Death’s Daughter and the Ebony Blade, Vol. 7: Exordium

By Maito Ayamine and Cierra. Released in Japan as “Shinigami ni Sodaterareta Shoujo wa Shikkoku no Tsurugi wo Mune ni Idaku” by Overlap Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sylvia Gallagher.

Always lovely when I have to eat my words. You may remember at the end of the last review I did, where I said that Ashton’s death likely wasn’t permanent, as this was not that kind of series. Well. Um. Guess it is now? I feel a bit guilty, given I recently dropped a series (The Mythical Hero’s Otherworld Chronicles) for getting too dark and cynical, but in this volume Death’s Daughter also doubles down on the dark. The good news is that it’s not nearly as cynical, and gives us some hope that the series will not end with everyone slaughtered (the flashforwards to how various dead commanders will be remembered helps). the bad news is that Ashton’s death does not seem to be the sort that can be undone by magical means, and also lots of other regulars die here as well. The very bad news is that the author couldn’t cram all the plot into this book, so the 2nd part of Vol. 7 is still to come.

The final battle between the Asvelt Empire and the Kingdom of Fernest ends up being completely upended by the arrival of ghouls controlled by the new emperor, who is not remotely evil at all, of course. This has always been a “war is bad” series, but the ghouls also help to remind you that even though war is bad, there are still ways that it should be fought, and these corpses do not do any of that. This is also bad news for the United City States of Sutherland, who get a “become my vassals or be destroyed” message from the empire, with one of the states serving as an example of what will happen. Even the Holy Land of Mekia can’t deal with this, and the Seraph finds that the ghouls are not a product of mage tactics. As for Fernest, well, let’s just say a lot of the cast who’ve been around since Book 1 gets one last battle. And, um… where’s Olivia, anyway?

The reason I spoil that Ashton is found dead in this volume is that it happens right at the start of this book. We then spend almost the ENTIRE book waiting for Claudia and Olivia to find out about it. We don’t even see Claudia till 4/5 of the way through the novel, and Olivia, after a brief scene showing her happily training with Z, is also absent for the bulk of it. There’s two reasons for this. First, I get the sense that if Olivia and Claudia were actually present throughout this volume, there’s no way that the series couldn’t avoid killing them off too, which would make the end a bit bleaker than I think even the author wants. The other reason is, of course, to show their devastated reactions at the book’s climax, because otherwise this would feel a bit too much like “the book was just cut in half arbitrarily”. The counterattack needs to start next time, even if the romantic resolution isn’t going to happen anymore.

So what’s next? There’s certainly a lot more cast we can kill off, but I suspect the last book will have a bit less of that. Till then, oof. This was a punch to the gut.

Death’s Daughter and the Ebony Blade, Vol. 6

By Maito Ayamine and Cierra. Released in Japan as “Shinigami ni Sodaterareta Shoujo wa Shikkoku no Tsurugi wo Mune ni Idaku” by Overlap Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sylvia Gallagher.

Generally speaking, if you’re trying not to spoil yourself when reading a light novel, there are several things you need to do. Avoiding covers is almost impossible, but you can certainly avoid the color inserts, which tend to spoil. Don’t read the author’s afterword till you’ve finished the book, of course, as it often asks readers what they thought of the plot twist. And, of course, try not to read the table of contents, because chapter titles frequently spoil. And so (spoiling here, sorry), when I saw that the last chapter before the epilogue in this book was called “The Girl Defeated”, I knew what was going to happen. It wasn’t a big surprise, the series ends with the next book, so there had to be SOME point where Olivia loses a fight, just so she’s not all-powerful. That said, I was surprised anyway. The Girl Defeated is an accurate chapter title, but the chapter itself ends very happily. It’s the Epilogue that kills you.

