Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Lord of the Rust Mountains (The Faraway Paladin #3 – Primus)

Title: The Lord of the Rust Mountains

Author: Kanata Yanagino

Series: The Faraway Paladin #3 – Primus

Will is trying to manage the lands within Beast Woods and protect the people, but a prophecy about the evil within the Rust Mountains warns him that trouble is coming. For the Rust Mountains house a mercurial dragon. Sometimes siding with the gods, sometimes siding with their enemies, in the last war this dragon partnered with the demons to devastating effect. The dwarves lost their ancestral home. Thousands died. Will has no chance of beating the dragon, but he can’t stand aside as innocent people are once more going to be slaughtered . . .

This volume is split into two parts, so the story here is incomplete in and of itself. That said, the story arc as a whole is very strong, and this first part sets out the stakes and throws in a lot of complications.

Here we meet the dwarves. Will envisions them the way Blood talked about them—warriors proud and strong, unyielding in the face of certain death. But what he meets is the wreckage of a people who have wandered for two centuries. Timid. Spiritless. Broken.

That would be enough for Will to help anyway, but I love how he’s trying to encourage them—and one in particular—to stand back up. Even though Will himself admits he did the same things they did, in his previous life. Maybe because of that, he wants them to go farther than he had. He can’t quite remember the thing that ultimately broke him in that life, but he knows what the results were: a life where living and dying were basically the same to him.

I also really like how Will points out it doesn’t take anything exceptional to succeed. Practice and basic skill building, and a willingness to get back up again, are really all you need. The biggest things are built on those little building blocks.

Menel gets some interesting new abilities, too. I like that he’s not getting left behind as Will continues to improve. Even though he might feel like Will’s far better than he is, they’ve become a team.

Stagnate gets an interesting encounter too. (And it’s awesome that the god of undeath is called Stagnate.) I like how Will can totally understand where Stagnate is coming from and still be resolutely against Stagnate’s conclusions. Stagnate is nothing if not complicated, and Will can benefit from that even if they are enemies. And Will wants to be enemies—everything Stagnate can offer is everything that ruined him previously, but that doesn’t make it less tempting.

Will’s crisis of conscience is also very good. The skills and abilities he’s gained in this time are not insignificant, but he’s being told point blank by multiple parties that this will not be enough to stop a dragon. That it’s okay to step back or run away. But that’s a dangerous position for Will, who has memories of an entire lifetime where he’d stepped back and run away from the problems facing him. So far those memories have been the impetus for him to take hold of life with all his strength, but they also represent a trap. Giving in just once will put him back in that place inside his heart, and then the next time his courage is required its fractured strength may falter again.

This is one of the main reasons I enjoy his displays of overwhelming strength. It’s often training prevailing in spite of what’s going on in his heart. He’s not proud, but realistic about how far he’s come and how far he has yet to go. He keeps a very level head. But even Will needs encouragement to push him to take the steps he wants to take, but is afraid to. Even though he can remind himself, he needs other people to stand up with him.

I adore the end. Will finally divulges a bit more about his past to his closest friends, to hilarious results. (I’ve wanted to see Menel’s reaction ever since they became friends.) It’s so understated, and just imagining the reactions had me laughing long after I put down the book.

The humor continues to be really good. Whether it’s Will commenting on how hiring maids actually worked out for him (versus the tropes he’d been familiar with from Japan), the conversation where he’s trying to defend his utter lack of a dating life, or watching how everyone around him reacts to what he thinks is perfectly normal, there’s a good bit of levity balancing out the more serious bits.

Overall this (partial) volume continues the adventure in some wonderful directions, and although I’m a bit sad they didn’t just bundle both halves of volume 3 together for the English release, I’m still very glad I continued with the series. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Archer of Beast Woods (The Faraway Paladin #2)

Title: The Archer of Beast Woods

Author: Kanata Yanagino

Series: The Faraway Paladin #2

Will has left the ruined city where he grew up in search of the wider world. He has no idea how civilization has changed in the 200 years since his undead caretakers last knew it. No idea how to interact with society in general, since his only companions for the first fifteen years of his life were those three undead. When he does find people, he finds poverty, darkness, and despair. His oath to Gracefeel, his reason for being alive, is to confront these evils head on, but what can one person do in the face of such massive issues?

