Much like the previous volume of this series, Spice and Wolf – Spring Log II (volume 19) is a collection of short stories chronicling the lives of our characters far beyond the finale of the epilogue in volume 17. There is once again four stories which follow Lawrence and Holo, as well as their family and friends within the bathhouse.
More so than the previous short story collection, this book opens our main characters towards the future, rather than merely easing the readers into the jump of time the story has gone through. Despite Lawrence and Holo’s journey having come to an end, their story is far from over, and as a reader and fan, it’s exciting to see just how things will play out.
A Petal’s Fragrance and Wolf is the first story, and helps to set the tone of the characters’ moods. Starting with Lawrence’s struggles in finding a handmill within storage, the story thread quickly changes to reminiscence when Holo finds a stray bottle among their other things.
The larger plot of the short is fairly standard for Spice and Wolf, with the traveling pair going to a town on request of one of Lawrence’s many acquaintances. The specifics are almost arbitrary at this point for these types of interludes—go to a town, there’s a problem, fix it with an unexpected solution—but the overall message of “turning lemons into lemonade” is a familiar comfort for fans. The results of their adventure is the small bottle in storage, but its significance (and this story’s point) is about happy memories and cherishing past experiences. Long gone are the days of the traveling merchant and the Wisewolf moving from town to town, problem to problem, but the lasting impact of those travels on others as well as themselves makes the memories of the past even sweeter.
Sweet Fangs and Wolf is next, with Col and Myuri still living at the bathhouse before leaving for their own adventures in Wolf and Parchment. Once again written from Col’s perspective, it’s a simple story of misunderstandings and immaturity, showcasing both characters’ strengths and weaknesses. As I’ve mentioned previously, the dynamic between the two seems to still be evolving with Hasekura’s ideas, but this story was miles above the poor attempt in the previous Spring Log. The interactions between both have become much more focused on the siblings they are, rather than the uncomfortable possibility of romance they could have.
I really appreciate Hasekura taking the time to build these characters into people we should care about; his character writing has always been full of compelling but flawed individuals, and it makes it just that much better to read them. His villains aren’t over-the-top diabolical with no motives, and his heroes have never been the perfect paragons of morality. They’ve all had good and bad, and they’ve all had their own reasons behind their actions.
I bring this up in relation to Sweet Fangs and Wolf because it’s crucially important recognizing that both Myuri and Col make mistakes in this story, and both are held accountable for those mistakes in the loving, but firm way that families do. At twelve years old, Myuri is a mischievous thrill-seeker, and doesn’t really have any perception on how her actions affect others. She drops fish in the baths, lets bears fight at the bathhouse and runs around without a care. From Col’s perspective, her immaturity bubbles over into selfishness and thoughtlessness, that when his hard work is ruined without so much as an apology, he snaps. It’s an important shift from their usual dynamic, and it’s a facet to the character we haven’t seen yet. As I said, both Myuri and Col make mistakes in this story, but they’re justified mistakes and very human. When things get resolved at the end, both characters have grown and matured a little, bringing a much more satisfying conclusion than expected, and leaving us with a hope for even more in the future.
Grooming Sheep and Wolf is a direct follow-up from the story Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf in the previous book. On their way home from the festival in that story, the two meet a shepherd in need of help. His sheepdog was injured during their travels, and he leaves the flock to the couple with promise to be back soon after finding help for his dog. Suffering from the strain of chasing and catching sheep in town during the festival, Lawrence can barely move, so Holo takes the initiative to keep the sheep together. It’s through these events that the larger theme—responsibility—takes root.
With the upcoming addition of Selim to the Spice and Wolf means that Holo thinks her life is going to change again. Having a new wolf around means she has to comport herself in a very particular way, or so she believes, and that struggle with feeling useless and wanting to be the leader her Wisewolf status grants her makes her frantic and upset. It’s the first time in over a decade that Holo has been aware of who and what she is, and it’s only with Lawrence’s reassurances that the two work things out.
The relationship between Holo and Lawrence is the reason, as a reader, it has been so compelling to follow along for so long. In many ways they are opposites—complimentary but not identical—and the different perspectives mean the two are highlighted marvelously in this story.
The final story in this book is Memories of Spice and Wolf. Completely written from Holo’s perspective, it’s a rare look into the mind of the Wisewolf, and it’s heartbreakingly earnest.
Though she was happy, she was sad she could not give names to each and every piece of her happiness.
As set by A Petal’s Fragrance and Wolf, this story is about memories. For Holo, who has lived for centuries and will live for centuries more, the quiet peaceful life she has led as a bathhouse master’s wife is a cursed blessing. She’s terrified that the simplicity of the days, repetitive in their events, will muddy together so much that she will have no idea of the time passing—and then all too soon it will be over. With Col and Myuri having left, there’s little to keep her mind occupied, and she sinks into the subdued panic of losing her happiness in her own distraction. She makes a point to emphasize that she enjoys quarreling with her “companion” (which is what she exclusively calls Lawrence) even if just to differentiate the days from each other.
For an inhuman being with a lifetime so out of sync with humanity’s, the time she’s spent with Lawrence is fleeting. Despite her love and devotion to him and their life together, there’s a finality to their relationship—which was also a feature of the previous Spring Log book—that cannot be avoided. Holo wants a sea of memories to swim in, once this part of her life is over, and the boredom of routine scares her that she won’t have enough by the end—too many days merging into one. It’s a bubbling hope for nostalgia of this current time. She once yearned for the snowy hills of Yoitsu, and now she yearns for the quiet love of the bathhouse, even before she’s lost it. It ties well with the other major theme of homesickness that Selim is going through, and finally loops back around to the reminiscent mood established by the first story in the collection. It’s thoughtful and quiet, and illuminating for a character we’ve followed up until now. For this story alone, this book is worth reading for fans.
As the second short story collection in these Spring Log follow-ups, volume 19 is by far the best. We see characters both new and old evolve within this collection, and for people wanting more insight to our favorite Wisewolf this is the best we’ve gotten yet.
Gee’s rating: Highly Recommended
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