Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 8

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.

I have grown used to this series casually killing people off. It’s easy to guess when they’re one of the people on Oliver’s hit list, but we’ve also seen the glorious death of Diana Ashbury and others. The author knows this, of course, and plays with it throughout this book, making me assume once or twice that we were going to see yet another tragic student fate. Because, well, every student at this academy has a mission just as important to them as Oliver’s, a mission that they will kill for (OK, maybe not Guy, I can’t see Guy turning into an instrument of vengeance), and that unfortunately a lot of these goals and missions end prematurely and in death. It’s the nature of how they’re being taught in this academy that, frankly, takes sink or swim to all-new heights. It doesn’t help that – again – this volume ends with no epilogue or cooldown, just a climactic final scene and then the end.

The combat league continues, but there’s a more important issue to deal with: Godfrey’s sternum bone has been stolen by Cyrus, and without it his abilities are down to about 1/20th what they should be. No, this is still enough for him to slip through the early rounds of this tournament, but he needs that bone back if he’s going to get further – or win the election. And so everyone who is supporting him in the election, including our heroes, go on a journey to find Cyrus and get the bone back. Along the way they discover exactly WHY Cyrus is going around stealing everyone’s bones, and it will come as no surprise to find that it’s not because he’s just a giant jerk, but because of a life goal he has to achieve.

Fans of Spellblades will find a lot of things they like in this, including the fact that every single time Oliver and Nanao converse with each other at all, it’s interpreted by everyone else as “flirting” – much to the annoyance of Katie and Pete, the others in his unwanted harem. (I say again, poor Guy, who has so many issues. He’s the least developed character of the six, he’s clearly being paired off with Katie but she likes Oliver, and he’s R*n W**sl*y in all but name.) There are also some truly fantastic fights, and we get to spend time with the badass Lesedi Ingwe and the badass but also hilarious Tim Linton. That said, the best part of the book is Cyrus and why he’s doing this, and the final pages are really well handled. To say more would be to spoil.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next, thanks to this volume ending so abruptly. I assume more combat league stuff, as you can’t really drag a tournament arc on too long… (stares nervously at The Asterisk War)… right?

Maiden of the Needle, Vol. 1

By Zeroki and Miho Takeoka. Released in Japan as “Hariko no Otome” by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kiki Piatkowska.

This book’s plot and characters have a familiar feel, to the point where the biggest surprise I had in the first volume is that the male love interest has a goatee. So permit me to talk about one of my pet problems with light novels in general, which is that the writers don’t feel content to have antagonists be bad people, they’ve got to be THE WORST PEOPLE EVER. Sure, you could have a simple parent who favors one daughter over the other and just, y’know, frowns when she walks by, but why do that when they can starve her to death, lock her in a room, not teach her anything (which is an issue given the heroine is inevitably a reincarnation from Japan), etc? Oh yes, and let’s make them incompetent as well. And secretly housing possible terror weapons? Hell, even the heroine’s Japanese family was awful. Of course, this means you don’t have to worry when they’re all inevitably executed. Serves them right! Easy peasy.

In Japan, Tsumugi was dealing with an abusive father, a cowed mother, and her joy was hanging out with friends. Then she dies (I assume from the traditional traffic accident) and she is reincarnated as Yui. In this world, which is the traditional sort of fantasy kingdom, her family is supposed to have a special power to weave protective magic. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen on hard times, possibly as they’re all evil (see above), and the first fifteen years of her life are a living hell. Then she’s sold to another merchant for a large sum and, once given adequate food, water, and actual explanations about how things work, turns out to not only be a prodigy but close to a goddess, with her powers being able to heal fairies (the main source of magic here) and also cure fashion faux pas. But will she survive long enough to be acknowledged?

Yui is probably the reason I enjoyed this more than it possibly deserved. She’s a character that has to walk a fine line. She is definitely still suffering the effects of her abuse – even after proper food and water, she still looks thin and years younger than she is, and she has trouble speaking through the entire book, with extended conversations leading to coughing fits simply due to her never speaking before this. But she’s relatively matter of fact about things, not being too excited or too depressed. The book does not have much time to devote to her suffering in any case, as this is 100% the story of Yui being amazing and everyone praising her for being amazing. It’s fairly charming, and never annoyed me the way I’d expect, but this is a book you should only read if you love Cinderella stories, and it definitely has a lot of light novel cliches. In addition to the abusive family, we also get the shy but large-breasted knight, and the maid who loves cute things (including our heroine).

This could easily have ended in one book, but there is apparently a second, as Yui needs to power up so that, when she cuts off ties with her family, she isn’t cursed. I’ll probably pick it up.

How to Win Her Heart on the Nth Try

By Ichine Kamijo and Yu Shiroya. Released in Japan as “n-kaime no Koi no Musubikata” by Kadokawa Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Judy Jordan.

Years ago, in the pre-light novel days, it always seemed that manga brought over to English speakers was written purely for teenagers in middle school and high school, and the romances all revolved around school clubs and walking home after practice. I would wish that for once, just for once, we could get a romance about grownups, in real jobs, and dealing with grownup concerns. So! I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this is definitely a book for and about grownups, with grownup concerns, and they have white-collar office jobs. The bad news: if you, the reader, work in a white-collar office job, be aware that this book will hammer on your anxieties and fears for 250 pages until you want to shriek. Every “you or your subordinate screwed up, please come to the manager’s office at once” nightmare is seen here, right down to having your laptop stolen. Fortunately, this book is written for exhausted workaholic women, and so there’s a guy who can come to the rescue.

Nagi is a systems engineer with a tragic past, working at a smallish company owned by her uncle. She has two juniors, and her entire life seems to run on stress and last-minute deadlines. There’s certainly no time for romance. That said, she also has Keigo, a childhood friend who works in the same company. He’s a great guy. And a good friend. On Keigo’s end, he’s been trying for the last fifteen years to subtly convey to the oblivious Nagi that he loves her, and none of it has stuck. And in a high stress office like theirs, the question is not “when will these two finally realize that they’re a couple?”, but “can they get together as a couple before they either die of overwork or end up having to take the fall for some disaster that seems to constantly be happening?”.

I can definitely see this book’s appeal to women, with the core not being “I just need a man who can understand me” but “I just need a man who can finish all my work for me”. Both hero and heroine are flawed people with very real hangups that prevent this from easily resolving, and even after getting together we see things aren’t smooth sailing. The most interesting part of the book was probably Nagi’s junior Saotome, who is small and cute, which gets her a lot of attention. This is unwanted attention, because she’s in love with Nagi. She and Keigo don’t get on, of course, but eventually manage to work things out. Other than that, I will again note that this book can make for uncomfortable romance reading. You keep waiting for Nagi to be fired for some reason or another, or have bad things happen to her. It’s definitely showing me I could never make it in Japanese office culture.

So if you want a workplace romance, and don’t mind that the male lead tends to swoop in to save the day a lot, this is pretty good.