Walking My Second Path in Life, Vol. 3

By Otaku de Neet and Kurodeko. Released in Japan as “Watashi wa Futatsume no Jinsei wo Aruku!” by SQEX Novels. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Schubauer.

Frequently we find that we, as readers, do not want what the author, as a writer, is writing. This is especially true as the series goes on. Any glance at AO3 fanfiction will see a graveyard of incredibly popular fanfics that got abandoned because the author got very angry at the source material. As such, I should not be annoyed that a romance novel turned out to end with a romance novel ending. But I am, a bit. It doesn’t help that even the author kind of realizes that this is the wrong move, with everyone second guessing the big reveal and wondering if it might have been better just to let Heath stay a squire after all. Oh yes, and there’s the fact that this book came out four years after the others and with a different publisher. We should probably be grateful we got anything at all, but what we got is… well, somewhat less than satisfying.

For those who may have forgotten what’s been happening, Heath is the disguised Princess Fie, training as a squire and hanging out with her buddies. There’s fighting! There’s circuses! But then, right as she is jumping through a hoop of REAL FIRE in an effort to create a circus of their own, the kingdom’s chancellor happens to be walking by… and recognizes her. That’s it, she’s toast. That said, at least she’s not exiled to the cottage of starvation any more, and everyone lines up to apologize to her, from the King to her sister (yes, we finally meet her sister). Unfortunately, there’s a slight problem, which is that Fie has been dating Queen, and now she can’t. This will require strategy, as well as a long think to try to figure out if she actually is in love.

This reminded me a bit of Bloom Into You as well, as we get a “will they make a character who doesn’t really get love or romance asexual?…no, they won’t” sort of vibe to it. That said, this mostly feels like a book trying to do too much. We get separate subplots explaining Fie’s sister (who is in love with a Prince from a different kingdom) and King Roy (who is trying to be a good king but his desire to completely avoid women has led to tremendous problems. But, again, the main issue is that this is the story of a woman who empowers herself and goes out to create her own life and career… and in the end finds that she can’t actually do that, so resolves to become a wife and mother. Queen gets to be a knight, though. It’s not that badly written, and Fie is still a great character to read about, but it feels like we made the wrong choice and got the bittersweet ending in a visual novel.

Perhaps this will inspire someone to write a fanfic where Heath isn’t caught and becomes a knight? Mmmmmm… probably not. But, again, authors should not call attention to the bad choices they’ve made by having other characters saying “maybe this was a bad choice”.

Walking My Second Path in Life, Vol. 2

By Otaku de Neet and Kurodeko. Released in Japan as “Watashi wa Futatsume no Jinsei wo Aruku!” by Earth Star Entertainment. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

Towards the end of the second volume of this series, there’s a scene where Fie, our heroine, realizes that she’s sort of been coasting along from day to day as a squire without giving much thought to her future or what her goals are. I’m not entirely sure that the author meant it to apply to the series as a whole as well, but it’s a somewhat apt comparison. This second volume of Second Path feels at times like a short story anthology based around the main story, and is content to meander along as such. We still have never met Fie’s sister, and while Fie reveals who she really is to someone else in this book, it doesn’t really change much for her on the larger scale. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a fun series to read, and I enjoy the antics of Fie/Heath. I just get the sense that the author had a great idea for a series but has absolutely no endgame in mind.

There are two major events in this second volume, the larger of which is a competition between Fie’s dorm and the students of the Eastern dorm, their biggest rivals. There are a few characters introduced who seem to be something of a stock type – the arrogant jerk who belittles everyone, the stoic analytic guy, etc. This does serve to give us a bit more character development for a few of Fie’s fellow knights – in fact, Fie’s own battle is the odd anticlimax to the whole thing, mostly as she can’t win through normal means, so resorts to “the letter of the law, not the spirit” to achieve a sort of Pyrrhic victory. It’s thoroughly in character, but reminds you that whether she’s a princess or a knight, Fie is a giant brat.