This was just as entertaining as the first book, though in somewhat different ways. Will has the memories of his previous life, vague though they might be, and his training to see him through. That just means it’s a lot easier for him to deal with rampaging wyverns and murderous demons. Actually dealing with people is still something he’s trying to figure out, and other people quickly pick up on the fact that he’s a bit strange.

“Rejoice. I have met many nitwits over the years, and you have exceeded them all.” He gave a massive sigh.

Will is confident in his own abilities, even though he’s also pretty realistic about what he can do. This is still at such a level above everyone else that it tends to startle everyone. I think Will’s right about it mostly being the result of training, though. Most of the people he’s encountered actually have lives. They didn’t spend the last ten years or more learning how to fight, cast spells, or pray the way he did. They don’t have his discipline to keep up with his training even in the absence of his teachers.

“That ruin’s a den of undead. It’s devoured countless adventurers. No one’s ever come back from there alive.”
Is that so. “Then I’d better go in there later and return them all to the cycle of rebirth.”
“What? Were you even listening?”

Blood’s advice is something Will keeps very close to his heart—to hilarious results.

Can’t think of a good solution? Nature of your enemy is unknown? In my mind, Blood raised a fist and yelled at the top of his voice. Then MUSCLE! Violence! Wreck him!!

It’s also really neat how Will stumbles across some of the stories Blood, Mary, and Gus never told him about themselves. He’s always known they were famous, but he’s amazed the stories about them are still circulating.

I’m also ridiculously impressed that the story is so grounded. Whether it’s the details about how to fight, economics, social commentary, or faith, the book lays out what’s going on with clarity and honesty. Like Will’s thought process after capturing the bandits, and how he notes this isn’t over just because he’s captured them. There’s very few options for the aftermath, because he can’t just turn them over to some authority to jail. Yet he manages to find a way to resolve it that honors both justice and mercy.

Or take this:

Mary had once told me, “The greatest trap one can fall into when trying to do something good is to make the mistake of thinking that because you are acting with a good goal in mind, you are bound to get results.” Even if you decide to do something good, the people around you won’t lend you their help unconditionally, nor will the gods bless you with protection. Results come only by setting a reasonable goal and using appropriate methods to achieve it. And so, Mary had told me, the most important thing is to be practical and realistic.

Just like with the fighting advice, this is great at showing how to actually approach real issues. It’s not a mindset that requires story magic to work.

I love these little bits of wisdom. I love the layers to the story. I love that Will is realizing that what he wants most is a group of people that will be to him what Gus, Mary, and Blood were to each other–friends and partners. And he’s on his way to achieving that.

Overall this continues to be a fantastic series. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Boy in the City of the Dead (The Faraway Paladin #1)

Title: The Boy in the City of the Dead

Author: Kanata Yanagino

Series: The Faraway Paladin #1

Will remembers his previous life. He’d just drifted through, never engaging, never really risking, dulled to life and death. But he remembers, even as he’s now in the body of a baby, being raised by three undead caretakers in an abandoned temple. He’s determined to use this second chance well. He’s determined this time, he won’t just exist, but really live. And, trained by a warrior skeleton, a priest mummy, and a wizard wraith, he’s gaining the skills and tools he’ll need to tackle just about anything.

It’s really hard summarizing this book, which is easily one of the best—if not the best—I have read this year. This is one story where I feel the reincarnation piece is absolutely vital to the plot, rather than yet another gimmick to get the main character to another world. Will’s whole reason for going after life full-tilt is because he is inwardly grieving over the absolute waste he made of his previous life. He’s learning the difference between existing and really living.

And he’s doing it in the company of some of the kindest, yet most challenging adults you can imagine. That they’re undead is a bit alarming to him at first, but he quickly realizes they mean him no harm.

[…] my situation was neither dream nor vision. It felt far too vivid and far too realistic. And I couldn’t imagine what would have to go wrong for a person to start having visions of having their diaper changed by a reanimated corpse.

This is also hugely funny. A lot of the humor is tied to seeing childhood through an adult’s perspective, but the characters themselves are also a real treat. There are so many moments that made me pause to laugh.

Would anyone launch into an explanation of astronomy, physics, and the theory of nuclear fusion after a child asked, “Why does the sun shine?” Not usually. Your answer would be something like, “Mister Sun is doing his best to give us all light and keep us warm.”

