The Faraway Paladin: The Lord of the Rust Mountains

By Kanata Yanagino and Kususaga Rin. Released in Japan as “Saihate no Paladin” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by James Rushton.

I’m reviewing this as one giant book, but it actually came out as two books here, called ‘Primus’ and ‘Secundus’ – in fact, Amazon thinks that those are the titles, and forgot about the whole Rust Mountains thing. It works better to see them as one big book, though, which is what the author intended. The first volume simply stops, and the second picks up right where it left off – there’s no real attempt to separate them. As for the plot, our square-jawed hero and his elf friend are here to take down an ancient dragon, helped out by some old friends and some new dwarves, including one who becomes Williams’s squire, despite being of royal blood. He is told repeatedly that if he fights the dragon now he will die, and he should gain more power and influence by letting a few people be killed so he can take it down more easily. As you might imagine, that is not how William rolls.

William is the star of this series, and the narrative fits itself around him, meaning it too tends to be like he is – straightforward, a bit humorless, and painfully, PAINFULLY earnest. This is actually the main selling point of The Faraway Paladin, which is miles away from any other fantasy light novel we have out there – there’s not an ounce of cynicism or irony in it. William is Good and True, and he can do impossible things thanks to the help of his friends, the training of his parents, and MUSCLES, which he points out are awesome several times throughout the book. The closest we get to cynicism is the villain, who is a very well-done ancient dragon, and would very much like to tempt William into allying with him to that he can sow chaos. He should know better.

The book reads quickly, and the action sequences are very well done, with no confusion about what is happening at any time. I was a little annoyed with the introduction of a tsundere elf girl, whose sole purpose seems to be to get rid of the ho yay that existed between William and Menel (there’s a lot of teasing of William for not having found a girlfriend yet, further driving the point home). Al is a good addition to the cast – it fits that someone like William gets a squire that’s almost as serious-minded as he is, and the two work well together. The translation is also good, though the Kindle version I have has both the dragon and the Gods speaking in bold text, which can get very confusing when three of them are all speaking at once – perhaps one should have been italicized instead.

Again, if you want to read a light novel but are thoroughly sick of the cliches of the genre, this is an absolute must-read. It’s the Lord of the Rings starring Superman, basically. I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

The Faraway Paladin: The Archer of Beast Woods

By Kanata Yanagino and Kususaga Rin. Released in Japan as “Saihate no Paladin” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by James Rushton.

I’d mentioned in my review of this first volume of this series that it had more of a high fantasy feel to it than a light novel feel, and that continues in the second volume, which sees William making his way back to civilization and discovering what said civilization actually is. (Also as I said in the first volume review, the fact that he’s a reincarnated Japanese guy is completely irrelevant to the story. I suspect it was added in order to draw in fans of that genre.) He immediately runs into the character we see on the cover page (and in the title), a half-elf who is both bemused and amazed at Will’s combination of superpowers and stunning naivete. In fact, mentioning superpowers, I am reminded of what Will feels like in this second book. He feels like Superman.

There are, obviously, a lot more characters in this book than the last one, as Will and Menel are going around saving villages, battling monsters, and meeting up with Antonio from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, who I was rather surprised to find in the middle of a light novel. (It gets even worse later in the book when Bishop Beesley from Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius series arrives, though thankfully this is a less evil version.) It helpfully shows off how bad Will can be at not only actual human interaction, but understanding consequences in this new world – he needs to be bailed out several times by his companions. Fortunately he’s aware of this, as he keeps worrying about social ostracism, but that doesn’t make him any less bad at it. His pureheartedness may also remind the reader of Dudley Do-Right at times.

The writing on this book continues to be excellent, with the better scenes towards the back half of the book. William has a bit of a breakdown near the end as he realizes the distance between himself and his colleagues, and the way that we get to see this happen from his narrative point of view and scream “no, stop, you’re being an idiot!” is really well done. Luckily, he is stopped for being an idiot, and other characters get to show off that just because he’s super pure and strong does not always mean he saves the day – cunning and experience still has its place. There’s also a bit more humor this time around as well, mostly due to a) Will’s po-faced reaction to things, b) Menel being a massive tsundere; and c) the presence of Bee, a hobbit (in all but name) who regales everyone with song and stories. This also leads to the most touching moment in the book, where she narrates an epic song that turns out to be about Blood, Mary, and Gus – Will is so happy they weren’t forgotten he starts to cry.

In the end, this remains a very good fantasy novel, with a distinct lack of harems, little sisters, or other light novel cliches, and the main character’s overpowered nature is balanced out enough in the text that I don’t think it matters. To me, this remains the J-Novel Club release to read for those who don’t like J-Novel Club releases. That said, we’re almost caught up with Japan, so I’m not sure when the next release will be.

The Faraway Paladin: The Boy in the City of the Dead

By Kanata Yanagino and Kususaga Rin. Released in Japan as “Saihate no Paladin” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by James Rushton.

So far J-Novel Club has about five or six titles going, and most of them are light novels that have one thing in common: they have that ‘light novel’ feel to them. There’s the obvious ones, like titles that are far too long, and Big Sisters and Little Sisters galore, but even the odder choices like Grimgar or Occultic;Nine still feel like a Japanese anime/manga franchise. The Faraway Paladin is an exception to this rule. It is technically a light novel, in that it was published in Japan and has intermittent illustrations, but there the similarities end. Instead, what The Faraway Paladin does is give you a dark fantasy, a coming-of-age story, an epic battle to save the souls of your adopted family, and easily the best book they’ve released to date.

I take that back, there is one other common Japanese light novel trope: our hero, Will, is actually a reincarnation of a Japanese boy, a loser shut-in who seemingly never tried to achieve anything, never mourned the death of his parents, and died alone and unfulfilled. Now he’s reincarnated as a baby… but with his old memories. That said, except for one point towards the end of the book, this is pretty irrelevant. It’s there to allow him to narrate the story from infancy without worrying about tone, and to show off why he has such heroic resolve to grow and learn as fast as possible: he regrets his old life, and wants to do better. Helping him are the three who are raising him: a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost. They teach him magic, teach him fighting, teach him basic daily life skills, and turn him into a strapping young lad ready to set out into the world. Then their past catches up…

I’ll be honest, I was expecting ‘raise the boy to be a warrior’ to take up maybe the first quarter of this book, but no, the entire first volume is devoted to his upbringing. This is a good thing, as it lets the plot breathe, and gives you time to get to know each of these characters. The cast is deliberately small, and each person gets a good amount of development, angst, and overcoming said angst. In the second half, things get a lot more action packed, as well as darker in tone, and the pace picks up in an appropriate way. The resolution is somewhat telegraphed, but not in a way that makes it predictable, more in an “ah, I knew it!” sort of way. Most of all, the book is simply well-written, and everyone is likeable and fun to read about. Even the ghost, who can be a grumpy old cuss. (Terrific translation, as well – probably the best of the company’s to date.)

Basically, this is a good novel to give to people who don’t like all the tropes associated with light novels – they’re absent here. And it’s simply a good fantasy in general. (You can tell I really like it as I’m holding myself back from giving everything away in the review.) Highly recommended, and I look forward to seeing the direction the series takes.