For a variety of reasons, I found myself with a lot more interest and time for picking up and following new light novels this year. It’s gotten to the point now that I can comfortably say that probably I’ve read more volumes in sheer number this year than any other before. I’d like to think that a big part of it came from my increased awareness of when new stuff comes out after helping out with English Light Novels but I certainly can’t blame the actual purchasing of the things on anything but my lack of self-control.
In any case, I’ve found myself in the position of being able to recommend a bunch of new titles that I’ve tried and liked this year and so, here we are. Let’s get started.
Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen
Torture Princess is… a ride. It’s a rather irregular reincarnation-type novel which elects to be as gruesome and gory in its description of its world and its inhabitants as possible while maintaining some commercial viability. Torture Princess starts out with the introduction of Kaito, a boy summoned to a new world after being killed by his abusive father. This new world turns out to be one filled with death and horror with his summoner being the supposed source of much of it. This summoner of his, the self-proclaimed “proud wolf and lowly sow” is the titular Torture Princess, Elisabeth Le Fanu. The series sets out to follow the pair as they complete the Church’s task for Elisabeth to eliminate the fourteen named demons as repentance for her crimes before she is executed.
I’m not usually big on horror, gore, or gratuitous violence of any sort of Torture Princess’ ‘horror’ aesthetic really caught my morbid curious in a weird way. It was, at first a little shocking, but it eventually numbed to a kind of whimsical oddness. The actors of this bloodied landscape – Elisabeth and Kaito – fight for their lives to the bemusement and benefit of the world Church and yet the moments of light-hearted comedy and closeness are never too far off. This occasion dip into more comfortable territory makes it feel like the kind of novels I’m very acquainted with and I kind of love it for that. It never feels totally jarring and shows off different sides to the characters that make them so much more charming. Though I do wonder if it’s all just a result of me looking for something to hold on to in such a setting.
The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life
The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life is the story about an alchemist who put herself into stasis to narrowly avoid dying in a great stampede. Two hundred years later Mariela has miraculously revived to find her house and the nearby town in decaying ruin. As the only living local alchemist, the novel follows her journey in discovering how to live the quiet life she’s always dreamed of in a very new and unfamiliar world devoid of alchemists.
Quiet City Alchemist really is quite a nice slice of life, fantasy novel. The author goes in heavy depth with Mariela’s alchemical procedures and experiments with material excursions and meetings with vendors and other townsfolk filling in the gaps – or at least after the first volume got into the groove of Mariela’s new life. The introductory bit of the first volume was a little incongruent with the latter half and what I assume the rest of the series will be like. It started with her meeting with a mercenary group transporting slaves into the city that she would eventually make her home and ended with her buying a visibly injured slave to both heal him and free him by hiring him to work for her.
It’s a bit of a weird and uncomfortable introduction to the series but when the novel finally got going, the relationship between the two feels comfortably close, with their mutual desires for companionship and repayment for the kindness they consistently show one another. It’s cute and quite a nice read so long as the early subject matter isn’t an immediate turn-off.
Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World
This novel caught me completely off guard with my expectations clashing heavily with what I assumed from the cover art. Our Last Crusade, a title that endlessly confuses me, is at its heart a story about two people who fall in love at first sight. Iska and Alice are our two main leads with each being formidable tools for the two sides at war in their world. Iska is an elite Sword Disciple and the wielder of the legendary Astral Blades, while Alice is the infamous Ice Calamity Witch with the power to decimate whole armies. The two meet one fateful day and find themselves with feelings they’ve never felt before.
The whole setup is very much a Romeo and Juliet fantasy reskinning, but it did come off as genuinely adorable. I personally found the battles and overarching conflict between the two sides to be pretty uninteresting but the dynamic between the pair and the romcom-like situations they often found themselves in was extremely good; the transition between their coincidental meeting to purposeful ones was something I personally loved a lot. As the story moves forward and the conflicts escalate, I’m sure that the goofy romance moments will be drastically reduced so I’m hoping that by that point in the series, the overarching plotline will get interesting enough for me to want to continue following along.