Blood’s got some really solid combat advice (Gus, too). I love his motto. “Get ripped, and you can solve pretty much everything by force.”

And the magic system is also interesting. There’s good reasons why being a mage can’t be industrialized, and why being a combat mage is particularly hazardous. No matter how much Will learns from Gus, though, Gus is simply so much BETTER that Will has little trouble staying humble.

From Mary, Will learns a good deal of practical skills, like how to manage a garden, clean the house, and do various chores. I love how this is balanced with learning both physical and magical combat. He’s learning how to be helpful as well as independent, to not be a leech on the people around him. This aspect of self-sufficiency hardly ever gets mentioned, much less given equal weight as learning to fight.

The translation on this is so good I wouldn’t have guessed this was originally in another language if I hadn’t already known. Huge props to the translator for making the English flow so smoothly.

Overall, this is a special book, one whose words and characters will linger long after the final page.

Mary was sitting perfectly upright as she spoke. Her words were solemn, like a priest delivering a message from the gods. “There will be times when you will suffer a loss. There will be times when you are blamed unjustly. You may be betrayed by those you help, the good you do may be forgotten, and you may lose what you have built up and be left with nothing but enemies to show for it.”
Her serious atmosphere quickly softened. She beckoned me over to her, and held me tight. “Love people anyway. Do good anyway. Don’t be afraid of loss. Create, don’t destroy. Where there is sin, grant forgiveness; where there is despair, hope; where there is sorrow, joy. And protect the weak from all kinds of violence.[…]”

Highly, highly recommended.

The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! #1 (Light Novel)

Title: The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! #1

Author: Gamei Hitsuji

Format: Light Novel

Suimei is walking home with his friends when all three of them are unexpectedly summoned to another world. As they suspected, this world is looking for a hero to defeat the Demon Lord who is bent on annihilating humanity—but Suimei wants nothing to do with it. Luckily, it’s Reiji who was the chosen hero, so even though it disappoints everyone, Suimei can try to sit this one out. But Suimei’s knowledge of modern magic is incredibly advanced in this new world, and his ambition to lead a quiet life is quickly overturned . . .

Although I liked some pieces, the overall execution left me uncertain if I want to continue the series.

I can’t stand Felmenia. She whiplashes from mature and competent to flustered and childish, and although I get the general direction the author was going, the personality shifts feel too extreme. And more than once the story tanks into fetishization, like having her trip over her own clothes just to land her in a pin-up pose that the male character can gawk at. Or the stupid, stupid arguments between the girls about whose breasts are bigger. (It always makes me want to ask, do you know any real girls? I realize this is fantasy, but it’s really tiring and insulting to watch girls behave like brainless twits.)

I actually don’t mind so much the fact that Suimei’s confrontation with Felmenia broke her. That was a fun fight, especially with the layers of magic, and I enjoy seeing her arrogance brought down to size. The whole genius-gifted-kid who could do no wrong because she was so talented getting humiliated was amusing, especially because the narrative is careful to show how the fight is working from both perspectives. She’s in this to show him up, but he’s used to people trying to kill him and is expecting her to at least attempt the same. But that kind of humiliation is based on her personality flaws, and isn’t so much intended to be exploitative.

The conversations about what happens in light novels when people are summoned to another world at the beginning is also a bit too meta for my tastes. There was some amusement at the beginning but eventually I wanted them to stop comparing the situation they were in to the books they had read and just get on with it.

The biggest plus about the book is, as might be expected, the magic. Suimei is a magician of modern Japan—a real magician, but a secret one. And his use of magic reflects various magical traditions from across the globe, from numerology to the technical details of how to create a golem and more. He’s familiar with the “elements” that Felmenia mentions, although not in the same form. His passion for understanding the how and why and not—as he pointedly accuses her—making a bigger boom has given him a wide range of skills. And those skills play out like video game spells, which makes them fun and flashy, in addition to the interesting technical underpinnings he spells out.

I also liked that the book bucks tradition a bit by having Suimei sort of caught up in this “hero summoning” by accident, as it’s actually his best friend who receives the prophesied blessings and sets out to confront the Demon Lord. Suimei is himself too horrified by the thought of going one against a million to even bother helping, except to try to make a path for all of them to get home. Given the situation overall, I’d be shocked if he isn’t eventually pulled into the confrontation anyway (against his will), but he’s certainly not going out looking for trouble.

