The Holy Grail of Eris, Vol. 3

By Kujira Tokiwa and Yu-nagi. Released in Japan as “Eris no Seihai” by GA Novels. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.

Boy howdy, this wrapped everything up just the way I wanted. OK, I admit, there was not enough Abigail, but I’ve come to terms with that. (And we also get Kimberly Smith, who is James Bond, as the author admits, and also wonderful.) And unfortunately the plot demanded that Connie essentially be stuck in a cell for the latter half of the book. But this actually turns out to be important as it allows us to see that a) everyone around her knows what a good and forthright person she is, and b) it allows Scarlett to have to take action on her own, rather than just stand behind Connie and snark (and occasionally possess her). And while we don’t get Abigail, we do get her daughter Lucia, who is made of 100% pure awesome and who I desperately want to see a sequel series about. She even has her own sidekick! Who is a foreign prince, sure, but let’s not sweat the details.

After discovering the truth of why Scarlett was executed ten years ago, Connie and Randolph go off to confront Scarlett’s father. That said, knowing this doesn’t actually CHANGE anything. Especially as Ulysses’ kidnapping is coming closer and closer to bringing nations to war. Not to mention that Princess Cecilia is still around. Oh yes, and Abigail’s daughter Lucia is also accidentally kidnapped, and added to the pile of children in danger. Connie is very good at running around, finding clues, and getting into trouble, which is what’s needed to find the real culprits… which is why the culprits decide to blame her for the kidnapping, lock her up, and execute her. Problem solved! Except that, unlike Scarlett ten years ago, everyone adores Connie…

By the way, if you are looking for a series with kickass women in it, this is a great choice. Even the villains kick ass, and get dramatic yet thematically appropriate death scenes. The throne war in the neighboring kingdom ends in a way that made me laugh, and also want to go back and read the second book again. The little ‘Character biographies’ that appear throughout the book, designed to read like otome game bios where they update as events happen, are laugh out loud hilarious. The climactic finale is heartwarming and heartbreaking. If there’s one flaw here it’s that I think the author and publisher wanted to leave room for a sequel, so we get a somewhat tacked on addition near the end, featuring the very first thorn in Connie’s side returning like Sadako. But I’ll forgive it, if only as it leads to what is essentially a polyamorous marriage. One man, one woman, and one ghost, as God intended.

The series ends here, but there is a fourth volume in Japan that has a sequel, with Connie and company going to the land of Scarlett’s late mother. However… it only came out in Japan digitally. I highly doubt that GA Novels would let Yen release a print book when Japan hasn’t, and I doubt Yen would license a digital-only 4th volume. So I suspect this is it. Oh well. Great finale, great series. Highly recommended for fans of thrillers.

The Holy Grail of Eris, Vol. 2

By Kujira Tokiwa and Yu-nagi. Released in Japan as “Eris no Seihai” by GA Novels. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.

The most frustrating thing about this volume is pretty much the same issue I had with the first one: the author is not telling the story I want to read most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m greatly enjoying seeing Connie sort of fumble around and slowly work out what happened ten years ago and why there’s a big chance it’s going to happen again. But frankly, I want the teenage years of Abigail O’Brian. I want a pirate adventure story, I want to see how she ended up at the center of everything and also a madam, I want to see how she inspires absolutely everyone around her. But I suspect all I will get will be the crumbs of backstory I get here, because the author does not want to tell an adventure story, they want to write a mystery. And this volume gives us a lot of answers in the main mystery, though the resolution is still a long ways away. And depends, most likely, on Connie, not Abigail.

Connie is getting closer to the truth, and that’s making a lot of people angry. They try to kidnap and kill her best friend to get her to stop. They murder several witnesses who would have undone all their careful planning. And they have a pesky reporter girl who, sadly, is very much an antagonist in this series. Fortunately, Connie does have a few allies. She has Scarlett, of course, who can still occasionally possess Connie when it’s for the greater good, and whose complicated backstory we learn here. She also has Randolph, her love interest, though both of them being the sort of person that love just bounces off of means that the romance part of the book is more frustrating than anything else. That said, the real selling point is what we find out here: exactly why Scarlett was executed.