The other major part of this book is inserting a romance into it. There’s the king, of course, who flits in and out of the book disguised as the Knight Commander, and who will no doubt become an issue once he and Fie realize who the other one is. But sensibly, the author writes the romance using the most developed character besides Fie; Queen, the socially awkward young man who went from “pet” to “friend” over the course of time. Queen’s always had something of a crush on Fie, and in this second book that expands greatly to full-blown attraction. This leads to the funniest scene in the book, which I really don’t want to spoil but is both hilarious and painfully embarrassing, especially if you’re a guy. That said, Fie is not entirely sure if she feels that way about Queen, and after taking advice that dating will be good “life experience” for her, she and Queen hooking up seems a bit less impactful than it could be.

Walking My Second Path in Life feels like walking along a long, meandering path with great scenery. You enjoy the view. Then you look up after 45 minutes and realize you have no idea where the heck you are. Fortunately, we’ve caught up with Japan now, so we’ll let the author try to figure it out while Fie flits along from day to day.

Walking My Second Path in Life, Vol. 1

By Otaku de Neet and Kurodeko. Released in Japan as “Watashi wa Futatsume no Jinsei wo Aruku!” by Earth Star Entertainment. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

It can be somewhat difficult to recommend light novel series at times, particularly the ones that are licensed over here, which tend to be marketed to the anime/manga fan, and generally speaking the male anime/manga fan. Many is the time I’ve read a series with many points to recommend it, only to have the storyline have a hero who gains about eight other women in love with him, or where the story is fine but the illustrations do nothing but show off the half-naked female form. Even The Faraway Paladin, which is about the closest comparison I can make to the title I’m reviewing, has elements of the classic “reincarnated in another world” story to it, though that lessens as the series goes along. But Walking My Second Path in Life is the first light novel I’ve read, I believe, that I can honestly say: this does not feel like a light novel. It feels like a romance book (with little to no romance) written for the average female North American reader.

Our heroine is the twin sister of the new Queen of a country. In fact, Fie is also, technically, married to the King as well – the twin sisters were a package deal. The problem is that Fie is the Unfavorite, and also has a reputation for being horrible. As such, the King gives her a pavilion of the palace to live in, with servants who one by one quit till she’s left alone to, presumably, starve to death. (The King’s callous motivations are rather ambiguous throughout.) Choosing not to do this, she instead comes across a flyer trying to get squires for the company of knights. She thus decides to cut off her hair, dress as a boy named Heath, and use the rudimentary sword training she got as a princess when someone bothered to give her the time of day to become a knight. The rest of the book is her life as a squire after achieving this, which (despite her best efforts) keeps occasionally intersecting with her old life – not least of which being the identity of her company commander.

The unfortunately named Otaku de Neet (it’s apparently a tortuous kanji pen name, but it leaves the fan who knows those two terms feeling very wary) has done an excellent job with Fie, who is your typical bright, enthusiastic young lad sort… except she (the book uses female pronouns throughout, and also calls her “Fie” in narration- Heath is a secret identity, after all) has a crafty, snarky, mean side to her as well. The mean side to her actually makes up some of the best scenes in the book, such as when she (in a flashback as Princess Fie) beats up rapist pedophiles with impunity, or when she gets around the fact that one of the squires has found out her secret by blackmailing him and treating him as a dog (trust me, it’s far more lighthearted and hilarious than it sounds). She’s a nice person at heart, though, be it Fie or Heath, and the rest of the main cast are also people who, while some are more fleshed out than other, I genuinely enjoy reading about. (I am morbidly curious about the other twin, who Fie never interacts with in this book.)

I won’t spoil some of the other great scenes – suffice to say the entire chapter with Cain is a treasure from beginning to end. I will note there is an attempted rape of an underage servant here, but Fie nips that in the bud before anything can happen. The illustrations are cute and fit the materials quite well. Even the squad member who dresses up as a woman in order to spy on the enemy is treated with (relative) respect and not made into the “comedy gay man”. Plus, since it’s only two volumes so far in Japan, you’re not laying out a lot of cash. I can’t even call it a fantasy – there doesn’t appear to be any magic in this world, it’s just a straight up medieval kingdom sort of world. If you like books with (pardon the expression) strong female leads, I highly recommend this series, possibly the biggest pleasant surprise I’ve seen from J-Novel Club to date.