First and foremost, this book assumes you are already familiar with the previous seventeen books. Because of this, there will be somewhat major spoilers in this review for the end of Spice and Wolf: Epilogue (vol. 17), so read at your own risk if you haven’t yet finished the previous books.
The main story of Spice and Wolf followed the travels of Lawrence the merchant and Holo the Wisewolf as they ran into various problems and business opportunities on the road to finding Holo’s homeland. Originally published in Japan between 2006 and 2011, Isuna Hasekura has now followed up with several new books written for the series’ 10th anniversary. Both the original series and these new volumes have been licensed in English by Yen Press under their Yen On imprint, with this book (volume 18 overall) having been released in English in June 2017.
Spring Log is the first of these new books, and was released concurrently in Japan with the spin-off Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf. Collecting four short stories set ‘a little more than a decade’ after the epilogue (which was also a short story collection), this particular book serves primarily as a bridge from the old to the new.
The Margins of a Journey, the first of the shorts in this book starts with a weak attempt at shock. For what we know of the characters, it’s somewhat obvious that the situation presented is not all it seems—and when it’s revealed to be a ridiculous and poorly rationalized bait-and-switch, it’s hardly a surprise. (Aside from being surprisingly ridiculous.) The biggest strength of this story is, in fact, how Lawrence has changed in the years since volume 17. His interactions with Holo and the townspeople are far more compelling than the impending issue of boosting business during the off-season, and as an audience we’re rewarded with seeing the shift of his character and personality in the decade we’ve missed.
I must mention in this story (and the other two focused on Lawrence) that I find it somewhat saddening to see his concerns, disapproval and denial over Myuri leaving with Col brushed off for the most part as taking after her parents far too much—especially considering Myuri is described as 12-13 years old, and everyone seems to consider it an elopement. It’s rationalized as being a normal marrying age in-universe, and that Col is a good pious man of religion (so unlikely to do anything untoward to a girl half his age), but it doesn’t remove it from our context as readers or the uncomfortable feeling of ‘justified first love’ regardless of the age difference. Lawrence’s concerns as a parent are totally understandable, and are unfortunately not treated as such.
Golden Memories is a stronger piece, using the guise of a mysterious guest and his standoffishness to emphasize the message of savoring the now, and protecting and cherishing our memories. This story in particular has a nice interaction between Holo and Lawrence that really shows off the warmth and cheekiness of their relationship. It’s a simple but effective plot, and works to transition between the previous story and the next.
Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf is the longest, and by far the best, story of this book. Unlike the majority of Spring Log this feels the most like Spice and Wolf, with a larger plot affecting our main characters, interlaced with smaller character interactions. It also addresses the elephant in the room of Lawrence and Holo’s relationship that has been interwoven throughout the entire series—their vastly different lifespans. The original flirted with this idea a lot as the relationship between the merchant and the Wisewolf crossed into a romantic one, eventually forcing Holo to confront her own loneliness and issues with abandonment. This short story brings those same emotions into sharp relief, and it’s obvious that despite the time they’ve spent together, that their time together is finite. It doesn’t weigh down the pacing of the plot with overwrought heaviness, but it does give the appropriate levity to the situation. Its handled well and with empathy within the larger plot, and only helps to highlight their mutual reliance on each other..
I also adored the ingenuity in which the problem was solved at the end, which makes this story the most in-line with previous Spice and Wolf plots. Personally, I think Hasekura’s writing shines the most when the characters are allowed the time for their witty banter and their clever scheming to fully shine, and the 100-odd pages of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf gives him that freedom. I was far more invested and sympathetic with this situation than either of the previous two stories, and on the strength of this story alone I would recommend this book to long-time fans.
The final story Parchment and Graffiti is the shortest, but manages to give us a strong impression of the character relationship and dynamic for Myuri and Col, the new protagonists for Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf. Col should be a familiar face for fans, and the decade passed has grown him into a quiet hard-worker—split between his dedication to his religious studies, helping at the Spice and Wolf, and being a good older brother to Myuri. In comparison, Myuri is rambunctious, selfish and impulsive, betraying her immaturity and young age. It’s not a great story (especially when Myuri crashes past charming into insufferable), and I can only think that Hasekura has misstepped by making both characters so much like emphasized versions of Lawrence and Holo. It certainly leaves a strong impression as to why and how the Wolf and Parchment plot developed, but I can only hope the character writing for the two improves when given a novel.
All in all, Spice and Wolf: Spring Log is a decent follow-up of short stories that expands the plot and opens the setting to new possibilities. As with all short story collections, some are stronger than others, but they’re all complementary. More so than previous short story collections in this franchise, there are very deliberate links between each part, and the book is very cohesive and easy to read. It’s a worthwhile read for established fans, and addresses some of the more open-ended parts of Lawrence and Holo’s relationship and future.
Gee’s rating: Recommended for fans
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