I will, of course, not reveal that here – I like spoilers but am trying to get better at not saying them. Nevertheless, it turns out to be a far larger plot than Connie, Randolph, or indeed the reader had planned. It can sometimes be a bit of a stretch to realize that everyone we meet seems to be connected to everyone either in the present, the past, or both, but that’s mystery novels for you. And we also get a few detours that are tense, mostly as while the author is unlikely to kill off Connie or Randolph, they’ve shown they’re perfectly happy to kill off other characters. There actually may be a bit TOO much going on here, as there’s also the subplot of a powerful hallucinogenic drug once again becoming available among the nobility. Everything points to somebody trying to undermine the country. And the biggest bombshell is what some people are prepared to do to save the country. But again… spoilers.

The series has 4+ volumes out in Japan, but I have a suspicion that this arc, at least, will end with the next book. I definitely look forward to seeing what happens – just because the mysteries are solved doesn’t mean the problems have gone away.

The Holy Grail of Eris, Vol. 1

By Kujira Tokiwa and Yu-nagi. Released in Japan as “Eris no Seihai” by GA Novels. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.

If you think the cover art suggests a villainess story, you’re right, though this is once again a variation rather than a straight up “reincarnated as the otome game villainess” sort. That said, almost all those books, as well as many of the variations, have the same kind of scene in it. Usually near the start. Our villainess finds herself at a party or ball, surrounded by men who are sneering at her with hatred and contempt, accusing her of terrible bullying towards the “heroine” of the game itself. This public shaming usually kickstarts the plot in some way or another. But wait, I hear you say. I love those kinds of scenes, the ones that show the dark and seedy undercurrent of nobility. What if I could have an entire book filled with them? And also make it a detective thriller? If you are this sort of reader, the Holy Grail of Eris is hear for you. There’s escapades, and murder attempts, but mostly there’s so much vitriol you could probably start a glassmaker’s shop.

Constance, aka Connie, is our heroine, and frankly, she’s a bit of a drip. Her father, a viscount, is known for being sincere and honest at all times, aka an easy mark. The family is deep in debt. But it’s OK, as she’s engaged to the son of a wealthy businessman… who, unfortunately, is currently having an affair with another noblewoman. All this comes to a head at a party where Connie is shamed and accused in the proper Villainess Novel way. Sadly, she has no one to come to her aid… or so she thinks. Enter Scarlett Castiel, a duke’s daughter who was executed ten years ago for attempted assassination of the (current) Queen. Scarlett possesses Connie and solves the problem by means of a photographic memory and a heaping tablespoon of “being a magnificent bitch”. However, now Scarlett demands Connie’s help in return… to find out what REALLY happened ten years ago!

Not gonna lie, this is a heaping helping of fun, despite the almost obligatory child slavery ring subplot. (In the book’s favor, none of the main cast buy a slave.) Connie and Scarlett are both very flawed heroines, and while together they can just about solve some mysteries, Connie tends to be easily caught and also terrible at lying. But this makes them endearing and easy to root for – we’re not getting any powerhouse OP villainesses here. The other characters are also most arrogant nobles, but they come in various shades, including our love interest, who is a standard Japanese romance novel type, but I don’t dislike that. I also loved the character of Abigail O’Brien, who is several times compared and contrasted with Connie herself and also seems to be an underworld boss and super Madam (in the capitalized sense of the word).

This is supposedly over at three volumes, though a fourth one appeared in Japan last month as a digital-only book. That means we are unlikely to linger too long on the central mystery or what the Holy Grail of Eris is (the fact that Connie’s last name is literally Grail does not come up in the text, and may just be there for flavor). Still, if you like mysteries where the heroine spends most of her time getting caught, and everyone being absolutely terrible to everyone else, this is a winner.