Of Dragons and Fae: Is a Fairy Tale Ending Possible for the Princess’s Hairstylist
One of the things I’ve noticed as of late with new light novels is the tendency to find one element or detail as the focus of their story. With a lot of Isekai novels, the varying modes of reincarnation often serve as the unique marker for each entry but in other genres, it can sometimes feel like the areas of focus are just places of intense interest for the author. And Of Dragons and Fae is one such example of an author who’s tried to incorporate their hobby in their writing – in this case, styling hair.
Of Dragons and Fae is a fantasy novel set in a world with all the regularly available fantasy toppings, with dragons, demons, fairies, and magic all existing in a medieval eastern European-inspired setting. The story follows Mayna Spring, the personal hairstylist to the princess of their kingdom, Patricia, amid a minor crisis. Right from the start of volume one, we’re introduced to a companion of the visiting prince from the neighboring country of dragons. Upon meeting our protagonist, he confesses his love for her as her ‘bondmate’ – the dragon’s equivalent of soulmates – and attempts to romance her in the days that follow. Suddenly and without warning though, he brutally dumps her and leaves with his dragon entourage. The news then comes that the princess is to be married off to the dragon prince and Mayna is dragged along as an irreplaceable hand and friend of the princess. The story continues from there with her attempt to try and work and live in the same castle as her brutal dumper.
The novel reminds me of My Next Life as a Villainess in its rather goofy romantic escapades and relatively light plot and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Most of the first volume plays out with Mayna trying her best to help style Patricia such that she’d be able to fit in and impress the royal family as well as improve her reputation with the locals. This naturally gave a lot of opportunities for the author to flex their styling expertise with an impressive amount of detail. Admittedly, this was probably the most interesting part of the novel for me. I love hearing people speak passionately about the things they adore, and this story was a distilled version of that, made a little more digestible with the familiar setting and plot trajectory. This certainly won’t be everyone’s slice of pie but the romantic threads were strong enough that I’d give it a recommendation.
Altina the Sword Princess
It may be because of the seemingly endless amount of harem-involved titles in light novels that I find myself really excited when I find anything that puts the focus on a single pair of individuals. Altina the Sword Princess starts with Regis, a bookworm soldier that just recently got relocated after a great failure in his previous brigade. His new destination, on the borderlands of their kingdom and the forest of barbarians, is home to many others cast out by the military including none other than the titular sword princess, Altina. The pair meet on the way to the outpost and Altina asks for his help in reforming the empire – a task that she believes that only a tactician like Regis can help her accomplish.
It’s a little harder to judge this one on its merits as the first volume felt like a part one of two, but I did like Altina for what it was. The setup of a castle full of military outcasts is a pretty fun one and the cast is generally quite likable from the main characters to the supporting ones. Altina is proud and determined, befitting her title as a candidate for the throne and a soldier in her own right. In contrast, Regis is subdued, calculating, and just wants to sit down and read his dang book. It’s still very much starting days with the pair and their character chemistry is still not quite there but what I’ve seen is promising. It’s a story about a young girl’s desire and journey to see meaningful change in her place of birth with the help of another promising young person. The potential of the goes as far as the potential of the characters themselves and I’m excited to see where their path will lead.
…And that’s pretty much everything! Well, asides from Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki-kun but I already wrote a full-length post on that one a couple days ago (please do check that series out too!) There’s still a couple of series on my backlog that might’ve made this list, but this already took almost two days to write so it’ll have to wait until 2020.
Light novel licensing has really blown up this past year and it isn’t showing signs of stopping. There’s a lot of choices out there for a good variety of genres so if none of these caught your eye, there’s bound to be something out there for you, just keep an eye out!
And as always, thanks for reading,
This is post number seven of twelve that I’ll be writing as part of this year’s 12 Days of Anime. Be sure to check out all other amazing writers that are participating in this year’s event here.