All in all this is a very mixed bag. The harem elements take up enough of the plot to be a significant distraction, and it cheapens most of the female characters. The magical elements are much better, but I’m not certain I like those enough to get past the rest. I rate this book Neutral.

The Rising of the Shield Hero #10 (Light Novel)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero #10

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

The recovery of the Spirit Tortoise’s energy has given Naofumi a whole three and a half months to rest. And he’ll need it, as he, Raphtalia, and Filo are suffering the effects of his latest use of his Wrath shield. In the meantime, Naofumi turns his thoughts towards training an army to help him out, and he has just the place (and people) in mind.

This volume unfortunately slides back into a lot of the antics that I really hate. The whole scene with Keel felt unnecessary (and really, WHY did we have to go in this direction?). Instead of making Keel a girl and awkwardly making comments on sexual preferences to someone who is mentally still about 10 (and the incredibly stupid pronouncement forbidding relationships that follows), I would’ve preferred some actual character development and not a rehash of the same kind of shticks that show up in countless anime/manga/light novels.

Besides, the cast is desperately in need of males who aren’t stupid. Right now only the weapon shop owner qualifies (I’d give L’Arc more credit if he was a local, but we’re not likely to see him again for a while). I had been hoping Keel could grow up to be the male equivalent of Raphtalia, someone Naofumi can speak frankly with as more of a peer, without the romantic angle. Instead we get Keel as a girl, and the end of the book has yet another girl joining the party (and one who’s not at all shy about making her intentions known).

I did like that the immediate focus is more on rebuilding. The Coliseum ensures there will still be interesting fights even as the quieter work of setting up a new home begins. Naofumi hasn’t really had any place in this world to call home before now. Even now he’s more considering this territory a place to raise an army than a place to live, but I suspect once he has a home the way Kizuna did his attitude will start to change. The little touches of longing visible when he considered her home imply he really wants that kind of a place for himself.

The whole slavery angle is also a mixed bag. Naofumi is doing good things in questionable ways, which is kind of how he’s operated all along. Even though he’s correct that his bonuses will help everyone level better as slaves, he’s never been willing to consider releasing Raphtalia or Filo from the spells that he could use to control them. He’s likely to make excuses about releasing the others too, even though they aren’t as close. And Naofumi’s actions prop up the slave market, making him responsible for the kind of demand that caused Raphtalia to get kidnapped into slavery in the first place.

It was funny what Naofumi considers an appropriate punishment for the people who caused so much trouble to Raphtalia and her village in the first place. It is entirely fitting—those who were only concerned about the money ran into someone using their own values against them.

I also liked the small twists on the whole Coliseum trope—Naofumi’s just in this to get rich quick. Betting on his own party and then sweeping a tournament seems like the best way to get a massive return on his investment. His interactions with Nadia help expose that this isn’t going to be quite as simple as he was expecting, but it’s too late to back out.

Overall this is a quieter book, but the main reason I feel it’s a step back from the stronger arc recently is the focus on really stereotypical harem antics. If you’ve followed the series up until this point, the last book wouldn’t be a bad place to stop, at least until the current arc can prove if it’s going to get back on track. I rate this book Neutral.

The Rising of the Shield Hero #9 (Light Novel)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero #9

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

Naofumi’s plans to hunt down Kyo got a little sidetracked when he followed Kyo back to another world. But now that he’s reunited with his party again, they’re making the preparations needed to fight. Except that Kyo isn’t exactly sitting back waiting for them. He’s prepared a number of obstacles. And he’s also got the power he’s stolen from the Spirit Tortoise to use to fuel his incredible magic.

This book had so many parts that left me laughing so hard I had to put the book down for a moment.

“You think you stand a chance against all of us together?” I laughed, sounding like a cheap pirate. Oh well.
“Naofumi, that’s what people say before they lose.”

And how he then trolls the enemy. It’s another stellar defensive ability—like his Hate Control skill without the need to actually activate a skill. Naofumi naturally being a jerk can distract human enemies.

