growing horror as she realizes that teenage hormones means that she’s not able to put a lid on things as much as she’d like to is amusing. I also enjoyed her casual bisexuality, as she admits she finds one of the prince’s bridal candidates to be just as enticing as the prince.

The rest of the cast are good but stereotypical: the sadistic prince who loves Claudia because he can’t tell what she’s thinking; the beleaguered aide, the doting older brother, and the ludicrously loyal maid (who is her former mentor at the brothel in her former life, because nobles rescuing women from terrible fates and making them household workers is another villainess cliche). If you’re looking for something new, look elsewhere. If you’re happy with more of the same, this is quite good. It also feels like it ended with this volume, but there’s 4+ more out in Japan, so…

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