Myuri and Col find themselves in the mysterious islands off the coast of Winfiel in a bid to help Hyland with her cause. Looking for supporters for the kingdom if a holy war breaks out, the pair are entangled in a town filled with piracy, heresy, and undivided dedication to an idol called Black-Mother.
Following directly after the previous novel in the series, Wolf and Parchment volume 2 starts with Col finally recovering from exhaustion after three weeks of bed rest; Myuri by his side, nursing him back to health. After the events of volume 1, tensions between the Church and Winfiel are at an all-time high, and Hyland knows there is an ever-increasing possibility that war will bubble up—and without outside support, the Kingdom of Winfiel is powerless against the overwhelming reach of the Church.
I didn’t mention it much during my review of the last volume, but the friendship and dynamic between Col and Hyland is an interesting one. Both being devoutly dedicated to religious belief and wanting to correct the corruption within the Church, means they have a common goal despite their vastly different backgrounds, but Col is always acutely aware of the power structure and balance between them. They are friends and associates, but Col regards himself as a vassal for her use; a pawn helpful for the upcoming trials, and exploited when needed. His dedication to her cause increasingly fueled by his own standards of moral justice. This is the reason why, then, that he has no qualms following her direction. Heedless to his own safety, Col barely hesitates before agreeing to travel into treacherous areas in an attempt to convince pirates of their cause. The only reason for his hesitation—Myuri, of course.
The daughter of the Wisewolf is much the same, and acts as the outside voice to her brother’s sense of duty. She attempts to convince Col that they should leave everything behind, go back to their mountainous town of Nyohhira, and live peacefully. It’s a far cry from the young girl excited for danger and adventure now that she’s seen the consequences, and her quiet plea for the mundane of an untroubled life is still asked, even when she knows it’s futile. Col’s major conflict is for her safety—knowing she won’t return home alone, but also knowing he can’t abandon a cause that he believes is right—finally deciding to bring her along. Myuri is still the (uncomfortably) aggressively forward preteen with her romantic interest, but she’s not insistent on escaping her hometown any more; wanting to return to the protected bubble of the bath house her parents run—and if not that, than to accompany Col to the best of her ability.
Ultimately, they go to appeal to the infamous group of pirates occupying a small and treacherous group of islands nearby. Hiding their reasons under the excuse of wanting to open a monastery, Col and Myuri discover how the town is splintered under the threat of slavery, sickness and lack of income. Dozens before them have come to open monasteries, none were successful. In dour isolation, the heartbreaking breakdown of the town’s spirit can clearly be understood. It becomes very obvious how the current situation arose from desperation—worshiping the Black-Mother, who performs miracles at sea.
Made from solid jet, the islanders keep the carved Madonnas as a blessing for safe sea travel. Under the protection of the Black-Mother, no one drowns—even when swept away in terrible storms. Multiple accounts support the story as more than the fanciful tales of sailors; for the religious-minded young man it’s a question on whether it qualifies as a miracle, or heresy.
The one at the center of the Black-Mother movement is Autumn; a man wholly submerged in his faith that it has corrupted him from accountability. He uses the promise of absolution to justify sins—the promise of necessary evils being forgiven under the eyes of the Black-Mother, as her grace and love is unlimited. Living in almost total destitution and famine in order to live in justice, Autumn embodies the most humble and hardcore sides of faith. For Col, who also uses belief to guide his life, it’s a crazy difference to what he’s encountered before—but not one he can fully deny or reject. There’s a begrudging respect for the man, even when Col disagrees with his choices.
It’s a interesting addition to how things have changed from the original Spice and Wolf—the dichotomy between the Church and paganism has settled into an almost non-issue now that the Church no longer feels threatened, but has now started to see the emergence of several smaller pockets of local tradition and superstition.
The last part of the book not only has scheming and action, but an interesting reflection. There’s melancholy and regret as Col accepts his own end, quickly followed by fervent desperation to save Myuri. The responsibility, the quiet understanding of mortality when faced with it, is done beautifully. It’s an introspective look at how the characters interact and rely on each other, which I have always thought Hasekura excels at. The conclusion works beautifully as a example of hope from deliberate dishonesty; of relying on something, even if it’s not what you expected.
The book has a slow start, but once the plot crescendos it’s impossible to stop. This was a growing book for Col, being exposed to the multitudes of kindnesses, even with unkindness. He’s directly confronted with the power of faith for the desperate, and the power of faith under human control. It’s an interesting book that manages to be surprising even from the first half to the second, and it makes me excited for future Wolf and Parchment novels.
Gee’s rating: Very Good
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