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.

Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 2

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.

Much to my surprise, after a humdinger of a reveal towards the end of the first book, the second book in the series does not build on that reveal beyond a few ominous scenes. Instead, this book proves to be 100% magical academy adventures. This is not a flaw, as the author is really excellent at writing magical academy adventures. We get broom lore, epic sword and magic duels, wacky classwork, terrifying classwork, and more of The Labyrinth, which is likely going to take up more and more of the books as the series goes on. Here our group of six decides to make a home base inside it, the better to do all the little things they really don’t want others to find out about. Unfortunately, our kids are all Very Special People, and as such have attracted the attention of others. This means even more battles, more secrets revealed, and more magical sword battles. Unfortunately, it also means a nasty cliffhanger.

While Oliver and Nanao continue to be the “protagonists” part of the group of six, the others are getting development, and in this book it’;s Pete and Chela who get it. While I will try not to spoil too much, Pete’s plotline in particular is quite well done, and I liked the fact that everyone was understanding and that he was immediately introduced to a support group of people with similarities. And if it also feels like a “fuck you” to a certain other magical academy book writer, well, all for the better. As for Chela, her plot is tied into her family history and the way magical families work in particular. In my last review I compared her to Rin Tohsaka, and that comparison holds up very well here, even including a younger sister that she’s unable to publicly acknowledge. She continues to be my favorite of the six.

As for others, I am hoping Guy gets a book of his own soon, as he’s currently “the other one”. Katie builds nicely on the first book, and I appreciate her discovery that even groups that supposedly share the same belief as she does are not the sort of groups she wants to be involved with. This society is complex, and changing ingrown prejudices is not going to be as easy as a well-timed lecture to the head. The minor villains in the book include an arrogant not-Italian kid (in the same way Nanao is not-Japanese) who tries to show Oliver why learning the basics is bad, the aforementioned younger sister and her servant/best friend, and another guy who acts the part of an arrogant asshole because he was essentially traumatized into it. In this book, both good and bad guys have a rich characterization to them. Well, except Guy. Sorry, Guy.

The cliffhanger makes me want to read the next in the series right now, but we’ll have to wait a bit. In the meantime,l please read this, it’s one of the best light novel debuts from 2020, and 2021 proves it was not a fluke.

Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 1

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.

This was one of the two “big names” licensed a while back, and it had a huge amount of buzz to live up to. It not only lived up to the hype, it sailed over any other hurdles. This book is good. Really, hard-to-put-down good. This is all the more surprising given that it runs on some very common fantasy novel themes. Our heroes are first-years who are arriving at a prestigious magic school in not-Britain. Most of the characters will be a recognizable type, but this doesn’t make them annoying or boring, rather it makes it easier to identify and sympathize with them. The exceptions are our two lead protagonists, both of whom clearly have a lot more to their backstories than our first meeting would initially suggest. They go to school, learn magic, learn swords (more on that in a bit), and end up in trouble about every 30-40 pages or so. That said… this is surprisingly dark.

Our group of first years are: Oliver, the main protagonist, a serious young man with a talent for intricate spells; Nanao, the other main protagonist, a foreign student who knows nothing in the world except fighting to the death; Katie, the daughter of demi-human rights activists who shares their activism; Guy, a goofy everyman sort; Pete, who comes from a nonmagical family and is here to study and prove himself; and Michela, the noble girl with princess curls who, for once, turns out to be the nicest person in the book. They get into adventures right off the bat when a troll goes berserk at the run-up to the opening ceremony, and can’t seem to stop stuff happening to them after that, from getting trapped in the labyrinthine hallways after school to fighting a duel that goes horribly awry to finding that most of their upperclassmen are completely, 100% bonkers.

As I said, this book is darker than you’d expect. It’s made very clear at the start by the headmaster that a lot of the students die. We also see several fourth and fifth years who are happy to torture, battle, or experiment on anyone that catches their fancy. It’s also a school that combines swordsmanship with magic, after a magical duel in the past ended in death because the mage was no good at up-close fighting. The “spellblades” in the title are legendary blades that are essentially “one hit kill” blades, and there are not many on the world at all. It’s not hard to guess who’s going to be spellblading by the end of this book, but that’s OK. Plus there’s a lovely twist at the end that throws a lot of what we were assuming about one of the characters out the window, and makes me wonder if this cute romance I was hoping for is going to end at all well.

There’s more I could talk about. Nanao is, as I said, trained only for battle, but she’s surprisingly innocent and goofy otherwise. There’s a nasty rival character who appears to be set up to just be a constant antagonist, but then is dealt with and starts becoming a better person. There’s everything about Chela, who may be my favorite character in the book, despite essentially being Rin Tohsaka with Luvia’s hair. (There are a lot of characters who you could say are “essentially __________”, and you will note I have avoided mentioning a certain series that will come to mind.) Most importantly, the book is gripping and makes you want to read fast and immerse yourself in the world, despite being pretty lengthy (it’s over 280 pages). This is absolutely worth the hype.