I’m in Love with the Villainess: She’s So Cheeky for a Commoner, Vol. 1

By Inori and Hanagata. Released in Japan as “Heimin no Kuse ni Namaikina!” by GL Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Kevin Ishizaka. Adapted by Nibedita Sen.

I’ll admit I was surprised when I heard that this spinoff was being written. After five volumes of the main series, with so much that’s possible to explore, do we really need to have a retelling of events of the first book from Claire’s perspective? Fortunately, the answer is yes, we do need to have this. When I reviewed Book Two of the main series I talked about how much I loved Claire’s character development even though so much of it had to be filtered through Rae’s POV. Now we’re able to see that first hand. That said, this is still an adaptation of the events in the first book, meaning that much of the character development is still to come. We do see Claire’s inherent goodness and kindness, but we also see a lot of arrogance and ignorance of the class system that has propped up families like hers. Over the course of the book, Claire starts to get better about noticing that other people – even her good friends – have differing opinions.

Claire Francois is enjoying her life as one of the elites in the Royal Academy… at least until one day a commoner starts pestering her, and harassing her, and confessing love to her. It’s maddening, of course. Especially when said commoner ends up getting hired as Claire’s second maid! That said, she’s just a commoner, so a spot of mild bullying should do the trick and drive her away. Unfortunately, Claire’s friends Pepi and Loretta have ideas for bullying that are far more sadistic than what the essentially good-hearted Claire has in mind, so she gets nowhere. Over the course of the book, Claire is forced to confront her preconceptions about her friends, her roommate Catherine, lesbians, and commoners. Then just when she thinks she has a handle on things, she’s faced with the worst kind of betrayal.

As you may have noticed, this is not just a straight “write the same scenes from the opposite POV” side story. For one thing, Claire’s friends, known to the reader (and to Rae) as “Those Two Girls” get actual things to do and times where they disagree with Claire… though they also rely on her a great deal. We also get a brand new character, Claire’s roommate Catherine. Catherine is deeply connected to Claire’s traumatic past, and is also the daughter of a family that rivals hers, though Catherine’s status as part of that family is less than ideal. Of all the new things introduced in this book, she’s the most interesting to me, and I have a sneaking fear she won’t survive the series. She may have an agenda of her own for all I know, but her main role in this book is to give Claire good advice and try to get her to open her horizons… though she ends up rather startled when Claire is able to return the favor later on by forcing Catherine to leave her gilded cage.

As for Rae herself, Claire consistently refers to her as “the commoner” in her narrative voice throughout this book. I expect that will change in future volumes. If you enjoyed the main series, there’s absolutely no reason not to get this as well.

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 5

By Inori and Hanagata. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Oshi wa Akuyaku Reijou” by GL Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Kevin Ishizaka. Adapted by Nibedita Sen.

As the author notes in the afterword to this volume, this series has come a long way from its first volume, which was mostly dedicated to the relationship between Rae and Claire. That’s still the case in this final volume, but it ends up being the first volume writ large; where the first volume focused on the school they were enrolled in, and the second their kingdom, this final volume sets their romance against the end of everything. I am going to try not to spoil too much in this review, but there’s a big swerve about 1/4 of the way into this volume that makes sense on a plot level, and also helps to explain a few things that have been bubbling under since the third book began and we started to get the continuation plotline. Unfortunately, it appears that once again events may conspire to force Claire to make the difficult decision that will save the most people, leaving Rae to scream about it.

So it turns out that the ones who’ve been going after Claire so much are servants of the Demon Queen, who is here to destroy the Empire in order to get her way. Dorothea, realizing a bit too late that being the sort of person that she is means that calling for aid is going to get her nowhere, decides to abdicate in favor of Philine, who is not going to be winning any sword battles but is certainly far better at actual negotiation. And then there’s the Apostle, who bounces between bodies in order to tell Rae and Claire that she’s on their side… despite the fact that she honestly feels extremely untrustworthy. In any case, at least our heroes finally get the Demon Queen herself to make an appearance. And… oh no, that face seems really familiar somehow…

I’m not spoiling you on the main surprises, but finding out the Demon Queen has a Rae face should not be too much of a surprise after meeting the Pope in previous books. We know this series stacks up Raes the way that the Fate franchise stacks up Sabers, so the reader’s reaction is more “ah, knew it” than anything else. Also without spoiling anything, Rae reacting to things, both for good and ill, is one of the highlights of this volume. Her lack of confidence in herself deep down comes up here again, even to the point where she’s surprised that her children show her as much affection as they do Claire. It helps to make the climax of the book have even greater impact. The fight scenes are also nifty, with lots of cool battles that would look great animated, hint hint. And let’s also pour one out for poor Lilly, who is fantastic here and absolutely gets shafted by the narrative, because that’s what the narrative has to do. Ah well.

If it sounds like I’m not saying much, that’s because I really want the impact of the reveals here to surprise the reader. Trust me when I say you won’t regret it. This was an excellent finale to the series… but I’m also very happy we’re getting She’s So Cheeky for a Commoner in the next few months.

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 4

By Inori and Hanagata. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Oshi wa Akuyaku Reijou” by GL Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Kevin Ishizaka. Adapted by Nibedita Sen.

Last time I mentioned that it felt awkward to start a new volume of the series when it could easily have ended in Book 2 with “and they lived happily ever after”. Oddly, towards the end of this book Claire’s father thinks much the same thing, trying to send Rae, Claire and their family back home because “they’ve done enough”. Not in a negative way, though Claire initially takes it that way, but n the sense that the country of Nur is quickly about to become super-dangerous. That said, as events unfold in this book one gets the sense that this world is not about to let either of them go live a quiet, happy life very easily… though it has no such qualms about quietly shuffling most of the new cast we met in the third volume off to the side, to the point where I wondered if this were a Christie novel set on a faraway island. As for why? Well… revolution. Again. Come on, it’s in the game title.

The general thrust of this volume should be familiar to readers of the series. We start off with a lot of cute, fluffy things, like a fantasy cross between Iron Chef and the Great British Bake-Off, and we then start the balls rolling down the hill until you reach a climax that can be summed up by “great googly-moogly, it’s all gone to shit”. Part of the problem is that while Dorothea is amusing as a strong as heck, emotionally blunt empress, she is also a somewhat terrifying dictator, and does not particularly care if that means that the country is hated by everyone around it. As for her daughter, after being the comedy girl with a crush at the start, Philine’s development is actually one of the strongest parts of the book (though I’d argue it does come a bit too fast). Which is better, speaking softly or carrying the big stick?

As with previous books in the series, there are occasional digressions in order to discuss modern gender politics. Rae gives a good explanation of gender identity, and one of the subplots later in the book also resolves around this sort of thing. On the down side… there really is an awful lot of “brainwashed to be evil” in this book, and indeed in this series, though some of it is less “I am here to kill you” and more “I am here to threaten you on behalf of the Church”. Fortunately, the main reason to read the books is Rae and Claire, and they’re both excellent. There’s a recurring theme of Claire being beloved by all (including her daughters) and Rae getting either slightly less attention (her daughters) or outright dislike (one of her classmates). It’s amusing but also makes sense, as Rae’s personality is the sort that is difficult to trust… the exact opposite of her partner.

The book ends on another cliffhanger, and seems to indicate the 5th will be the last. Till then, this remains for the most part a well-plotted and compelling series with excellent LGBTQ content.

Oh yes, and mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be tsunderes.