The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 5

By Toru Taba and Falmaro. Released in Japan as “Tensai Ouji no Akaji Kokka Saisei Jutsu ~Sou da, Baikoku Shiyou~” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jessica Lange.

This volume was always going to have trouble living up to the high point of the previous one, and it does. It’s a very short light novel, coming out at not even 160 pages. And that, I think, is the problem – this volume is too rushed, leaving everything sort of half-baked. The joy of these books is seeing Wein come up with plans, wriggle around as they’re upended by a surprise disaster, and then come up with even more clever plans. but you need time for each of those things to simmer, and we don’t get that here. There’s also very little of Falanya, who was the star of the fourth book, and also a minimal amount of romantic tension between Wein and Ninym. There’s nothing wrong with the book, it’s reasonably fun to read, and gets exciting a few times. But the reader is left with the feeling that “that could have been better”.

Natra has been doing very well for itself under Wein’s leadership… VERY well, and has started to attract attention to itself, both good and bad. It also has to worry about Marden, its recent acquisition, which is far better located than Natra itself, and could easily wind up surpassing Natra itself. They need more allies. So he turns to the nations beyond Marden, Soljest (which is run by Gruyere, the very obese Holy Elite we briefly saw in Book Three, and Delunio, which is basically being ruled by its slimy Prime Minister. Wein heads to Marden, expecting Zenovia to try to solve Marden’s problems by a marriage proposal, which he plans to turn down, and then goes to Soljest, where he ends up suggesting that the two nations ally themselves to each other, something Gruyere quickly agrees to. And then… well, everything falls apart for Wein.

By now, the strengths and weaknesses of this series are pretty well locked in. Sadly, I find the art a weakness, as it’s frequently just too goofy for my tastes, and also leans into fanservice when it shouldn’t (there is a low-angle shot of Zenovia sleeping on her tits at a desk that should be taken out back and shot). The plotting and scheming is fun, both when Wein is being brutally clever and also when he’s being out-thought, and I really liked the idea that Zenovia *is* in love with him but refuses to marry him if she’s not his equal at being a clever person. Gruyere is also a lot of fun, and I did like the introduction of his daughter, who appears to be there mostly so that she can be a rival to Falanya in future books. But… everything happened too fast. The battles, the scheming, the dialogue, even the dumb goofy comedy. Ninym screws up Wein’s hair in an amusing way! Why was nothing done with that?

The series is still worth reading, and I look forward to the next book, but this one just feels… half-baked.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 4

By Toru Taba and Falmaro. Released in Japan as “Tensai Ouji no Akaji Kokka Saisei Jutsu ~Sou da, Baikoku Shiyou~” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jessica Lange.

The title continues to be increasingly archaic, as there’s not even any scenes of Wein bemoaning how he can’t pawn his nation off on someone else and relax here. Indeed, he’s so busy he can’t even spare the time to go to the Empire’s Summit Conference, where the three brothers vying for the title of Emperor (and Lowellmina, who is also vying for the title but not officially) are getting together to try to hash things out. In reality, it’s mostly posturing, so Wein decides to send his little sister Falanya, who needs to gain some independence and become her own person. This succeeds beyond everyone’s wildest dreams; however, as is always the case with this series, events spiral out of control fast and Wein’s presence is required to stop what might be a very nasty conflict. And stop his sister getting married off. Oh yes, and defend himself from the charge of poisoning the eldest prince. Any sane man would collapse from the strain.

The highlight of the book was the journey that Falanya makes over the course of it. We’ve seen her briefly in the first three books, getting taught politics and history and being very bored with it, and also having a massive brother complex. This does not go away here (though thankfully it’s familial in nature – Wein/Ninym is Falanya’s OTP), but this book does see her forced to grow up fast, as well as fend off unseen assassins (OK, her bodyguard does this), unwanted proposals, evil princesses out to steal her brother (well, “evil” is perhaps incorrect here) and, most importantly, become fascinated with debate and parliamentary procedure to the point that, when the city the conference is in is in danger of being conquered, she can rally the populace with stirring speeches and save the day. She is fantastic all round here. And getting more like her brother every day.

As for Wein, I give him credit for actually staying home for a while, as I was thinking we’d get some comedy here of him secretly tailing Falanya because he’s worried. That doesn’t happen, but he does end up running himself ragged, having to race to the conference after all and then getting roped into the political nightmare that it happens to be. He’s in good form here, trying to gauge what everyone wants while not giving anything away himself. The Genius Prince books also have a very nice habit of one big surprising scene 3/4 of the way through each book, and the surprise this time is that it does NOT end with a corpse, but things are still very bad for Wein. I also like how his collapse near the end is not really part of a secret double-bluff or anything – it’s just exhaustion finally catching up with him. And it does allow us to see Ninym being something other than stoic and cool.

Overall, this is perhaps the best volume to date in a series that’s already excellent. Very highly recommended.

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 3

By Toru Taba and Falmaro. Released in Japan as “Tensai Ouji no Akaji Kokka Saisei Jutsu ~Sou da, Baikoku Shiyou~” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jessica Lange.

Calling your main character a “genius prince” can be a bit of a two-edged sword, as you need to have him continuing to be reasonable clever while not killing the audience’s disbelief. So far these books do a good job in holding to that balance. Sometime it leans straight up in Wein’s direction, such as when he describes having a book ghostwritten that will give bad advice to nobility and make it easier for him to eventually take them down. And sometimes it has Wein straight up flummoxed or panicking, which is just plain fun (as the illustrator of the book will tell you). And then there are the moment when you realize that Wein has a steel core that lives for one person alone, and threatening that person can cause things to get very dark very fast. All this comes together in this book, where Wein has to deal with possibly becoming one of a group of noble elites… all of whom seem to be extremely broken.

Wein and Ninym (who are on the cover again – these covers are very Strike the Blood in their choice of subjects) have just returned from touring the country in the middle of winter, but have to head right back out again when Win is invited to the country of Vavarin for a conference and also a religious festival. It smells like a trap. It is a trap, but that’s not going to stop Wein. That said, he also has to deal with the Remnant Army, the remains of Marden, which was torn apart in a previous book. After getting separated from his guard by bandits, he ends up taking in a representative from the army, Zeno, who is a) a girl dressed as a boy, and b) probably even more than that. (It’s not much of a surprise, trust me.) Zeno is filled with thoughts of revenge, but is also fascinated by Wein, who is doing his best to keep several balls in the air… and then trying to move as quickly as he can when all the balls drop.

There is one really terrific scene in this book, which I will try not to spoil much but involves a murder. These books can get a bit too intellectual for their own good at times, so it is good to remind us that Wein is a royal prince who can get away with a lot of things that other people cannot. It also reminds us that insulting Ninym is bad enough, but threatening to kill her means your life is forfeit. Speaking of Ninym, I wish she had more to do in these books – she gets some good scenes, but this is a series about Wein first and foremost. I wish there could be more balance in their relationship which is imbalanced by definition. I also enjoyed the rebellion by home by the traitorous general, which again did not surprise me in its twists and turns but was very satisfying narratively. As was the twist ending, showing how much Zeno really learned from Wein.

These are great books, especially if you like political intrigue. I’m anxious to read the next one.