Review: Wolf and Parchment (Vol 1)

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Whether for good or for ill, time flowed as it should.

From my review of Spice and Wolf: Spring Log (vol. 18), my first impressions on the characters and possibilities for this series were not high. In the short story, Myuri was rash and insufferable and Col seemed a (somewhat) unwilling sufferer at her hands. Thankfully, as I had hoped, having a full light novel at his disposal, Hasekura had a lot more freedom to write these characters, and both Col and Myuri reached a lot more character depth. Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf (vol. 1), the first volume of Spice and Wolf‘s spin-off series, is a familiarly fond experience and I’m surprised in wanting to read more.

This first novel was released concurrently with the 18th volume of the main Spice and Wolf series (which I previously reviewed here) in Japan, although it’s apparent that this novel was written after the stories that are collected in Spring Log—which Hasekura actually notes in his author message at the end of the book. Both Myuri and Col are better written, and their relationship was actually enjoyable to read over the entirety of this story. Col and Myuri have a layer of innocence and naiveté that the world-weary Lawrence and Holo could never have managed, and although I still think the two mirror their predecessors a little too closely, it’s less of a sin than it seems.

Wolf and Parchment starts with Col—now grown up and even more dedicated to his religious studies—leaving Nyohhira. Over a decade since the ending of Spice and Wolf, the Kingdom of Winfiel has been forced to suspend religious activities due to tax disputes.  Hyland, an heir to the throne of Winfiel and fiercely devoted to the Church, asks Col for his assistance after befriending him at the Spice and Wolf. Hoping to fix the corruption within the Church, Hyland  plans to encourage understanding of the faith amongst all classes of people, and Col is happy to help with translating the Holy Book into common language. Much like her mother before her, Myuri joins his travels in secret—partially as a way to experience the world outside of her mountainous hometown, and partially to stay with her sibling-in-all-but-blood. Unsurprisingly, things are never quite as they seem, and the daughter of the Wisewolf and the trusting young scholar have to find a way to fix it all when problems arise.

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Personally, I think centering the main plot around translating holy scripture into common language is ingenious, and well-suited to the Spice and Wolf world; pulling together the shift of religious power and its place in society, and being more in tune to these new characters’ motivations. The story compares public perception with personal motivation, and it’s a solid start to this new adventure. It’s a different side to the setting than we’ve seen before, and I look forward to exploring it with Hasekura.

“You’re really only looking at a fourth of the world, Brother.”
“Not even half?”
The world was made up of men and women. It appeared he did not know a thing about women, so that left a half. Even if he woefully accepted this evaluation of himself, where did the second half come from?
Then, Myuri’s expression became troubled yet slightly sad, and she spoke.
“You only ever look at the good parts of people.”

Fundamentally, this first volume is about faith—religious or otherwise. Col was originally introduced as a young wannabe scholar who hoped to use the guise of religion to protect his hometown’s pagan beliefs. Through meeting Holo he came face-to-face with true validation of those beliefs, and over the course of their travels came to understand her not only as the god she symbolizes, but the person she is. Since then, his dedication to God has evolved from that of simple childhood understanding to a greater appreciation for the power belief can give. Religion for Col is not a form of fearful submission under a higher power, it’s the act of spreading reassurance and hope to people, regardless of their circumstance. He’s not so much dedicated to the Church itself, but the act of living with belief. That’s why he’s so personally affronted by the situation presented in this book—to him, the Church has become twisted from the true purpose of its existence, instead motivated by greed. The reality that institutionalized religion has always been a business is secondary; for readers it’s the pure-hearted motivations of Col and Hyland that make their hard work worth supporting.

The second part of this story is that of Myuri, who loves Col with the adoration and devotion of a preteen. There is of course her romantic crush on the young man (which I’ll mention in more detail later), but more important to the story is their friendship. Col is the only other person aside from her parents who knows her true nature—wolf ears and tail inherited from the Wisewolf—and that she doesn’t have to hide from. They are siblings in every sense of the word aside from the literal one, and they act it; Myuri is the spoiled little sister who knows exactly how much she can get away with, and Col is the caring but exasperated older brother. Their conversations flow naturally from the shared history they have, and it’s clear in their interactions that the depths of their love for each other is unconditional.

As I mentioned, it’s no secret that Myuri has a crush on Col. As is common for preteens, her perception of the kindness and attention he gives has morphed into the sweet beginnings of first love. Thankfully, it’s very obviously one-sided, and Col not only respectfully turns down her romantic feelings without invalidating them, but reassures her that it won’t change their relationship—he cares for her deeply, just not romantically. Whether this changes in future books is yet to be seen of course, but for this first novel, Hasekura has kept the two in the (much more interesting) sibling dynamic.

As its own work, Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf does a fairly good job at being self-contained. It’s an interesting spin-off for existing fans, but I also think it is accessible to people not necessarily familiar with the original Spice and Wolf. The relationship between our main characters has redeemed itself after a terrible first impression at the end of Spring Log, and the ending leads into an intriguing promise for more.

Gee’s Rating: Recommended

You can purchase this book online via sites like Amazon (available in paperback or as an ebook) and Book Depository (which offers free worldwide shipping). These are affiliate links, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.

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