A Pale Moon Reverie, Vol. 1

By Kuji Furumiya and Teruko Arai. Released in Japan as “Tsuki no Shirosa o Shirite Madoromu” by DRE Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Jason Li.

This is definitely one of those series where you can sell it to others by simply saying who wrote it. For the right reader, “from the same author as Unnamed Memory” is quite the draw, and this series has a lot of the same strengths that made Unnamed Memory such a compelling work. Most notably that it feels like a “normal” fantasy work, rather than one filtered through Japanese light novels and webnovels. It’s refreshing these days to read books without stats, adventurer’s guilds, and the rest. This series is creating its own world, thank you very much, and the world is quite compelling. The two leads will also seem very familiar to those who’ve read Unnamed Memory, though they both lack the experience and maturity of Oscar and Tinasha. And, of course, there’s also the prose, which is excellent (and well translated). This is a book to curl up in a chair and take your time reading (and you’ll have to, it’s a long one).

Xixu is a shadeslayer, trained to seek out shades (basically evil ghosts) and destroy them. He’s very good at his job, but is overly serious and dour. He’s sent by the king (at the behest of the king’s seer) to Irede, a legendary city devoted to wine, women and song… literally. While there, he’s introduced to Sarida, the proprietress of the Pale Moon, a courtesan house with very strict rules – the courtesans pick their customers, not the other way around. Sari is only sixteen, and (as it turns out) has not yet chosen any customers, but she has other things that concern her, mainly that she has supernatural powers that can aide shadeslayers in binding the shades to make them easier to get rid of. As the book goes on, Xixu and Sari find themselves growing far closer to each other than they’d expected.

As with Unnamed Memory, this is basically an omnibus of two volumes that could have easily sold as normal 200-page books, but the author seems to like doorstoppers. Xixu is a good male lead, being dedicated and humorless but also caring and perceptive. Sari is more complicated, partly due to reasons I won’t spoil, but she’s also the one who tends to get in trouble a lot – she’s not quite a damsel in distress, don’t get me wrong, but when the climax of the book is about to happen you will find her at the center being restrained by the bad guys. As for the rest of the cast, I was a bit disappointed that the traitor in the first book was the obvious choice, though at least there was some attempt to throw us off the trail for a bit. I also very much like the idea of a courtesan house where the first rule is consent. But mostly I loved the worldbuilding and the writing. It’s the reason to read this.

This came from a webnovel, which is finished online, but we all know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to publishers. Still, I hope it does well for Drecom, as I love this author and want to read more of this odd but endearing couple.

Accidentally in Love: The Witch, the Knight, and the Love Potion Slipup, Vol. 1

By Harunadon and Eda. Released in Japan as “Koisuru Majo wa Elite Kishi ni Horegusuri o Nomasete Shimaimashita: Itsuwari kara Hajimaru Watashi no Dekiai Seikatsu” by DRE Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Heart. Translated by Arthur Miura.

I don’t expect every book I read to be good, and I know that a lot of them can pretty much be summed up as “this is an adequate representation of its genre”, but I usually like something that I can grab on to, if only for the reviews. Something that’s a bit odd, or weird, or different. No, I’m not going to talk about THAT word yet, more on that later. Instead I will note that this rather normal, generic romance novel has an odd quirky humor at times that sort of leaps out and grabs you. It’s as if the author is coloring in the lines in a book, but can’t resist all of a sudden just drawing halfway across the next page. And the scene in this book, about halfway through, when Cecily gets eaten by a wyvern, was exactly that. I laughed till I cried. The only drawback is it wasn’t illustrated.

Cecily, who grew up loving fairy tales about princess tricked by evil witches, is horrified when she comes of age to discover that she is, in fact, one of those witches. Now she has to live on her own for two years, as is tradition, and peddle her craft. The trouble is that Cecily is horribly introverted, so for the most part lives in a little house in the big woods. One day, her potion that changes her eye color wears off right as she’s wrongfully accused of theft, and a nasty incident is about to happen. Fortunately, she’s saved by a handsome knight. Unfortunately, she misunderstands something when overhearing him later and gets mad, deciding that (just as her mother did to her father), she’s going to brew a love potion and have the knight drink it! Surely nothing can go wrong.

So, let’s talk about the Princess. To be fair to the translator, I’m fairly certain there was no good way to translate this and not have it have the exact impact it has, that vague frisson of “a 14-year-old princess should not be using that word”. That said love potions aside, this is a sweet and fluffy romance novel for the most part, so when you recommend it you’re really going to have to say “also her best friend the princess says “loins” constantly”. Or else you’ll get glared at. The loins also fall into that quirky humor I mentioned above. I’m glad it’s there, as the two leads are not anything to write home about. I admit Cecily’s type, the nervous, self-hating introvert, is never my favorite protagonist to read, so that doesn’t really help. That said, I did enjoy the quirks, and, as you might have guessed, no one really does anything against their will here.

Feels complete to me, but a second book is on the way. If you enjoy collecting J-Novel Heart titles or just want to see a young woman get swallowed by a lizard, this is a good book to check out.

Death’s Daughter and the Ebony Blade, Vol. 4

By Maito Ayamine and Cierra. Released in Japan as “Shinigami ni Sodaterareta Shoujo wa Shikkoku no Tsurugi wo Mune ni Idaku” by Overlap Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sylvia Gallagher.

Getting back to a niggle I had last time, I will grant the fourth volume of the series this: the adjutant in the battle here does not appear to be in love with her commanding officer. That said, we do get a lot of similar beats, where the younger adjutant is told to retreat so that the older commander can die protecting the retreat. I admit that I am very fond of just how many women are in this book, and of course it stars Olivia, who is a monster in human form. All the same, I’m seeing similar things happening over and over in this series, and would not mind a female adjutant who stays behind and dies so that her commander can get away. You know, as a change of pace. I’m also not all that happy with the running gag of the women in love with the oblivious men, even as I will reluctantly admit that’s truth in literature.

Olivia’s success is having repercussions. First with her and her close companions – she’s made a major general, and given an army of her own to command, with Claudia and Ashton by her side. She gets to attend royal balls, where she interacts with the King, and also meets emissaries of foreign nations, like the Not At All Suspicious (TM) Sofitia. But in addition, her mere existence has caused the Empire to try to find other ways to win, such as proxy wars that they force an allied nation to take up for them (it goes badly). And Fernest is also having to deal with invasions of its own, though it’s helped there by the commander and the ruler in charge of the invading state both being very, very stupid. Don’t poke at Olivia to see what she does, you won’t like it.

There’s a lot of plot stuff going on here, to be honest, but Olivia’s actions seem to flow around it. Apart from trying to find out where Z has gone off to, she really has zero interest in all of the political machinations happening around her. She’s aware it exists, and does tell her aides that she is aware that Sofitia is probably inviting her to Mekia for nefarious reasons. But she’s never, ever had any fight cause her trouble since she last saw Z, and that doesn’t change here. Her reputation is starting to be less “oh no, that’s not possibly true” to “OH MY GOD IT’S HER”, and she’s definitely going to be facing stronger opponents, but I’ve yet to see anyone who can really take her on. Which might be for the best. No one is reading this book to see Olivia struggle and have self-doubts. She can delegate that to Claudia, probably.

This is a good “military strategy” series, provided you aren’t turned off by Olivia’s glorious OPness throughout. Frankly, that’s why I read it.