Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 6

By Nozomu Mochitsuki and Gilse. Released in Japan as “Tearmoon Teikoku Monogatari” by TO Books. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by David Teng.

It can be hard to let go of a gimmick, especially when the gimmick in question is the main reason you got readers in the first place. One reason everyone loved Tearmoon Empire 1 was not only the dissonance between Mia’s own thoughts and actions and what everyone ELSE thought of these, but also the snarky narrator constantly pummeling her. I’d theorized before that the narrator was hired by future Mia to try to slow the publishing of hagiographies about her. That being said… Mia has grown and matured a little bit, and I feel now that the goofy “she only thinks about herself and food” shtick is holding her back. And the narrator, especially when he’s making fat jokes, is starting to grate. Most importantly, though, I’m starting to feel like all the other cast members Mia has misled: if you ignore Mia’s intentions and the narrator, this remains a fantastic read, filled with intrigue, action, character building, and plot twists. Mia being a dumbass and the narrator pointing it out all the time isn’t needed anymore.

Mia is in the background for this cover picture, which is a good thing, as it shows us that Bel is, finally, going to get some actual attention. Much of the book is about Mia trying to avoid her own assassination in various ways, though honestly she mostly just avoids thinking about it, as she doesn’t want to get anyone else in danger. So we get things like a massive mushroom hunting party in the nearby forest (where she accidentally discovers deadly poison mushrooms that were what killed off a large number of people in the prior timeline) and preparing for the Holy Eve Festival, which we do not get to see because, of course, Bel is kidnapped in order to force Mia to leave the island and then kill her. There’s only one thing Mia can do… exactly what they say, hoping that if she managed to rewind time once she’ll be able to do it once she’s killed again.

Not to spoil or anything, but Mia is not killed off again, this is not that kind of time loop book. And I’ve complained about the parts of the book I didn’t like above, so let me talk about what I did like. Sometimes Mia’s thought processes are wonderful, such as when she discovers Bel is kidnapped and tries to think of the many very good reasons that going after her is a mistake… all the while getting dressed up and preparing to leave, because unconsciously she knows she’ll never abandon her granddaughter. Bel is basically a shoujo protagonist here, winning over the villains by the power of being sweet and kind, and it’s adorable. The villain is obvious and hammy, but hey. There’s also some good worldbuilding here, showing us the underside of the Yellowmoons and also a few flashbacks to the previous world, where everything went terribly. And the chase and fight scenes were wonderful, and also introduce a new minor villain who I hope we’ll see again, along with his huge puppies… OK, wolves.

So yeah, I don’t expect Tearmoon Empire to drop Mia being thought of as smart when she’s really thinking about cookies, or the narrator pointing out how her altruism is bullshit, but I’d like more of the growth we saw in Book 4-5. Also, I have no idea why the narrator is insulting her “mushroom outfit”. She looks stylish! That’s clearly a raffish cap!

Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 5

By Nozomu Mochitsuki and Gilse. Released in Japan as “Tearmoon Teikoku Monogatari” by TO Books. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by David Teng.

The structure of this book is slightly off, as the author admits that the story got away from them and the island arc that should have concluded the 2nd “arc” of this story ended up being the first third of this 5th book as well. Still, it works out, as we get to see Mia turn a corner and fend off another of her fates written in a long history book… or at least it was long. Yes, sometimes when you’re trying to stop the bad guys who can mess with the fates, you end up finding that your fate can sometimes get even worse. Now Mia’s not being executed at the guillotine or cut down in her adult years for not being Empress, the history books say she’ll be killed in a few scant months. Can she avoid this fate while continuing to work hard to save her kingdom from famine, win over more allies by being kind and charming, and also eat delicious sweets? The answer should be obvious.

The one thing I took away from this book is that I think Mia handles plots against her, or large conspiracies, much better than sudden random events conspiring against her. When she has to deal with a cave-in, a seemingly deadly fish attacking her, or even just horses sneezing in her face, she seems to always end up on the wrong foot. But the larger, more epic scenarios are where she shines – and yes, by now even the narrator is having trouble saying EVERYTHING she does is due to her selfishness and need to eat sweets, although god knows they try to say so anyway. In her confrontation with Esmeralda, where she sees the traitorous past of their nation as found in a secret underground ruin, stares destiny right in the face, and says “to hell with that”, she really is learning to be a good person – and yes, it’s framed as her having to “deceive” Esmeralda by saying they’re best friends, but I don’t doubt it’s actually going to come to pass. Mia is no longer as passive or luck-driven as she was in past books.

