Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 5

By Bokuto Uno and Miyuki Ruria. Released in Japan as “Nanatsu no Maken ga Shihai suru” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Cunningham.

It’s been several books since we’ve had to deal with the revelation that we got at the end of Book One, which is to say it’s been a while since Oliver and his allies have tried to murder a teacher. Good news! We get that here, as the academy’s resident mad scientist is next on the chopping block. More good news is that we also get a lot more explanations and backstory for exactly what is going on. Being Seven Spellblades, of course, it’s complex, and its discussion of Gnostics and Gnostic Hunters is very reminiscent of the battle for the “true face” of Christianity around the time of the Apostle Paul. There’s more suggestions that by the time this series is over Oliver will be dead or evil, but honestly, that’s not really a surprise anymore. Revenge is sometimes more important than… well, everything else. That said, boy, this revenge was costly. If the body count goes up with each dead teacher, the academy may be empty by the final book.

The book opens to a flashback showing us Chloe Two-Blade, the legendary Gnostic Hunter, and her fight against the Lovecraftian wyrms that have devastated her comrades. Hold that thought, because we then move back to the present, as our heroes try to tame griffins the hard way, learn about astronomy (which honestly seems more like history than anything else), and worry about Nanao, who has unfortunately Been Noticed – not only by Chela’s father but also by the headmistress of the academy, and you really don’t want to get noticed by her. Also, Professor Forggieri takes Pete on a tour of his mad scientist lab, with Oliver and Nanao tagging along. Still, there’s a sense of unease and tension throughout the book… which lets out in the second half, which is one big battle to kill said mad scientist.

Our main cast are probably safe, at least until the second to last book where one of them will tragically sacrifice themselves (my money’s on Chela), but the book is here to remind you that anyone else can die, as we’re introduced to more students who seem fun, powerful, and who are in the end sacrifices to help Oliver get his revenge. Even aside from Oliver, Guy and Katie meet a student who cheerfully says he’ll die soon due to experimentation, and try not to be like him. this is a super dangerous place, and even after graduation there’s no guarantee you won’t die fighting monsters from beyond our ken… or end up being brutally tortured and murdered by your allies. I really enjoy the religious subtext at the back of this series, and how it’s trying to show you that kindness is not a virtue here – something that may prove Oliver’s undoing, as little hints here and there suggest that we’re building up to a final battle between him and Nanao.

Fans of this series should be quite happy, as long as they don’t get too attached to anyone, and are familiar with 2nd-century religious persecution.

Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 4

By Bokuto Uno and Miyuki Ruria. Released in Japan as “Nanatsu no Maken ga Shihai suru” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Cunningham.

First of all, the big news regarding this 4th volume in the series is that it actually manages to come to a logical conclusion that feels like the end of a volume, as opposed to the last two volumes, where the ending was just “finish the page you’re writing now and we’ll send a courier to pick it up”. That said, the events of the first three books are not forgotten, and have great impact on the 4th, as our heroes start their second year at Kimberly. Everyone is also growing up; our second years are sixteen, and there is a lot of discussion of sex here, why and how it should happen, and who to watch out for. It’s considered as a rite of passage rather than a shameful act. That said, events from the previous book also leave Oliver a bit… pent-up, shall we say. Fortunately, one of his friends notices this and helps him out in a scene that is actually really well written and well characterized. Further, deponent sayeth not.

Aside from talk of sex and relief from sex-based spells, there’s a lot of magical academy stuff going on here as well. We get new teachers, including one with the improbable name of Ted Williams, who stuns the entire cast by being a reasonable, normal instructor. Nanao excels in her broom-riding sport, so much so that she’s promoted to the upper-year senior league… where she finds, for once, someone she can’t blow her way past with natural talent. The kids all go out to the local town, something that takes up the back half of the book, where they get into fights with rival schools, experience the terror of British food, and deal with a mysterious man who keeps assaulting magicians. With all this going on, will Oliver finally find time to get around to why he’s actually there?

On Twitter I posted a poll asking how everyone thought the books would end: with the main cast in a polycule, or with the main cast all dead? Unsurprisingly, the poll was almost dead even, because really both options seem likely. Leaving aside Oliver and Nanao’s deep chemistry, and Nanao’s desire to want to fight him to the death (I’m hoping for redefining death in a future book), it’s pretty clear that Chela also likes Oliver a lot. Pete, of course, is also falling for Oliver. Guy and Katie have that vague R*n and H*rmoine vibe, but honestly that feels like one of the least likely, at least until Guy gets his act together. As for the death part, well, come on, look at the school. If nothing else, I’m fairly certain Oliver’s plan is not going to go swimmingly all the way to the end. Especially since his next target has taken a special interest in Pete…

I haven’t even mentioned half the things going on here – these books are very dense, and there’s a lot going on. If you enjoy magical academy stories and don’t mind them being darker and more adult than the typical light novel fare, this is still a must read.

Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 3

By Bokuto Uno and Miyuki Ruria. Released in Japan as “Nanatsu no Maken ga Shihai suru” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alex Keller-Nelson.

The third volume in this series is very much “Part 2” of the second volume, as we ended with a nasty cliffhanger last time. Pete is in the hands of Ophelia, along with several other boys from the school, and is not expected to be found alive. Our heroes need to go after him, but the labyrinth is not off limits for no good reason, and there are also upper-year students also searching for them. Still, Nanao, Oliver and Chela are actually good enough to survive it, and are joined by a former enemy who turns out to be helping them… though not necessarily out of the goodness of her heart. While this is happening, we get the tragic backstory for Ophelia, who is a succubus whose scent can inflame male passions, and therefore not only had trouble making friends when she first got to school, but was slut-shamed to the point where it drove her to… well, bad actions. Can she be saved? Can she at least have a remotely peaceful death?

It was mentioned to me on Twitter that this series probably would work better in animated form than it does as prose, and I can certainly see why. There are an awful lot of cool battles here, and while they are definitely cool enough being described to us they cry out to be seen. Each of our six protagonists gets something to do… though Katie and Guy can only help in indirect ways, and Pete, of course, has to do something about their own kidnapped situation. Pete’s reversi nature is rapidly becomeing a far more well-known secret, which I suspect might have consequences in future volumes, especially given the fate of one of their support mechanisms here. And yes, Oliver is clever, Chela is clever, and Nanao is… well, NOT clever, but she’s very battle savvy, and her not cleverness can provide some of the few light moments in this book.

Those who have read my previous reviews know that I have been studiously avoiding mentioning a certain other well-known fantasy series that Seven Spellblades reminds everyone of, and that comes into play here as well, as a lot of what Ophelia goes through is reminiscent of another group in that series. That said, Ophelia’s is far darker and more tragic. Her backstory is welcome mostly as it shows us that she was once also a first-year who was slowly drawn into a group of friends, just like our heroes at the start of the first book. It shows us that we should not get too comfortable, and that any of of them could easily be sharing an equally tragic fate in the next few books. My money, in fact, is on Oliver, who may be the main character but also has far too many weak sports.

The main weak spot of this book is the ending, as the book simply stops like a Target Doctor Who paperback that has reached Page 128. I’m not sure if the author was trying to set a somber, downbeat book with that or was working to a pagecount, but either way, I think an epilogue would have been better here. That said, it’s still another strong volume in the series, and I eagerly await the fourth book, where apparently our heroes move up a year.

Also, love Milihand, and I really hope she sticks around as a regular character, or at least a mascot.