For general information on this series: The Faraway Paladin entry
This review is for the first volume of The Faraway Paladin by Kanata Yanagino. The English edition was released digitally by J-Novel Club in February 2017. The second volume has been releasing in English in weekly prepub installments, with a full ebook set to come out for it at the end of this month (April 2017). The series has two volumes out in Japan thus far.
Once upon a time, there was a shut-in who lived in Japan. He died. But death is only the beginning in The Faraway Paladin, which focuses on the day-to-day swords and sorcery life of the reincarnated Will, from his infancy(!) to his coming-of-age. This introductory volume more or less serves as a prologue to set the stage for Will’s adventure. At first I expected the slice-of-life material of Will’s youth to just be chapter one, but it’s actually the entire book.
Fortunately it’s not a dull read, primarily thanks to the nature of Will’s three undead caretakers. Blood is a large skeleton who teaches Will how to fight. Mary is a mummified woman who teaches Will everything related to worship of the world’s deities. And Gus is an old ghost who teaches Will magic. The central mystery of this volume pertains to who these three figures are, why they are undead, and why they are raising Will. The city this story takes place near has been devoid of human life for many years (only monsters roam the land), so there is that mystery as well. Also, there’s the whole matter of why Will has retained all memory of his past life, and what his role in this fantasy world is meant to be.
This volume does a good job at answering all these questions in a satisfying manner. The author clearly put a lot of thought into the setting, and the prose in general is well-written too. The characters have depth and solid arcs, there are some strong and interesting themes, and it pulls off its serious and down-to-earth tone very well. The artwork is also striking. I can fully understand why everyone is praising this novel as much as they are.
But all that said…
I had a hard time really caring about any of it? Chances are this just says more about me than it does the novel itself, but I just couldn’t get into this one. It’s true that the story moves at a slow pace, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. And I can even accept Will being this everyday-ish boy for his role as the viewpoint character learning about this new world. I originally chalked up my disinterest to simply fatigue toward “trapped in a fantasy world” stories, but Faraway Paladin doesn’t feel like your typical isekai light novel.
It doesn’t exactly have the feel of an epic fantasy novel either, though. While reading this story, it still felt like the author was heavily influenced by role-playing games, and the afterword wholeheartedly confirmed this. I guess then it has the feel of pulp genre fiction… But is there a big difference between that and a light novel? Perhaps it’s best to just say Faraway Paladin is a reactionary work to current LN trends. Or… perhaps it’s not? There are only so many light novels translated into English, so outside of Japan we don’t have a full picture of what’s being written and read.
In an interview following the story, the author might have actually pinned down what it is that truly makes Faraway Paladin feel “different” – there’s no romantic interest in this volume. When nearly every high-selling light novel features the heroine on the cover front and center, Faraway Paladin is actually a breath of fresh air with its focus instead on family relationships. I really appreciate that, and would like to see more of this sort of thing in other series.
I feel bad about not being more excited about this one, but I can still at least recommend it to everyone who likes a good fantasy story. Chances are I’ll give the second volume a try at some point, and maybe then I will have a better feel for what works and what doesn’t in regard to this first volume.
Cho’s Rating: Recommended