The 2nd half of the book, back at school, is even better. Finding from Bel’s now-changed history book how she’s going to die, she takes steps to avoid it, the first of which is getting even better at riding horses. The way she does this is actually quite clever. You see, she gets up early, practices really hard, learns to read the movements of the horse, and treats them well, even going so far as to help save the life of the pregnant horse that she had been eyeing up as a replacement mount (as opposed to the horse that keeps sneezing on her). See? I told you it was clever. Mia is doing things correctly and doing them well. This culminates in the highlight of the book, where she races Ruby, the daughter of the House of Redmoon, in a Belmont Stakes with one of her retainers at stake. The race is fantastic, with Mia being both very much in character (she’s screaming and whining the entire time) but also incredibly awesome. And we also see her changing history once more, as one reason she was executed her first go-round is that she pissed off Ruby so much she persuaded her father not to support them with military might… something that ended up being fatal to them both. This time around, everyone wins, and Mia’s solution to what to do about Ruby is brilliant. I don’t even care if she wasn’t thinking long-term here. It’s still brilliant.

There are, of course, a few plotholes with the new arc, but they’re acceptable. Miabel did not vanish when Mia’s fate changed, despite the fact that she did not live long enough to have kids, much less grandkids. Even the author acknowledges this is a handwave, but it’s fine, as we also get sweet scenes of Miabel managing to stay her innocent, sweet self even in a bad future where she has to be hidden from the world. That said, Mia is still the star, not her granddaughter, and Mia is the reason that these books keep getting better. I can’t wait for the next one, and I would say that this is essential light novel reading.

Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 4

By Nozomu Mochitsuki and Gilse. Released in Japan as “Tearmoon Teikoku Monogatari” by TO Books. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by David Teng.

We’ve now had three books filled with Princess Mia doing something for either selfish or silly reasons (or, increasingly, because she is a very nice person) that ends up misinterpreted by everyone around her as pure brilliance, and we get plenty of that here as well. But we’re starting to also see the rest of the cast accomplish things away from Mia and have their own subplots. No, alas, I don’t mean Miabel, who’s still pretty much the mascot character of the series, and gets left behind for the second half of the book while the rest of the cast have a cruise. Instead, it’s Ludwig, thinking of some offhand remarks of Mia’s as well as what he thinks she would be doing in his place, that leads him to uncover a web of political intrigue that could end up crippling the Empire if things do end up happening the way that Mia predicts they will. His investigation and detective work is a refreshingly sedate part of this book. That said, rest assured there’s still a lot of Mia vs. reality here to love.

As with a couple of other Tearmoon books, the main plot is divided into two large chunks. The first picks up where the previous book left off: the school Mia had planned to start up is floundering, as ,most of the teachers and the headmaster have left. The answer is sadly obvious: Mia may be a very atypical noble now, but most nobles are far more like what Mia was in her previous “life”, and they are not having which this school where horrible farmers will be taught. To solve this, Ludwig suggests bringing in his former mentor, an eccentric old man whose grumpy tendencies and dislike of most nobles play right into Mia’s hands. After this, she is invited on a sea cruise to a tropical island by fellow noble Esmeralda, who IS like most nobles are – you will expect her maid to stab her in the face before the book finishes. Accompanied by Sion, Abel and Keithwood, all of whom supposedly go to “guard” Mia, they sadly run into a typhoon, leaving them stranded on an island that no longer looks as fun.

To get a big negative out of the way first, there is a subplot here about Mia getting a swimsuit for the cruise and realizing that she has tummy bulge, which unfortunately leads to a bunch of fat jokes, though Mia does end up losing most of the weight before the cruise itself. It’s not welcome. The rest of the book is filled with Tearmoon shenanigans, as most of the cast are content to listen to what she says and then make the most amazingly wrong conclusion imaginable, usually to the benefit of everyone involved. The semi-exception here is Keithwood, who knows Mia can be a flake, and is irritated with her mushroom obsession (especially as most of them are poisonous), but still regards her as a force for good. Which, honestly, she is. The narrative may frame Mia’s actions much of the time as self-interest or cowardice, but more and more we’re seeing Mia just be really nice to everyone – and get irritated when other nobles are not, as her anger towards Esmeralda’s treatment of her servant shows. Mia may be no Great Sage, but if things continue to go like this, she may make a very good leader.

The books are getting quite popular in Japan – the author talks about a stage play being made, and a 2nd one is due out this year – and it’s not hard to see why. Mia is fun, the books are exciting, there’s some good politics, and each book is long enough that you get a lot of bang for your buck. Hopefully fewer fat jokes next time, but otherwise still essential.