We’re finally at the big battle between Olivia and Felix… well, OK, there are a few other big battles before that that don’t involve our heroes, but honestly, most of them feel like they’re padding out the book, and resolving a romance by having a superior officer say “hey, clueless guy, get married to the girl who has an obvious crush on you” is possibly the most pathetic thing I’ve seen in this series. The important bit, though, is that Olivia’s army is finally losing badly, mostly as the other side are simply better, more experienced soldiers. So she decides to gamble it all on a one-on-one fight with Felix, sending Ashton back to base and taking Claudia and a few others to forge a path to Felix. Their battle is cool, well-balanced, and a fair fight. Alas, this world is currently being taken over by an evil Dark God, and he interrupts things to gloat at Felix and generally be evil.

I have grown used to the fact that this series is very good at writing instant gratification, with scenes that work well as you read them but fall apart the moment you try to think more deeply about the subject. This is not a bad thing – popcorn entertainment is perfectly valid. But it can be hard to review. I did appreciate that (spoilers again, sorry) after spending the entire series searching for him, Olivia is finally reunited with Z right as she’s about to die – I get the sense that he wanted to let her grow at her own pace till he had to intervene. The whole “now I will teach you the ultimate final move” ending is pure shonen, but honestly it’s a delight seeing Olivia’s face as she’s finally reunited with her “father”. Less delightful is that pesky epilogue – I don’t expect a permanent death, as this series is not that dark despite its title, but it certainly ends the book on a sour note.

So great stuff, provided you don’t look too deeply, and provided you let your eyes glaze over whenever a male captain and his female adjutant have a conversation with each other. Tune in next time for the final book.

Death’s Daughter and the Ebony Blade, Vol. 5

By Maito Ayamine and Cierra. Released in Japan as “Shinigami ni Sodaterareta Shoujo wa Shikkoku no Tsurugi wo Mune ni Idaku” by Overlap Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sylvia Gallagher.

This series does have, amidst its themes of “war is hell” and the like, a love triangle at its core. This is part of the series’ annoying sub-theme of “all the aides are in love with their commanders” that I dislike, but I’ll ignore that for the moment. Claudia is easiest to understand, she’s a classic tsundere who’s in love with Ashton but refuses to admit it to herself or others. Ashton is in love with Olivia, though it’s not clear if it’s romantic or just a shining ideal, but he is otherwise a classic romcom harem lead, with a few “could these women actually like me?… naaaah” monologues under his belt. And then there’s Olivia, who loves Ashton and Claudia, but I suspect the author is not intending us to be thinking “yay, polyamory”, but rather that we’re supposed to think that Olivia is not quite human and doesn’t understand romantic or sexual attraction. It’s a bit of a mess.

The start of the book features Olivia and company headed to the Holy Land of Mekia, there to meet up with its leader, who has taken a shine to Olivia. They try to lure her to their side with promises of using their resources to find out where Z is, which makes Claudia curse, as this had never even occurred to her to try to offer Olivia, and Fermest can’t do it very well as they’re at war. Still, an incident involving Ashton’s near-death… again… convinces Olivia that she’s not going to change sides for now. In the meantime, the empire continues to have a very bad time, which is what happens when your grand vizier… pardon me, chancellor… is evil and your empire is secretly run by a death god. When the Kingdom comes calling, with Olivia at its vanguard, who will rise up to meet her? And will it be enough?

We get a nice little flashback in this book to Olivia’s parents (though she was originally called Caroline) and are reminded that her mother is of Deep Folk descent, which is leading to a lot of subplots converging. Still, she may have human/deep folk as birth parents but her upbringing is all Z, and that’s what really makes her as inhuman as she seems at times in the series. She has no real fear of monsters that would kill anybody else, and when asked where she grew up, points to the middle of a forest that has a reputation so bad that anyone who tries to investigate it finds their investigators dead. That said… Olivia is also gradually getting more humanity in her, and that’s entirely due to Ashton and Claudia, who are definitely a calming, soothing influence on her, even if they can’t actually stop her from doing what she wants. This series is not going to end with polyamory, but if it *did*, it would be great.

It might also end with most of the cast dead, admittedly. After all, war is hell.