Also I love the fact that Naofumi is still gaining more and more really bizarre skills that he can turn to clever uses. He unlocks rickshaw abilities, which passively boosts whatever he’s carrying, so Raph-chan and Filo start perching on him during fights to take even better advantage of his boosts (PLEASE let this be an anime . . . I really want to see this. And his expression.)

The scene where all the animals are curled up against him is also really cute.

And his armor is as amazing (ly bad) as ever. He can’t escape from weapon shop owners who want to deck him out to look like a villain. Better yet, this set is cursed!

“What if I try it on and it seriously injures me?”
“We’ll just have to rush to get you treated. I know a good doctor.”

And:

Judging from what I’d seen of her work so far, I was pretty impressed with Romina’s craftsmanship. That is, if I ignored the somewhat murderous intentions of the armor I was wearing.

Although my FAVORITE part is absolutely the locked door. Naofumi’s dead on about what to do about it (and Kizuna’s reaction is funny just because it’s such a gamer way to think about things), and then when Raphtalia goes along with his plan it was even funnier. Even here, in this other world, he’s stuck working with people who are so much seeing this as a game they totally overlook the obvious.

“You want to solve puzzles, but that would imply that there are puzzles to solve. You think he left behind keys for us to find? I doubt it!”
Who would do something like that? He ’d have to be crazy to leave clues for invaders to come find him.
No—we were going to break down all the doors, find Kyo, and make him pay.

I’m a little sorry Yomogi doesn’t get much chance to develop. She gets a lot of page time, but since most of that is during the fight, it doesn’t do a whole lot for her as a character. That’s a shame even if she isn’t likely to show up again. Kyo also ended up unfortunately a lot flatter than I would have liked. Yomogi was the perfect opportunity to expound more on who he was in the past and provide specific memories, but that doesn’t happen. The other women don’t contribute anything to that either.

It’s a shame Naofumi will have to return “home” after this, as I quite enjoyed this time he got to fight with people who aren’t willfully stupid. The various digs at gamers and game mechanics were entirely on point, too. I rate this book Recommended.

The Rising of the Shield Hero #8 (Light Novel)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero #8

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Format: Light Novel

Kyo has escaped to another world with the Spirit Tortoise’s power. Naofumi is determined to get it back. That power was meant to stall the waves, but more than that, Kyo’s attitude towards the Spirit Tortoise has deeply offended Naofumi. Ost was a strange sort of friend, but she was one of the few he’d had. So Naofumi is once again heading for another world. There he finds another set of Holy Heroes, with another set of Legendary Weapons . . . and another Hero much like himself.

It’s interesting to see Naofumi get a bit of a do-over in this book. He’s got a new world to learn about, new powers to unlock, and even his levels have been reset back down to 1. As frustrated as he is about all that, at least now he’s got the practical experience to make the most out of gaining EXP to level his way back up. The book doesn’t focus too much on this, other than to set the stage and show how things here are a bit sideways to how he was used to seeing them.

Hearing myself say it all felt strange… I was the Shield Hero from another world who came from another world… How many worlds were there now? Whatever—it was the truth.

Kizuna is a fascinating character. She’s got a lot in common with Naofumi, in that both of them face a hard restriction from their Legendary Weapons. She’s faced some of the same types of doubters, but she never closed off as much as he did. She was never betrayed as badly. And she isn’t doing it deliberately, but because she expects more out of him in terms of trusting her, he’s able to feel more comfortable with her as an ally in a short period of time.

It’s hysterical how Kizuna is impressed about all of Naofumi’s non-combat skills, like cooking and crafting, and completely misses any combat abilities he does possess (because shields, and therefore defensive only).

I also really liked the shikigami Naofumi ends up with. It has an evil laugh! I can’t wait to see what other useful skills and abilities Raph-chan ends up having. Naofumi kind of needs a pet—he didn’t have much luck raising Filo that way, but Raph-chan can both amuse him and calm him down.

It’s also interesting to see how old enemies are now pretty firm allies. Nobody wants Kyo to succeed, so Glass, L’Arc, and Theresa are contributing just as much as Naofumi and his companions. I like how the camaraderie is building between them. Naofumi got stuck with such sucky Heroes in his own world that it’s a refreshing change to have such competent friends.

Overall this is the start of another fascinating arc. My biggest complaint is that the book feels like it ends too fast. I rate this book Recommended.